For the very first post in the series, I thought I’d start with maybe the most important subject I’ll be giving recommendations on; coping skills. Initially I planned to go through my favourite Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) skills, but I thought that breaking things down into Christmassy scenarios would be easier to follow and more appropriate for Blogmas…
The most stereotypical reason someone can’t sleep around Christmastime is probably because they’re too excited for their plans the following day – whether that be Christmas Day, a Christmas Market, or a Pantomime! I remember growing up that I could barely sleep on Christmas Eve and in a way, it’s gotten worse as I get older because it has meant I’m able to make more Christmassy plans throughout December (and usually November too!).
Other – probably more important – reasons for struggling to sleep at this time of year, can be pretty much all the headings below(!): the various pressures, arguments, feeling triggered… I think that if any of these difficulties are stopping you from sleeping then talking about them might help. Kind of ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ thinking in that talking about what you’re struggling with might feel that a weight is lifted, and you’ve been unburdened. And that stress and pressure you’ve been experiencing could lessen so that you can become more relaxed and calmer – the perfect emotions to promote a healthy sleep.
Personally, I find that when I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t function as well and my low energy levels result in me feeling unable to be happy, excited, or passionate about anything. And anyone who knows me will know that is the exact opposite of who I am! I pride myself on being dedicated to blogging and to any and all of my collaborations and partnerships.
Another coping strategy for if you’re struggling to sleep is to try relaxation or mindfulness exercises like doing a ‘body scan’ or some of these from Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/mindfulness/mindfulness-exercises-tips/
This is something I’ve seen numerous people talk about on social media, and it’s definitely something I experienced while I was an inpatient in a specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from my home and my loved ones. The pressure came from the staff – particularly the Therapy staff who bought every ward a Christmas Tree and decorations (safe ones that you couldn’t smash and use to self-harm). But so many of the other inpatients had a variety of negative memories surrounding Christmas and were reluctant to get festive or be cheerful. I guess that was sort of pressure in itself because I felt that even if I had been happy about the time of year, I couldn’t have really shown it because I would have stood out like a sore thumb with the other girls! And it might have felt as though I was really shedding light on the fact, they were feeling the exact opposite as a lot of people feel at Christmastime.
My reluctance to be cheerful was mostly down to the fact that I wasn’t allowed home for Christmas. Being sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act meant that I needed my Psychiatrist’s permission to leave the hospital and my Psychiatrist (who I only saw every now and then) went off the recommendations of the staff who saw me every day. The other thing at play was that to go home, I would have to be driven there by the staff and they were unwilling to drive someone any time between the 23rd and the 27th. Which meant that to go home for Christmas, I had to be well enough to stay there for at least four days. And on my first Christmas at the hospital, I just wasn’t stable enough to do that. I’d never spent an entire Christmas Day away from my home in my whole twenty-one years, so it was very unfamiliar territory. I think I was also sad because it felt that it was my own ‘fault.’ That my suicide attempts had put me in that hospital and I really had no right to complain that there were consequences for my actions.
It was a good lesson to learn though; that I had to take responsibility, because it meant that on my second Christmas as an inpatient, I had put in more effort and determination and was actually allowed home for the four days! This was then a whole new story because it meant that I was happy that Christmas and the girls who weren’t allowed home were definitely not. But it helped me to see how lucky I was and to be grateful for that and make the most of my time at home with my Mum and the family cat!
If you’re struggling to cope with the pressure to be happy at Christmas, I think my favourite coping skill is to just allow yourself to feel what you want to feel. Allow it, don’t judge it or act impulsively on it. Recognize that it’s there and that you’re entitled to feel that way and just take very little notice of anyone who tells you otherwise.
I think I’m fairly fortunate to have such a small family (my immediate family is my Grandad, my Uncle, my Aunt, and obviously my Mum) because it means that there’s less contradictory views and opinions to tackle and fight one another. However, having a small family also means that when views are opposed, it’s maybe a bit more overwhelming and important because there’s not a whole lot of members so if you fall out with one, it might hit harder than if you argue with one person out of a big family.
This is one area where losing my Nana has had a massive impact because she was the ‘glue’ to the family and would always patch up the cracks when people would argue. She was the mediator who would help the opposing people to express their thoughts and opinions in a healthier, less argumentative way. But she passed away and I think that was a big catalyst for our family pretty much drifting/falling apart. I’m very lucky to still have my Mum because if we have a difference of opinion, we talk it through calmly and rationally and our relationship stays intact.
