I wonder what Christmas means or (given that it is now December 29th) what it was like for you?
For me personally Christmas is usually a time of conflict and duality.
Conflict and duality which comes from a) my heart-felt desire, as a Christian, to celebrate the Saviour’s birth (and yes I know it didn’t really happen at this time of year or on December 25th – but this is the time of year and the day when a lot of mankind chooses to celebrate it and I am ok with that) against b) the other side of me which is that I really am very uncomfortable around people. And Christmas is one of the times of year when there is a great expectation that we will spend time with others.
Normally I choose to, and can usually get away, with spending Christmas on my own and pretty much not (apart from church services and buying immediate family members presents etc) even really acknowledging it’s existence. (How’s that for earning extra Grinch or Scrooge points?)
And yes I am fully aware that some folk will be horrified at the idea that someone would actually want to spend Christmas alone pretty much ignoring it’s presence. But to you folk – who I am sure are good folk with legitimate concerns – all I can say is try to look beyond your own experiences and all the tinsel and baubles and try to imagine what it is like for those of us who suffer from mental illness and for whom social gatherings really are uncomfortable, even threatening. And try, if you will, to imagine just how much additional stress or pressure such a festive holiday full of expectations can place on us.
And the truth is that I am by no means against Christmas, nor indeed am I a Grinch or a Scrooge – although I admit I do do a very good impersonation of both.
Actually I love Christmas. I just recognise the fact that I just don’t do well with the additional pressure that often comes with it.
And this in itself poses us (those of us with mental illness and who do not do well in social situations) with a problem. Do we simply refuse to get involved and seek the familiar sanctuary of isolation? Or do we venture out of our comfort zone – our personal safety bubbles – and get involved as others seem so intent on having us do?
This year (unlike previous years) I relented and accepted the very kind invitation of Sinead – a friend from church and my carer – and went and stayed with her family for a few days over the Christmas period. And in fact I even agreed to accept her and her husband’s invitation to stay an extra night.
And in the interest of honesty and objectivity I have to admit that I really did have a lovely time and that none of it was ‘too much’ for me to handle. And I make that statement not only in testament to Sinead and Tony and their family and how loving and caring they are, but also as an encouragement to others (who may have similar difficulties as me) and to say that sometimes it can work and can very much be worth while.
That is not to say that there weren’t associated difficulties. All of which I accept came from within me and none of which being as a result of anything anyone else did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say.
I find that I am mentally exhausted at the moment. Quietly dealing with the voices and the internal dialogues whilst trying not to negatively impact anyone else’s Christmas can (I assure you) be very draining. During the day – with the activities and conversations and even the distraction available in the company of others – I found that I was very much able to cope. But at night time, when alone in my room – the mind had a field day and did what it could to sabotage it all.
And additionally, when I returned home, the very first thing I wanted to do was to keep everyone else out. And additionally I have an extreme need (or perhaps it is just an extreme desire) to completely isolate for a while. Something which I was aware of even before I came home, and so decided not to even attend church yesterday.
And yes I recognise that isolating it not a good thing and again I want to emphasise that none of this is as a result of anything anyone else did or said and that I do truly believe that it was worth it.
Even when we feel we have achieved some victory, some progress over it, it can come back at us with vengeance. Even trying to rob us of what achievements or victories we may have just had.
As I said, I am extremely grateful for the Christmas I was able to share this year and I really did enjoy it and have a lovely time. And I am convinced that it was totally worth it. And I would encourage others to think very hard about actually trying to reach out beyond the comfort zone.
But we need to do so being very mindful that there is no doubt a cost involved in this and that we (both those of us with mental illness and those who are caring for us, or encouraging us to go beyond our comfort zones) have to be very careful.
Comfort zones are not always a good thing. And I will even go as far as to recognise and acknowledge that sometimes they are a very unhealthy thing.
BUT, I do so in the strict understanding that I also know – from very real first-hand experience – that sometimes, just sometimes, our comfort zones are an absolute must if we are to survive.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and the encouragement to have stepped outside of mine this Christmas. But with the New Year festivities fast approaching, and the way I am at the moment, I am also very grateful that my comfort zone is still available to me 🙂