I have always had a very mixed relationship with Christmas. It is both one of excitement and anticipation and at the same time dread and fear. It is amazing how both can co-exist in the same space. I often find it can put tremendous pressure on us to perform and conform and buy into the idea of the “perfect family” whatever that is supposed to look like.
One thing I know for sure is that every person is doing the best they can in any moment with what they have and where they are at. I have a blessed life and count my blessings. I get to wake up every day with my husband, son and daughter. I get to live in a home where there is warmth, laughter and love. I get to step out into life and a job that I love, a job I would of never have envisaged doing.
This is now but things were once very different for me.
In my late twenties I became saturated in depression and paralysed by an anxiety that literally destroyed my life and eventually took it away from me through suicide. I use the word blessed because I was brought back to life.
Many of the pressures that led to those dark times were because of a life of performing and conforming, something that can be a reality for many at Christmas. You see for me performing and conforming was not limited just to Christmas, it was the stage I lived on for many years. I was a fantastic actor if I may say so myself. All things to all people, except the one that mattered most – me.
Thankfully I see things differently now. This Christmas like many Christmases I no longer set myself up for a fall. I don’t have the perfect family and I don’t have the perfect life so as I enter into Christmas I do so with an open heart, hope for all of us, and a genuine gratitude for the gift of my life. I no longer buy into the drama and circus that at one time in my life I got seduced into. I get to be the real me, warts and all.
Overcoming my hardest times led me on the path of supporting others to realise that they too can find the power in themselves to heal. This led me to become a psychotherapist and to found an organisation, Suicide or Survive, that delivers mental health, suicide prevention and wellbeing programmes throughout Ireland. This work over the years has shown me again and again the potential of all of us as human beings no matter how dim our light becomes.
I love that Christmas is around the time of the winter Solstice. The Solstice occurs around December 21st, the darkest day of the year, yet traditionally it has been a time of celebration. The ancient Irish saw it as a time to celebrate their strength and resilience in getting through the hardest days of winter, and a time of hope in that the days start to get brighter from then on in. I firmly believe I walk in the steps of my ancestors and all of us do and with that we carry that innate wisdom and resilience of generations gone by.
It’s especially important to keep an eye out for those who might be vulnerable and lonely, even if they might not seem like it. Christmas can be particularly hard for people who have lost someone, or who are separated from their family in some way.
In this way the Solstice represents hope and hope is definitely something the world needs right now. We at Suicide or Survive will be pausing on the Solstice to give thanks for the year that´s been, to remember loved ones, and to shine a light for hope by lighting a candle for the year ahead. You can find out more on our website, Facebook page or on Twitter. We’ll be tweeting with the hashtag #SolsticeLightofHope.
— Suicide or Survive (@SuicideorSurviv) December 20, 2016
You might consider your own way in your own time of taking some time to pause and reflect during what can be an all too busy time of the year. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that we’re actually supposed to be hibernating right now, not running around like mad yokes!
Remember we are doing our best with what we have and where we are at in our lives, so maybe we need to go easier on ourselves.
Back to my initial feelings towards Christmas, conforming and performing in particular, I giggle – 20 years of therapy, I am a therapist, and my mental health still gets messy at times. The challenge is to stop judging, to go easy on ourselves, and to reach out when you need help. We’re all just doing our best.
Go gentle this Christmas.
If you need help please call Samaritans on their free confidential 24/7 helpline on 116-123, email email@example.com or see yourmentalhealth.ie for a national directory of support services.
More info at suicideorsurvive.ie. Caroline is on Twitter @carmcguigan.