Fortunately, I don’t remember many arguments at Christmastime, but from what I do remember… as hard as it was to do, my coping skill was to remain neutral and as removed as possible from the situation.
I don’t often talk about my own difficulties with food, weight, and body image because I don’t feel that they’ve had enough of an impact on me to be deserving of space on my blog. And there are so many people out there with Eating Disorder diagnosis who are far more skilled and experienced at talking about the subject.
But, last Christmas, this was something I saw a lot of people talking about on social media; one person actually did a thread on Twitter about things you shouldn’t say about the subject at Christmastime. So, I thought it was worth mentioning it in this post even though I sort of feel like a fraud in dishing out advice on this…
In the psychiatric hospital, there was one inpatient who had Anorexia as well as a Personality Disorder diagnosis and I remember that literally from the second she was admitted to the ward, the atmosphere and discussion of food and weight completely changed. I think that it’s one thing that psychiatric service users do well is to empathise with one another and respect another’s differences. However, seeing someone so underweight, affected a few of us in that it seemed to exacerbate our thoughts around our own weight and for me, it really reminded me of how much weight I had gained since being an inpatient (mostly due to medication side-effects).
And on the first Christmas since this one girl had been admitted, I think everyone was really aware of what they were eating and just how unhealthy the food was that the hospital provided. I think I was actually really fortunate in that I developed the attitude that life is too short to restrict my food and worry about my weight. Of course, this is massively easier said than done for a lot of people, but maybe it illustrates just how little impact this aspect has had on my life…
With that in mind, I guess my advice for someone struggling with this, would be that if someone was pressuring you – and it wasn’t just feeling that they were – then to talk to them about it and show them that their comments are unhelpful. If that person really cares about you then hopefully, they’ll listen and respect your thoughts and feelings.
I think that this is a common and strong thought/emotion particularly for those who have experienced some sort of abuse or trauma. For me, a huge belief during the abuse and hurt that was inflicted on me, was that I had deserved it. That I’d done something so ‘wrong’ I had earnt all this pain and upset. Initially, I thought it was because I wore makeup, so I stopped wearing it. And when the abuse continued, I thought it was my body, so I continued to lose weight… of course, in abuse, it is never the ‘victim’s’ fault. They are never to blame. And are never responsible for it.
I think that a huge reason behind the ‘victim’ feeling deserving is that the abuser tends to make a point of making them feel that way. And I think they do this to discourage the person from reporting the abuse because why would you speak up about it if it was your own fault? And are you really entitled to complain about something that you’ve brought upon yourself? But I think the most dangerous element of blame in abuse is when the ‘victim’ does report it and are made to feel blameworthy. When I very first reported the abuse, it was to my abuser’s boss and he called me a ‘manipulative liar’ so, understandably, I didn’t say another word for over two years.
You hear instances like this all the time, usually when it’s regarding the Police. I was very fortunate to have some amazing Police Officers take care of my case because after CPS determined that there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute my abuser, the Officers told me that they felt really frustrated because they believed me and wanted to having him convicted to protect others. It was somewhat comforting to hear them say this because I felt validated – another important aspect of reporting abuse.
So that’s my battle against feeling deserving of something I believe I am not. There’s also instances where I probably deserve something, but I’m convinced that I don’t… Usually, this is around my blog and its popularity and amazing opportunities it affords me. It took me a fairly long time to find the confidence to accept that I’m NOT Disordered is successful, and my ability to do so, mainly stemmed from watching the amount of readers rise. Of course, I know that not every single person who reads my blog will enjoy it, but out of over three quarters of a million…?
Needless to say, the battle and difference between feeling deserving and undeserving, is a massive challenge for me and my mental health, and I think Christmas quite obviously exacerbates this. I’m so absolutely grateful to be given kind, thoughtful presents from my loved ones, but I struggle to think of a single reason why I would deserve even just one of them!
To cope with these feelings of undeserving at Christmastime, I find it helpful to consider the relationship equal. Sometimes that has meant gifting the person, sometimes it’s about doing a ‘good deed’ for someone… Just doing something the person will appreciate and benefit from.
I hope this post has been helpful in providing you with coping skills for various difficult Christmassy scenarios and that they help you to better enjoy this time of year.