Christmas With Mental Illness

CateIn my country of New Zealand, I think it’s fair to say that most people celebrate the occasion of Christmas, and that those who choose not to do so, don’t on religious or cultural basis.  There’s been a few years in my past when I have chosen not to celebrate Christmas, and that has been all about mental illness.

There was one year with my ex-husband where we chose to walk the streets of an unknown city, anything to pass the time until I would be admitted to a hospital there the next day.  We found out that year that not even McDonald’s is open on Christmas Day. We ate pies from a corner shop for Christmas dinner.  Another year we stayed at home, took the phone of the hook, and ignored the world.  To do otherwise would have been much for both of us.  It was simply a ‘normal day’.

You know how in some families you can’t put Auntie Betsy next to Grandma at the Christmas Table or Uncle George next to Mum either?  Sometimes Christmas with mental illness just doesn’t go.  Other times you have little choice, and have to hang on and hope for the best.  Sometimes that works, but usually it doesn’t feel so good being in the middle of it.

I am a little horrified to find that this Christmas will be my 20th Christmas with mental illness.  To clarify, it is 20 years since I got my first diagnosis but I’m sure that I was quietly struggling with my mental health before that.  Actually I have come to believe recently that my mental health has always been an issue, pretty much from birth.  I simply made it appear like all was well… for 27 years.  So Christmas with mental illness should not be that much of a difficulty. But it is.  I battle with Christmas every year.

Yes, I am a Bah Humbug! And I don’t care.  In my mind, Christmas involves way too much stress, money, food and drink and of course, interaction with family.

I love my family… individually.  But I don’t love family occasions (like Christmas Dinner).  Family en mass is too much for me and sends my stress levels sky-high.  I’m not exactly sure how to pin point what it is I don’t like but I think we’re too much the same as well as being too different. Does that make sense?   We haven’t lived together as a family for many years (I’m talking 30 years), and if you put us all in a room together, we can “play nicely”, but we are simply different people with totally different lifestyles and viewpoints.

Most families are probably the same (to some degree).  Either that or my family are about to lynch me when/if they read this.  It’s okay though.  They should know this truth of mine by now.

So what do I do to manage this Christmas/mental illness/family issue?  Actually for me, just acknowledging to myself that it is an issue is a good place to start.  And then to plan.  Plan breaks, plan time out for me.  I don’t need to put myself in a stressful situation and stay there all day.  It’s simply okay to look after my needs, look after the mental illness part of me.  It sounds simple but it helps to make sure this happens.

So whatever you are doing for Christmas, whether you’re celebrating it or not… look after you.  Do what you need.  Maybe you can’t do what you need the whole day, but if you allow for ‘me time’ your needs are not getting ignored.

Have a wonderful Christmas, in spite of mental illness.  Here’s a small glimpse of a New Zealand Christmas…. pohutakawa tree (our NZ Christmas tree which flowers right on time for Christmas and forecasts a great summer ahead), sun, sand and surf.  Definitely all things good for health.

And yes, it’s summer down here so no pictures of snow. 🙂

© Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


20 thoughts on “Christmas With Mental Illness

    • Thanks. I think if we take the time to care for our needs then it will make all the difference to how we experience Christmas. Thanks too, for the reblog. 🙂

  1. For me, holidays such as Christmas often come with sensory overload. Too many people, too loud, too much going on, too much food and so on. I start to crave quiet time by myself.

    • You make a good point there. I know exactly what you mean and maybe it is one of the reasons I find it such a hard time. I hope we both find some time to ourselves this Christmas. 🙂

  2. You have a wonderful Christmas too Cate.
    Thanks for this post – you wrapped it up nicely and with a timely Christmas survival tip reminder for me 🙂

  3. I can relate to so much of this post. This is my 14th Christmas with mental illness and I’ve spent every one of them alone…and loved every second of it. I like Christmas decorations, the tree and nice light with candles. It brightens this dreary part of winter. What I don’t like is the commercialism and absolutely refuse to become part of a spending frenzy. My nephews get something and I usually buy friends and close family extra special cards, but that’s about it.
    The problem with family Christmas is the fact we are a very dysfunctional family unit, although I am the only one to see this for what it is. At family gatherings, everyone pretends and follows politeness, but there is always an undercurrent of personal issues and past grievances.
    When we were children, Christmas and Birthday’s were always low key. I was well into my 20’s before a friend bought me my very first birthday card. Every special occasion, once we would open presents, mum would always say, “There won’t be as much next year”. It always felt a little begrudged. I suppose as an adult,maybe I just don’t know how to celebrate with other people.
    For the past 14 years, I have enjoyed Christmas….

    • That sounds like an excellent way to celebrate Christmas. Any other is just too full of hype and stress. I think the issue you raise with family gatherings sums up how it is for me too. But that’s how it will be this year (some of my family together) so I’m hoping it goes ok. That said, I seem to be the only one in my family who doesn’t like it. I’m not sure what that says. 😉

  4. Oops…posted that last comment too soon. I was about to say… I enjoy Christams now, but only if I spend it alone. I love having a nice cosy home with decorations, lights and candles. It helps this dreary time of year.
    I hope you have a very peaceful Christmas, Cate

  5. I am making an attempt to catch up with blogs….

    There is so much I can relate to in this post! And it’s funny too cause I wrote something similar around Christmas. Really hard time for me as well, although the reasons might be slightly different.

    I too, was diagnosed well into my 20s, almost 30s but I now know that it was a lifetime thing for me as well.

    Christmas is long gone now but I hope it wasn’t too bad.

    • Actually it wasn’t too bad. I got an unexpected opportunity to get to know one of my nieces a bit better. She’s seven and doesn’t live near me but was here for Christmas with her family. I think we found a common bond in each other and that made putting up with the rest of Christmas more than worthwhile. 🙂

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