By Oliver Slow
As soon as 1 December comes around, and often before, it’s not exactly easy to escape the cultural and commercial juggernaut that is Christmas. Decorations lining high streets in towns across the country, seemingly infinite parties held to commemorate the holiday season, and countless “listicles” published online making the case for what really is the greatest Christmas song, or movie.
For many people, these are all things to look forward to throughout the year. For them, Christmas represents the coming together of families, or friends, who have spent the past 12 months apart, or the pure joy on the kids’ faces when they see the presents under the tree on the morning of 25 December, and no one should feel any guilt for enjoying these moments.
But while this time of year is one of joy for many people, for others it’s a struggle. This could be due to the loss of a relative or close friend in the past year, a long-term relationship coming to an end in recent months, financial concerns, or countless other things in between, including depression or loneliness.
Christmas hasn’t been the same for me for the last 12 years, since my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the November, fought his way through December, and died early in the new year. Ironically enough, that last Christmas we spent as a family was one of the happiest memories I have, but ever since I haven’t been able to separate the pain I felt in those few months from my association with the Christmas season. Anyone who has experienced grief knows what a slippery customer it can be, and how it can creep up on you at any moment. Ever since my dad’s death, I’ve had a few experiences of bursting into tears on Christmas morning, or running quickly to the bathroom during a December party to partake in a not-so silent sob.
That’s not to say that I hate Christmas and everything associated with it, but rather that I struggle to embrace every aspect of it throughout December. For the most part, I try to get my head down and not think too much about what is happening around me.
This attitude of course comes with the playful ribbing of being called Scrooge, or cries of “Bah Humbug”, but I’m learning to be comfortable with that viewpoint, accepting that this probably isn’t a time of year that I will ever full embrace. For those with similar experiences, recommendations for activities to embrace in order to take your mind off the difficulties include volunteering, or spending a few weeks getting stuck into a good book, or a television series.
If volunteering at a nearby shelter, for example, might help take your mind off the struggles you’re facing and connect you with other people facing their own, then go ahead and help out, but don’t feel any obligation to. If all you want to do is spend the next few weeks at home reading a book, or being engrossed in a (non-Christmassy) boxset, then embrace that activity. Perhaps the most important advice is not to compare your feelings with the apparent joy others are feeling and sharing on social media – we all know how misleading these sorts of posts can be. Your experience is your own, and should never be compared with another’s.
The main thing is to go easy on yourself, accept that it’s OK to not feel your best at this time of year, and look after yourself, whether that’s through yoga, regular exercise or healthy eating. It might be worth going online and speaking to people with similar experiences.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you know that it’s OK to feel sad at this time of year, and that you’re not alone.
Oliver Slow is a journalist based in South-East Asia.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI – this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: [email protected]
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.