It’s Christmas Eve. So many familiar songs of the season fill the air as families and friends gather to exchange gifts, eat good food, and enjoy each other’s company. In particular, the words by Noel Regney stand out to me today: “Do you see what I see… Do you hear what I hear… Do you know what I know…Listen to what I say…” (1962). Although I know mental health awareness was probably not on his mind when he penned those words, I can’t help but feel that countless people with mental illnesses can relate as we are struggling to “fit in” or simply survive this Christmas.
Seeing those bits of the song pulled out and pieced together, I see a plea for understanding. Experience truly is a brutal teacher. Those who have never experienced mental illness can sit next to someone with anxiety, yet have no notion of how consuming the illness can be. Those who have never experienced depression can sit next to someone with depression, yet have no understanding of the hopelessness that accompanies the illness. The same can be said of all mental illnesses. Unless you have walked in my shoes, you unfortunately will never understand just how deeply these issues influence every aspect of my life, including holidays with family and friends.
With this in mind, I thought I would write this short Christmas post to say “I get it” to those people out there who are struggling through Christmas feeling misunderstood or alone in their struggles. You are unique, as are your individual struggles, but you are not alone. I’m right there in the thick of it with you. There are a few things I try to do or to keep in mind at social events. Whether I am with a group of strangers or with people I have known my entire life, sometimes one or all are necessary.
- Enjoy the little things – focus on how delicious your food tastes or the sound of Christmas carols in the background.
- Think about what is happening right now, rather than what could happen or what might have happened.
- Escape to a quiet area when a group setting becomes too overwhelming
- Establish an ally – someone you can pull aside if you need help getting out of an endless anxiety loop.
- Don’t be afraid to leave early if you need to do so for the sake of your mental health.
- Set boundaries – don’t participate in activities that make you too uncomfortable.
Finally, if anyone is reading this and is struggling to survive this Christmas, reach out to me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You are not alone. I am happy to commiserate or talk about shared or different experiences or coping mechanisms. Christmas is about love and acceptance, not pain and loneliness.
Regney, Noel. (1962). Do You Hear What I Hear? Lyrics retrieved from https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/1449506/Star+Bright/Do+You+Hear+What+I+Hear-The+Little+Drummer+Boy