Wednesday, 13 December 2017

My Christmas survival tips for good mental health

Today I’m writing about Christmas and how the festive season affects my mental health.

As much as I love Christmas, I also struggle with the holidays. A couple of years ago I had a breakdown at Christmas (read all about that here), and every year as it approaches again I get nervous about what might happen if it doesn't live up to expectations. Because let's face it, we all have high expectations for Christmas. It's idealised and built up in our head (and the media) as a magical, fun-filled, fantastic occasion. Sadly, it isn't always that way. And it knocks me sideways when it fails to be perfect.

I’m susceptible to bad mental health during Christmas. The period combines a number of my triggers (lack of alone time, lack of stimulation, pressure to be happy, extreme stress, family arguments) in close proximity and, like it has previously, it can result in the return of feelings of extreme darkness.
On top of this, I have been miserable lately. Nothing has excited me in the run up to Christmas in the way it usually would. I usually love finding the perfect gift for someone, making a handmade gift, the start of party season.
But not this year. Everything feels stressful and overwhelming. I need to manage it, I need to find a way to get through the season and, if possible, enjoy it.

I want to share with you what I’ll be doing over the festive period to help my own mental health and try to prevent a breakdown. Here are my Christmas survival tips:
“It's hard to be sad when you're being useful.” ― Noah Hawley, Before the Fall
  • Making Christmas cards - in the lead up to Christmas I'll be making Christmas cards. Keeping busy always helps me keep me mind clear and calm. I have something else to concentrate on, something to keep my mind busy. 
  • Colouring Books - Likewise, I swear by colouring books. When we're sitting around the telly as a family, I also love to have my colouring book out to work away on. There is just something so satisfying about finishing a pretty page! Plus, it keeps me busy and acts as a distraction from any wandering thoughts I would usually have if I didn't have some colouring to hand!
  • Reading - I also escape from the world through books. So far this year I had devoured over 60 books. And I mean devoured. It's an addiction, but at least it's a healthy one! I have stocked up on books to take home and see me through the Christmas holidays. Nothing is more relaxing for me than curling up by the fire with a good book and my favourite dog by my side. 
  • Journaling - Another creative break to seek solace in is journaling. Honestly, anything to keep busy and keep my mind from wandering! I've bought a new blank notebook and am in the process of decorating and filling it out for the year ahead. This project should keep me busy throughout my week off work. 
  • Talking to loved ones - Okay, so I know I'm not very good at this one and will find it tough to keep, but that's why it's on the list. I want to make more of an effort to actually appreciate the best thing about Christmas - and that's being with the people I love. And shouldn't I also talk to these people about how I'm feeling, my moods and my mental health? One half of me knows that they will give me the love and support I need to get through tough days, the other half of me says I shouldn't burden or bother them. I want to try and listen more to the first half.
  • Getting out of the house - Cabin fever is a thing, and because I often find socialising difficult, it can really set in around Christmas time. I know that people love to get together at this time of the year and often share these nights out and dinners on social media. And usually that's when my guilt sets in for missing out and being socially anxious. So why not get out of the house? Even if it's just talking my dogs (and cat) for walks, or meeting up for coffee with a friend, I will be making memories, doing things, and have my own get togethers to cherish. I've already arranged to see some friends over the break as well as extended family, and that gives me something to look forward to and cherish.  
  • Exercise - With all the big dinners and endless supplies of chocolates and other goodies, I always end up feeling crap about my appearance, and particularly my weight at Christmas. I know that people go on, and on, and on about the benefits of exercise on your mental health, but quite frankly it's not for me. I'm a duvet day every day kind of girl. But I also know deep down that I have to do a little bit of a workout to prevent my mind from thinking I'm a lazy slob. (Seriously, I did like 20 squats last night before bed and it's convinced my brain that I'm doing great on the exercise front.) Taking the dogs out for a walk is going to be my motivation for getting in at least a little exercise over the holidays. 
  • Netflix downloads - And for the times when I want some alone time to shut out the world? Well Netflix's download function is my new best friend. There are so many shows and films you can download and watch back later, even when you don't have Internet. I'm hoping to catch up on the new Star Trek series as well as The Crown over Christmas. 
Having a plan in place eases some of my worries about Christmas. I'm hoping that planning in advance, being prepared, and having productive things to do will prevent me from feeling like I'm spiraling into doom and despair.

It's not a guaranteed success.

But little steps are better than taking no action when it comes to mental health.

Help Info:
For those of you who are struggling this Christmas, there is help out there. Visit my help and support section for details of how you can contact them.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

I'm only surviving

I feel broken.

Last week I realised I was in pain; that I'd been in pain for a while now. I hadn't noticed this pain, it has been hidden, kept under wraps, out of sight. But I took a day off work. And without having a structure to my day, without a reason to get up in the morning, I felt that pain come to the forefront in full force. I was hit by the weight of it and it crushed me. I couldn't move, I couldn't do anything but lie in bed and cry.

Every day for the past six weeks I have woken up sad. There's no other way to describe it but than an overwhelming sense of sadness. I feel it in every part of my body - from my mind to by bones. My entire physical body feels this sadness and carries it within.

While I don't want to, I get up when my alarm goes off.  I don't want to go outside today. I don't want to leave my bed. But I do. I keep getting up.
At some point over the past six years of this battle, suicide stopped being an option. Self harm stopped being an option.
Now I survive. I keep going.
I just try to get from one end of the day to the next.

I follow my routine. Get up. Shower. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Go to work. Go home. Eat dinner. Go to bed. All with a fake smile plastered on my face.
I keep going, but only out of a sense of obligation. I have no other choice but to keep going. But I don't live. I don't experience. I don't enjoy, or savour, or any other possible positive feeling. I just do.
My senses are muted. I'm on auto pilot.
I'm not in my body, I'm watching from the outside. I'm surviving and doing without really seeing or feeling.

My auto pilot setting doesn't allow me to care about anything other than getting from my bed, back to my bed.

I feel incomplete. I know I'm not living. That I'm barely getting by.
I'm tired and quick to anger.
I'm not me. Or if I am, I don't like the person I am.

I don't want to think about the sadness, or the pain, or why I feel this way. I don't want to stop to reflect, I can't think of anything worse. So I just keep going, because I feel like I have to keep going. I feel out of options.
There is nothing in my life I should feel this miserable about. I've a good job, a home, family. I feel guilty for having all this, and yet still in pain.

I just want it be next month or next year or next time I don't wake up like this.