The holiday season is a time filled with many happy things- family time, delicious food, parties, presents, travelling etc. but all those things can feel incredibly difficult if you’re battling mental illness.
I love Christmas, ALL of it, the cringey music that plays everywhere you go, the silly jumpers you wear, decorating the house and everything else that screams Christmas. But living with depression and anxiety has often times taken away that love and wished for it to be January as soon as possible. It’s hard knowing you should be happy and joyful but your mind is dark and struggling. Holiday seasons are actually when I find it most difficult. My anxiety feeds into this constant pressure of having to be happy 24/7 just because it’s Christmas. That’s not how life works and depression lives in your mind whatever time of year it is.
Last year I was in a completely different mental state than I am this year, I was struggling to see the light at the very long tunnel and it took everything in me to “celebrate”. The fact is Christmas is filled with chaos in most families, mine included and I think even someone who isn’t struggling with mental health can find it hard to be around all that craziness for so long. But with mental illness, there’s the added pressure of your mind, constantly spinning and trying to make it through everything without retreating to your dark room for days or experiencing the overwhelming anxiety is an huge task.
These tips don’t mean everything will feel easier, and for some they may not work but after several years of experiencing Christmas with that black cloud raining over me, I’ve learnt some coping mechanisms along the way.
1) Don’t apologise for needing space. It is completely normal to need time to yourself, whether it’s an extra long shower or going to the food shop on your own. I crave alone time so much to be able to keep my depression and anxiety at bay. Being around people so much during the holidays has at times driven me to lock myself in my room, turn all the lights off, put my headphones in, blast the music and have a long cry. That however is not a good way of coping, I’ve learnt to know when I’m getting to my limit and I give myself alone time to calm down. We all need space, but don’t feel guilty if you need more because of what is going on in your mind.
2) Exercise. This is advice I rarely dish out because I am no athlete or exercise regular but having 30 minutes to sweat it out or stretch is out really does help. I almost didn’t include this because I used to HATE people telling me to exercise (such a catch 22 with chronic pain) but it does usually help- not always but 90% of the time it does. I take a walk around the woods with my grandma’s dog and just in those 20-30 minutes, my mind is quiet and I do not have to navigate family discussions about so and so. Even a 10-minute yoga/stretch in your room can help calm your breathing and help you feel less overwhelmed.
3) Have a time out. No not the kind you put your children in but a little mini time out from a situation that is bringing on anxiety helps to calm your racing mind. Sometimes it’s an uncomfortable dinner conversation or an argument has broke out and you just feel like running away- I’ve been there, SO many times. I excuse myself or say I’m going to the toilet and I go sit in another room and listen to one song. One song is a good amount of time to refocus my mind and reassure myself that whatever is making me anxious will be okay. I usually always listen to the same song when I’m in an anxious situation but pick something that calms you and just sit there taking some deep breaths. Take as many time outs as you need and know that it’ll be okay.
4) Talk to someone if you’re really struggling. It doesn’t have to be any of the family you’re spending time with, if you’re feeling that huge overwhelming feeling that it’s going to hit or that familiar emptiness creeps over you- reach out to someone!! It could be anyone who you trust, or even a chat line that supports those with mental illness. A five-minute conversation can make you see things differently, calm your fears and lift off some of the weight on your shoulders or simply a hug can make you feel comfort. It’s hard talking to someone any time of year but I always struggle around Christmas because I don’t want to bother any of my friends or upset anyone with my gloominess but 10/10 times, they have welcomed me with open arms and just listened. Cry, vent, shout, scream, whatever you need to do to release the built up emotions.
5) Use any learnt coping mechanisms. When I had CBT, I learnt a lot of useful techniques to manage my anxiety in stressful situations. Now they were mainly centered around travelling and going out in busy places but they can apply just as well to sitting around the dinner table with 30 family members (stressful for anyone;). I learnt helpful breathing techniques that would help the madness in my head. Focusing on breathing in and out on a specific number of counts takes your mind off what is worrying you. Another useful one was thinking of the worst thing that could happen, the best outcome (sometimes this one isn’t needed) and what was most likely to happen. In the early days of using this technique, I had a worksheet that I would always carry with me but now I can do it all in my head without having to see it written (seeing it written use to be the only way I would manage to believe the worst outcome was highly unlikely of happening). For example, I used to be anxious about going on the train so using that technique, the worst that could happen was the train crashing or a bomb going off (sounds extreme but it was a VERY intense worry I would have), what was most likely going to happen, I take the train and safely get to my destination. It sounds ridiculously simple but it helps to rationalise the fear in your mind.
