Christmas on the outside, crying on the inside

At Unfrench, we've been talking a lot about depression and mental health. As Christmas approaches, this is becoming a more important topic. We all have our demons, but throw in alcohol, family time (or time away from family) and cost pressures, and now is a time that can really tip someone over the edge.

Christmas for me normally means a lot of travel between my divorced parents, and my boyfriend's parents. With more than 200 miles between them, that's a lot of packing, unpacking and driving. Dividing time between them is always difficult, particularly with only one Christmas day for three sets of parents. We've got ourselves onto a three year cycle which helps, but that still leaves plenty of people to fit into the remaining week.

If that isn't enough, I have depression and anxiety which just adds to the normal lows people can get at this time of year. I remember one Christmas eve sitting in the living room in tears while everyone else was making merry in the kitchen. Seeing happy people reminded me of how unhappy I was, making me feel worse. I was surrounded by my family so should have been enjoying myself, but all I wanted to do was be on my own. While being alone too much isn't good for me, having to pretend to be happy all the time is worse.

This year, we haven't even got to Christmas Day and I have already experienced struggles. I organised a Christmas party and invited people, but only had a combination of no's or no responses. I took these as personal rejections and started to reflect on what I had done wrong. This is very common among people with anxiety. I couldn't believe that my guests were simply busy (even at Christmas when everyone is trying to cram in as much fondue and vin chaud as possible). Instead, I had to have done something to offend people. In reality, the no's were due to a combination of weddings in Paris and other Christmas parties. The no responses were down to a surprise weekend away that a husband was trying to hide from his wife so couldn't accept or decline the invitation!

I'm far from the only person who thinks the worst when something like this happens. It's reassuring to know, but also worrying that anxiety is so common. I'd like to share a way to make it all go away, but I haven't found a cure yet. I have a few tips that help a bit for me, but they're very far away from a magic pill. So here are my suggestions:

- Be honest with your friends and family. They need to know how they can help, whether it's by leaving you alone, distracting you or making you cups of tea.

- Don't try to do too much. While it's tempting to make plans to see everyone, tiring yourself out will only make you feel worse.

- Conversely, don't hide yourself away. While it's important to take care of yourself, fresh air and exercise are also good for you. For me, a walk with the dog on a sunny day is a guaranteed way of making myself feel better.

- Find something that stops the spiralling: those thoughts that go round and round in your head and get worse each time. Whether it's watching trash on TV, having a bubble bath or calling a friend, try to stop the spiral. This is much easier said than done, I realise.

- Always put yourself in someone else's shoes before thinking they hate you! Try to objectively think about what is actually happening, not automatically assuming the worst. It's way more likely that they're busy, than that they don't like you.

People are becoming so much more aware and accepting of mental health issues, even at Christmas. There is so much to think about and so many pressures, chances are that your friends and family will understand more than you think. I am hoping for a happy and healthy Christmas for everyone, including myself. And at the end of the day, next year is a new year, and hopefully a better one.

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