Christmas is a time for happiness and joy but for a lot of people it is actually a very difficult time.
This can be for many reasons: family tensions, being alone, homelessness, illness, being unable to afford the things we’re told were supposed to have at Christmas and so many more things. For me the hardest thing is simply feeling like I’m supposed to be happy all the time.
The way I think of it is that I like winter but winter doesn’t like me.
I love all that cosy stuff, real fires, hot chocolates and thick socks. Snuggling up under a blanket to watch Christmas specials. I like cold crisp mornings when everything is blue and you can see your breathe like a cloud billowing out. I like seeing bright red berries singing out in defiance against the grey. I like hats and scarves and wrapping up warm. I love a Christmas jumper.
But as the days get shorter, even though there is so much to look forward to, my mood can drop and destabilise. I’ve never been officially diagnosed but I am certain I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly referred to as The Winter Blues. Essentially a form of depression that is triggered by a lack of sunlight.
I can’t really explain it, nothing seems to trigger it as far as I’ve noticed but during winter I am prone to periods of ‘being down’. Some years it’s been worse than others. It can hit me suddenly, out of the blue, or it can sneak up on me. I find myself feeling quite sad. But not about anything. Very low. Empty. It’s hard to explain. Like a fog has filled my mind that I can’t see past. Sometimes it an last for a while. Sometimes it can disappear on an instant.
I haven’t worked out how to avoid it or stop it yet. I use a SAD lamp (a very bright lamp) which is supposed to trick your brain I think into thinking it’s getting more sunlight than it is. When the down moments happen, the best thing seems to be try and distract myself, to take myself out of my own mind. Unfortunately I’m not always present enough to be able to realise this and make myself do it.
The only way I can explain it to myself is it’s like my mind is solar charged. The sun tops up the battery and in winter, I’m using up more power than the light is replacing. So slowly, the level drops until I run out and the fog descends.
I am writing this because yesterday I had one of those moments, found myself having a phone conversation where my end was just crying and apologising. Now that the feeling has passed, I can see that I have nothing to be sorry about. That it isn’t my fault and that I am always trying my best to keep positive. But in the moment, I feel like a failure, a let down and guilty. I have nothing to be down about, I should be happy. I feel broken.
As I write this, it is Saturday night, I’ve got Strictly Come Dancing on. I am surrounded by beautiful Christmas decor and I am happy. I don’t know when the next down moment will strike me, but I hope that if and when it does, I will be able to remember that it will pass and not to be too hard on myself.
If things aren’t going well for you this Christmas, please don’t beat yourself up. It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay if things aren’t perfect.
If you have read this far. Thank you.