If you are one of those people who really struggles around Christmas time what with all the anxiety of social interaction, disruptions to routine, pressure to be “merry” and bountiful buffets of sausage rolls and Christmas pudding…THEN CONGRATULATIONS!
If you are reading this that means it is now Boxing Day and the bulk of Christmas is over for another year (except for Boxing Day obviously but if you struggle to manage that then my advice is to hide away from everyone in a box and say that you are celebrating the holiday in the “literal sense”).
So hooray for you mentally ill winter holiday fearing person! You don’t have to go through the celebratory stress anymore! You can pack the tinsel and paper hats away now, sit back and relax into your usual routine and …wait…I have just been told that celebrations are not actually over…apparently we still have New Year’s Eve to get through…the celebration with yet more social interaction, overt displays of happiness, buffets (albeit with slightly stale Christmas pudding by now) and crowds of people disrupting day to day life…ah…well this is awkward..sorry about that…seriously who put these two holidays so close together? This is just too much pressure for the already anxious around the world! Next year I am moving to Beijing to celebrate new year in late January/February with the Chinese…
Now, with New Year, we are all forced once again to face many of the fears we already had to deal with at Christmas (aka the aforementioned necessity to be jolly and crowds of strangers/family members). However there is also an added extra stress with New Years, that being the obsessive need to reflect upon the past twelve months whether we like it or not.
For some people, with or without mental health problems, this can be a pleasant experience and the stroll down memory lane can be a nostalgic jaunt lit by sunlight and rainbows. If that is the case then that is fantastic and jolly good on you if you are finding yourself in that situation. All too often though, memory lane can be a dirty back alley scattered with garbage bags of bad days and regret that you really wish the bin men would hurry up and remove. Everyone has bad days (even Mr Happy from the Mr Men books…they just didn’t publish that story), but at New Year for some reason we don’t just look back at those bad days feeling pleased that they are over, rather we look back feeling guilty and ashamed that they happened at all and all the things that we were unable to achieve because of them.
If you have a Facebook or Instagram account it is likely that the next week or so will see an onslaught of collages uploaded displaying all the happy times people want to remember of 2016 and that is great. I love seeing all the happiness the year has brought to my friends and all of the things they have achieved. Lord knows I would be unhappy were they to have had terrible years, yet the issue with these collages is the compulsion we feel to compare our lives to them and the collages in our heads.
Many of these collages for example will involve things like images of new high end jobs, new houses, weddings and holidays abroad. I think this is hard for anyone (I know a lot of “sane” people who find New Year difficult for this reason too), but the difficult thing when you are struggling with a mental health problem is that you are more likely not to have done these things not because you didn’t have the opportunities, but because your mental health physically prevented you from reaching them. I know being mentally ill is called having a “mental disability” when I have to fill out forms or applications, yet still I think it is easy to forget just how disabling these mental health problems can be, how dramatic the impact they have on lifestyle.
My mental health is so unpredictable and takes up so much of my time that I am unable to hold down a regular “serious” job. For this reason I do not have an income or any money to rent a room in someone’s shed let alone buy a house, and unfortunately in my life mental health problems have been the ruin of all previous romantic relationships (either that or my funny looking face of course) let alone marriages/weddings. In terms of the rigid nature of my OCD rituals, fear of contamination and my anorexia driven inability to eat outside of my house, I also cannot travel on holidays in my own country never mind abroad. There is probably a very lyrical way to express how this feels, but in summary, it sucks.
This year two of my best friends went to Greece and I would have loved to have gone with them, but it was simply out of the question if thinking realistically. Seeing photos of people on holiday or abroad building orphanages in faraway lands, happily married or running their own company then can make you feel inferior, a feeling that is often exacerbated by the common question of “how was your year?”
In comparison to many people, looking back at my year you could say that I have achieved nothing. I haven’t moved up the career ladder or taken a step onto the property ladder (the pressure to climb ladders these days is OVERWHELMING), and I haven’t found the love of my life or helped build a medical centre in Africa which will help save the lives of orphans in need of urgent treatment. If I look at it bleakly, I have simply carried out another 365 days of rituals that achieve nothing outside of the confines of my head, been hospitalised against my will again and basically carried out the same year in year out routine that I have rehearsed every year for the past decade. So what was the point? What did I achieve? Well, this is where I think all us marbleless folk need to give ourselves a bit of a break and not think about the things we didn’t do, but realise the value in all the little things we did do. If you are looking back at 2016 and are feeling that you have made no progress or step advancing you on your journey through life, I can guarantee you are wrong.
The word achievement is not limited to describing extravagant weddings, a three piece suite in your new lounge or a bungee jump across a beautiful landscape in New Zealand. An achievement can be anything.
Ask yourself, this year did you ever get out of bed even on a day you really didn’t feel able to face the world? WELL DONE YOU. Did you speak to a fellow human being even though your stomach was a mass of churning social anxiety? FANTASTIC. Did you put on clothes? Eat Breakfast? Open a door or do any little thing, despite fear in your heart and a head screaming all it could to prevent you from doing so. WHAT A CHAMPION YOU ARE. What a mental illness fighting warrior of epic proportions. What an achievement.
If you have simply managed to keep yourself alive, survive and make it through another 365 days with a disability then THAT is something worth celebrating and something for which you should be incredibly proud, even if you can’t exactly take a photo of that achievement to whack up on Facebook.
If you are reading this it is literally impossible for you to claim that you have had another year wasted or another year of not doing anything. Even if you come back at me with “I haven’t kept myself alive, I am in hospital/being held against my will with staff who are doing that for me”, I can come back at you and say without any doubt that you have achieved something because you are reading these words. Somehow you have found the strength to go onto the internet, click a link and made the decision to read it, and in my eyes, that is pretty damn fantastic. Also, if you are reading this, you have achieved the task of making me smile by listening to my nonsense and make me feel less alone, so that is two brilliant things right there in the past five minutes.
New Year’s Eve is of course still going to be difficult and no matter what I say, the parties, the crowds and the reflection of the past 12 months is going to be a challenge. Nevertheless, if all you have done is wake up today, I would say you have at least one good thing to reflect on rather than feel ashamed or guilty. When those collages pop up on social media, remember that you have every right to be very proud of yourselves, as I know I certainly am. Take care fellow warriors, I will speak to you in 2017 and again we will get through that year together. Stay safe and take care,
All my love, best wishes, hugs and Happy New Year vibes
Katie – Born Without Marbles xxx