6) Don’t feel guilty over what you can’t do. Guilt has consumed me for many years over things I’ve had no control over but even more so during the holiday season. I feel like I’m instantly letting friends or family down if I don’t go shopping or ice-skating, or sit down with the family every lunch and dinnertime. Guilt is not an emotion that is easily fought off but know that sleeping all day or not going to dinner is nothing to feel guilty about. Sometimes people make you feel the guilt and other times, it’s all because of your mind convincing you of something. Remind yourself you are doing the best YOU can, not the best anyone else can do but the best that you, in your currant state, can do. And that is simply enough. Don’t beat yourself up over things you didn’t do, there is always more time to do the things you want to accomplish. Simply by fighting you are giving yourself infinite chances.
If all the above fails, grab some chocolate and go watch your favourite film because sometimes all you need is a little extra comfort and relaxation. Mental illness is hard and often times an uphill battle but don’t let the false idea that you have to have it all together this time of year keep you from enjoying yourself when you can. Take it day by day, I know December can feel like the longest month with all the festivities but it will pass by quickly and the fight might feel a little lighter come January.
I’m lying there staring at the ceiling listening to the same playlist over and over. I’m reading or watching something and it doesn’t evoke any emotion inside me. I look at the pictures hanging in my room and I feel nothing. I’m crying more for reasons I can’t find. I feel most content alone, wherever I am, alone is what feels comforting. I think it’s back...
It’s been a rough couple weeks, I’ve been really sick. Not constantly throwing up kind of sick but weird physical symptoms and exhaustion to a point of even lifting my phone is too hard kind of sick. It’s been painful and tiring. Maybe it isn’t much of a surprise that it’s back. I am sad at the moment and for me depression usually follows sadness around like a lost puppy, even though they are two very different things. I don’t always get one with the other but most times I do. I’ve been waiting for the “other shoe to drop” so to speak. I’ve been weary since the day i felt normal again. Like I finally felt the sun shining again but constantly turned around to see if there were any clouds. It’s a very strange feeling when you’ve been well for so long and all of sudden you feel it creeping up behind you.. I want to kick it away but it clings to my back and just stays there for a while.
I wouldn’t say I’m in the deep end of it all again, I’ve just got my feet dipped into the edge of the pool and it’s ever so tempting to jump right in. I’m fighting it, as best as I can. Taking baths, going for walks, watching my favourite films, baking, going for long drives, seeing friends when I feel slightly better. But none of those things fill up the emptiness that has once again nestled its way into my soul. It fills all the cracks so perfectly that it can be hard to resist its hold.
I’m not worried or scared, I’m at peace with this being a battle I have to fight right now. Sometimes depression is the root problem and sometimes it’s a symptom. 8 months ago, my depression was the problem that everything else stemmed of off. It was the cause. This time feels different. It’s the symptom. The symptom of chronic pain and unanswered test results. The symptom of being too exhausted to take your clothes off or butter a piece of toast. The symptom of being so ill you haven’t seen the outside of your bedroom for days besides going to work and back. This time it’s the symptom of fighting a battle that seems insurmountable, the battle being my own body. It’s not the root cause and therefore I will not treat it like it is. It’s the symptom of living in a body that is destroying me, it’s only natural my mind feels like doing the same. My anxiety has come within the last few weeks due to a number of blood tests and constantly going to see the doctor. For me, depression and anxiety come together as a little package.
It's not the same kind of depression I have experienced for years in the past. There's no suicidal thoughts, negative things being repeated in my head or wanting to self harm. It's feeling low, not wanting to do my regular activities and retreating to my room everyday to be alone. Depression comes in SO many varieties and there isn't a box that we all fit into, you don't have to be suicidal to be depressed, just as you don't have to constantly hide away in your room to be depressed either. It can constantly be there or come and go. There is no right way to be depressed. Am I glad this is different than what I experienced before? Incredibly so, but that doesn't mean I'm not struggling with the low moods, loneliness, boredom and anxiety that has popped up in the last couple weeks. But I'm thankful that I can recognise where those feelings are stemming from and try my best to deal with them. Being chronically ill, is an ever-changing, constant battle, depression is not an unusual symptom to have.
I don’t want or need anything in these moments. I don’t need the sympathy that undoubtedly comes when people hear that you’re depressed again. I don’t need to be smothered with love and affection because regardless of how much I receive, it won’t make an ounce of difference to how I feel, I wish it did but love unfortunately doesn't take away physical or mental pain. I just need time, space and understanding. Time to ride the wave out, no matter how long is does or doesn’t last. Space to feel what I’m feeling and for it to be okay to need to be alone. And understanding that I don’t know how long this will last, it could be 3 days or 3 weeks or 3 months but that I will still be me at the other end of it and I’m still me during it.
