Christmas is a time for family, for giving and receiving and celebrating with those closest to you. Christmas can also be an extremely stressful time of the year, when purse strings are stretched to the limit and there is pressure to make things perfect for the people you love.
I can certainly emphasise, especially this year.
I have touched briefly on my struggle with depression in previous posts. I am no stranger to the black dog nipping at my heels. I teetered on the edge of darkness throughout my childhood, with many moments of deep despair. After leaving home at 18, my late teenage years were spent partying and drinking heavily in an attempt to fit in somewhere, anywhere, and for a while I lost myself in a social whirl. Eventually though, my darkness caught up with me, and at 21 I had a breakdown.
I can’t even begin to explain what I went through back then. I was a mess, and not even a beautiful one. I’m not even sure what that is, a beautiful mess. If you are as broken as I was, still am.. you feel anything but beautiful. You’re just a useless mess.
I gave up my job and was prescribed a heavy dosage of anti-depressants. I remember being unhappy all of the time and wishing I didn’t exist. My family didn’t know how to interact with me. I spent much of my time talking about how bad I felt, how I wanted to disappear, blink out like a burnt-out lightbulb. I guess they were scared by how unhinged I was, and how precarious I appeared to be. They didn’t understand. Eventually, I stopped telling them and learnt to keep it bottled up, to save people the embarrassment of having to listen to me.
As I said, I was a mess.
After two and a half years of deep depression, I decided that things couldn’t continue as they were, and I went out and got myself a job as a kitchen porter in a hotel kitchen. Not the most desirable of jobs, but I loved it. It got me out of the flat and provided me with a semblance of normality, a routine I had been missing. It gave me a reason to be somebody other than the sad person I had become. I look back on that job nostalgically, and with a degree of gratitude. I excelled at it, and it gave my self-esteem a massive boost when I eventually moved on to pastures new, and they asked me to stay. At last, I had made a difference, if only washing pots and emptying bins.
Years later, those long days of depression are a memory I like to keep distant, but every now and again the black dog will sneak up and whisper sibilantly in my ear, with a warning of how easy it can be to slip back into those depths of despair.
It is different these days. I guess I’m more aware of my responsibilities. I can’t break all over again, for the sake of my son, my job, my home, my family. I feel more in control these days.
It doesn’t stop those black thoughts though, and the feeling that I’m never really good enough.
Although Christmas is a time for celebration, please remember that for some, it is difficult to see the joy in the festivities when you are surrounded by such darkness. Some days, it is difficult just to get out of bed and face the day. Depression is an illness, not a choice, and those that push you away are generally the ones who need you the most. Let them know that you’re there for them this Christmas.
If you are the one suffering from depression, please don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to friends and loved ones. Often, people won’t know there is anything wrong if you don’t tell them. Be honest about money worries. Focus on the positive things about Christmas and try to avoid time alone, ruminating on life and perceived failures. If your depression is more serious, seek the help of a qualified mental health professional. You are never alone, no matter how isolated you may feel. There is always someone who wants to help if you would only give them the chance.
Merry Christmas. 💙