When it’s not the most wonderful time of the year

Even though it’s only early December, the holiday season is now definitely in full swing! Term is now over for many students, office parties are happening across the country,  people are starting to panic about their Christmas shopping, and Twitter is buzzing with the likes of blogmas and vlogmas. This time of year tastes of minced pies, smells like mulled wine, and the dulcet tones of”All I Want For Christmas Is You” are emanating from radio stations everywhere.

Everyone loves Christmas, right? We’re told that it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and that it would be great if it could be Christmas everyday. But for a lot of us the holiday season can be challenging. A survey by Samaritans in 2015 revealed that nearly a quarter of people find that problems feel worse at Christmas, and 1 in 6 said it’s the loneliest time of year.

This year I’m actually quite excited about the all the festivities, and I can’t wait to go home and see my family for the holidays. I’ve been listening to Spotify’s many Christmas playlists, my mum has sent me a glittery advent calendar in the post and I even bought some mince pies yesterday!

However, this time last year was not so fun for me. I was in the midst of a severe depressive episode, and I had just had to suspend my university studies for the rest of the academic year in order to recover. I was dreading Christmas. When you’re depressed, the universal festive spirit and good cheer can make things even harder to cope with. It’s like having your own misery rubbed in your face; you can’t help but compare how you’re feeling with the seemingly boundless joy of those around you. On the surface Christmas is the same as it is every year; your grandparent’s come to visit, and all the family rituals of the day itself unfold just as they did throughout your childhood. You watch the holiday you used to love and feel nothing but emptiness. You can’t help but dwell on how much you have lost, because you have lost the ability to be happy. And this sense of loss is only heightened a week later when New Year rolls around and the whole world talks about what a great year it has been and how much there is to look forward to.

I say this not to make anyone feel guilty about enjoying Christmas; your loved ones coping with depression would want you to enjoy it. But I think that the Christmas season can set unrealistic expectations that don’t always match up to reality for many people.  There are many things that can make Christmas a tough time, be it mental health problems, grief, financial hardship or estrangement from your family.

The greatest gift you could give a loved one who is struggling this year is your understanding and a listening ear. Make sure they know that they don’t have to keep up a facade or feel guilty for not being the life and soul of the party. Ask them what you can do to make this period easier, and don’t judge them if they can only handle so much socialising.

And if you are struggling this Christmas, I can’t say anything that will magically make things better, but I can say that you are not alone, and it will not always be like this.

Remember: if you would like to talk to someone impartial, you can call Samaritans for free 24/7, 365 days a year on 116 123. This service is anonymous and completely confidential.

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