But most of all I’m reminding myself that this is okay. These feelings I’m having right now are perfectly normal. It’s absolutely no surprise or shock that my depression is back, mildly but back nonetheless. I’m exhausted and rightly so. My depression has always been the boat that has held me afloat during the rocky storms. Right now things are a bit unsettled so I knew it was a matter of time before the boat came sailing along and pulled me up. All I do know is that I am okay, despite everything I have just rambled on about, I am okay. You can be depressed and be okay, get up and go to work, plaster a smile on your face, it’s hard but it is doable (certainly not the case for everyone!! And wasn’t the case for me for a long time). My depressed feelings don’t mean I’m not okay. They just mean I’m sailing through some rough waves at the moment. Every storm settles eventually and I have every faith this one will pass soon enough.
I am enough. It’s a phrase I never quite believe but say to myself a thousand times a day. I am enough. I say it so many times in the hopes that one day I will feel like enough. Enough for everyone else but more importantly enough for myself. To be okay in all that I am and all that I was.
Eating disorders, in whichever way they present themselves, take away all feelings of worthiness. The voice it possesses is enough to bring me to my knees crying my eyes out in front of the mirror. How can a voice no one else hears be so powerful? Something I’ve always wondered since my ED appeared. I was young when mine first came into my life; I’ve not really known a life without it being there in some way. I don’t remember the feeling of not eating without guilt anymore. I don’t remember the feeling of being confident. I don’t remember the feeling of going shopping and not getting exceptionally upset. I don’t remember the feeling of looking in the mirror and being okay with what was staring back at me.
I’m not thin, and I so desperately wish I was, which is of course part of the problem. For some people it’s easy to lose weight, for others it’s not but it doesn’t mean my eating disorder isn’t there, I can promise you it is. I live in a constant cycle of gaining and losing weight but wanting the latter more than anything. I have days where the voice doesn’t consume me and I feel normal, dare I say. The days where I don’t feel like my life’s work is to lose weight, starve myself, binge or count calories. I simply live my life and don’t feel weighed down by it. But for every good day there are twice as many bad days. Some days it’s so subtle, I don’t notice it besides looking in the mirror and hearing the word fat but most days, it’s screaming at me and wherever I go, whatever I do, it’s there.
There isn’t a day that goes by where I am not hearing the negative voice. It can take me over 30 minutes to get dressed simply to go to work or the shops because the voice was telling me how disgusting everything looked. It can take me reapplying my make-up 2-3 times because I started crying in the middle of doing it because the voice was telling me how ugly I was. It can take up to an hour of looking at food before mustering up the courage to eat it because the voice was demanding I leave it alone. Sometimes it means starving myself all day before getting to work and inhaling any food in my sight because I feel like I might pass out. Sometimes it’s stuffing my face from the minute I get up till I go to sleep because it helps- I don’t know how but it helps in the way ice cream mends your broken heart. Sometimes it’s not eating all day until dinnertime and being extremely proud that you only ate 300-400 calories or often times less for the day. Sometimes it’s counting every single calorie consumed versus every single calorie you’ll burn. But it’s exhausting no matter what I do. It takes immense strength (and good acting skils;) to act normal in public, to ignore the voice when I'm around other people and to eat in front of people. Something which I found extremely difficult a few years ago and wouldn't even eat at lunch time anymore because I couldn't bare the thought of being watched (in reality I drew more attention to myself by not eating, but in my head it was better than eating). I still do struggle with that but I act completely normal because I don’t want anyone to see the internal struggle of eating a goddamn piece of toast. It can all sound so small and silly to other people but in my mind it can honestly feel like the end of the world.
Getting this phrase tattooed with the eating disorder recovery symbol is the constant reminder I need. Some people are lucky in life and they know that they’re quite simply enough in some way or another, whether they know it on the surface, deep down or feel it from other people, but they feel it. I do not, I try my hardest to feel it, to really believe it but my mind and my body always convince me otherwise. I need to be reminded constantly that I am enough. I am. I need it repeating over and over again in my mind like a dull melody that I won’t forget. It makes me needy, I am well aware of this but I don’t want this gratification to come from anyone else but myself. I want to tell myself that I am enough and really, truly believe it without anyone else having to tell me I am.
It’s been there 4 days and I feel like it’s already helping, seeing it everyday whenever I need a little boost or just need reminding that I am enough, I look down at my wrist and take a couple deep breathes. It’s more than a tattoo for me, it’s a lifeline when my eating disorder is pounding down on me. Will it always work? No because that’s not how our minds work but it’s there and just knowing that already gives me enough comfort. It took me 2 years to build up the courage to get it done but it was well worth the wait. It's out there for everyone to see and although that scares me, I am becoming much more open of my disorder than I ever have been before. It' there, it has been for 10 years and will likely always be there in some way so I'm not going to keep running away from it like it wants me to. I'm going to run towards it and hopefully recovery will get easier each day because deep down, I know it is truly worth it to be recovered.
One of my therapist's that I worked with a couple years ago said something to me once that has still stuck with me to this day- and I'm still profusely working on it. "Jasmine, what is the worse thing that can come of you forgiving yourself?" That question holds such power and enormity for me that as I sit here reading over it, I feel uncomfortable. What could possibly go wrong from me forgiving myself? Will my world fall apart? Will it make all the pain any less valid? I don't think so but what if maybe it did? (hey anxiety hey, you make life a real joy:).
Forgiving myself for all the times I've starved my body, binged or purged it of all the food I had just eaten. Forgiving myself for burning my skin to feel the seething pain of that rather than the thundering pain in my head. Forgiving myself for banging my head against the wall to make the noise stop. Forgiving myself for hating every inch of my body and wishing it all away. Forgiving myself for hurting those closest to me. Forgiving myself for not telling the person I loved soon enough and losing them. Forgiving myself for feeling like death was better than living and for tempting fate so many times. Forgiving myself for all the what if's that continue to eat me alive. Forgiving myself for failing my a-levels because of my mental health. Forgiving myself for the countless things I gave up after a couple of weeks. Forgiving myself for going into something knowing full well that I shouldn't. Forgiving myself for self-destructing for months at a time.
What would happen? Maybe it would mean the pain I felt mentally and physically was never true. Maybe it would mean the love I felt for that person wasn't real. Maybe it would mean the binges, purges and days starving myself never damaged me as much as they did. It could all mean so many things but ultimately forgiving myself doesn't mean any of those things didn't happened, it means I'm no longer letting them have power of my future. That's what forgiving myself really entails, it gives me freedom from the war inside my mind. It's not letting myself be measured by my failures.
Whilst writing some poetry a few months ago, I jotted this down "you can live freely only when you forgive yourself for the mistakes you made knowingly" and I had completely forgotten about it until looking through my poetry journal the other day. It speaks to me on so many levels almost as if I wasn't the one who had strung those words together to make such a powerful sentence. I am chained down in all the mistakes I have made, some knowingly and some not, but they hold power over me nonetheless. The mistakes I continued to make despite knowing the damage they would cause me, they're the ones that eat away at me and dig deep into my core because they're the ones that matter. They're the ones I should have learnt from but kept making them until I finally realised how unhealthy they were.
Love hurts, I know that now, my goodness it is soul-destroying but does that mean I'll never fall in love again? No because I will most likely, a few more times (hopefully- hah!). Starving my body and binging physically harms me and mentally tears me apart but does that mean I'll never do it again? No because recovery isn't this straight line that I will always follow, it is up and down, just like life. Depression is painful and causes you to question your worth on this planet which means I will most likely tempt with fate again. But that doesn't mean I won't fight like hell. Life is freaking hard, I probably make a least 5 mistakes a day in different aspects of my life but do they define me? I used to think they did but no, my mistakes no matter how big or small do not define the person that I am.
Forgiving myself doesn't only mean forgetting my past mistakes, it means letting go. Letting go of the hold they have over me, letting go of the power they contain and letting go of the guilt they manifest. Thinking of letting go physically makes my heart ache for all the painful memories those mistakes consist of, as if letting them go means they no longer matter or happened. But they do, my pain whether present or past will always matter. It's okay to cry over things that happened over a year ago, to cry for a recovery that was less than perfect, to cry for a love that never quite made it, to cry for a body that never felt good enough, to cry for a mind that tortured itself to physical harm. It's ok, all of it, every single tear and feeling.
How can I let go of the things that I have let define me for so long? How can I let go of the things that still cause my heart to bleed? Maybe there is no definitive way that we let go of these moments and feelings. Maybe it's in the process of searching how to let go, we realise we no longer need to hold on. Maybe it's a never-ending cycle that we need to constantly work at. Maybe it's waking up each day and not letting today be another day of living in the shadow of past mistakes.
I've let my heart ache and my tears flow the last few days so today I am choosing forgiveness over pain ridden with guilt. Today I am choosing to love myself despite the many reasons I could think of not to. Today I am choosing to define my worth with more than the mistakes I have made. Today I choose forgiving and letting go. I hope you will, too.
Hey there, I'm Jasmine, your average 21 year old working as a nanny and play assistant. Maybe Tomorrow follows my journey living with mental health issues and chronic pain, all whilst trying to have some fun along the way.
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