Coping at Christmas 2018 (dealing with pain over the holidays)

Two Christmas mornings ago I lay in bed staring the water stain on my bedroom ceiling.

I don’t know how long I was there, like that, but I was immobilised by emotional pain, and it felt like an eternity gazing into nothing and everything.

This was nothing new. As far back as I can remember Christmas has been bitter-sweet. Now more so as I moved away from the place of pain more than a decade ago, where many of my past traumas happened but simultaneously also away from the people I love the most (shout outs to my beautiful grandparents.)

It hurts not being where they are.

But I can’t be there.

So…I’m here. Alone, trying to find myself in this big, beautiful, breathtaking and sometimes bizarre city called London.

Dealing with trauma, emotional pain and mental health problems is sometimes like that old wound that never fully heals. Share on X

Share what you feel

The other day I was talking to my Ma, who has dementia, but sounds perfectly fine when talking to me, and she said, “sometimes, I does just feel overcome by grief. Out of de blue; like it does just take over me.”

In the background, my Grampie, who himself has struggled since losing his sight said, “that does happen to you too?”

I often cry (silently) when I talk to them. My grandparents, who in many ways are both the most conservative, yet open minded people I know, who never talked about emotions1, sharing their innermost feelings.

And I didn’t feel alone. I felt pained, but connected. It is weird and oddly liberating, sharing pain.

In the past I’d developed some bad coping habits… from bulimia to over-drinking to escape the surreal feeling of non-existence and hollowness inside. But these things aren’t helpful and they cause more problems for us.

Read more: It’s ok not to be ok this Christmas

Cry if you need to, be angry if you need to…just let it out

Back to Christmas morning 2016…. I didn’t think I could make it out of bed, and my trickle of tears morphed into a steady stream of rivers.

When I got it all out, I remembered I had to get out of bed. I had promised to help out at the Crisis homeless shelter in my area. I went, and it was fulfilling but also hard, trying to work and engage and contain my emotions. But at one point while on gate duty, I was talking to some of the other volunteers, about why they volunteer on Christmas day. I listened to stories of people sleeping rough, carrying all they owned in a little bag.

Some talked about longing for things and loves ones gone, about old heartaches that still twitch like a wound ever fully healed…and there at the gate with a bunch of strangers, I found myself in tears for the second time on Christmas Day.

But I was relieved and happy that I forced myself out of bed to be where I was, connecting with people who in one way or another could identify with how I was feeling too.

Dealing with trauma, emotional pain and mental health problems is sometimes like that old wound that never fully heals. At this time of year it can be harder.

Healing is a process that needs help and self care

I have done cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy and then long term psychoanalytic therapy  every week for two years. I’ve taken antidepressants since I was 16. I’ve been hospitalised as you know and I’ve tried to end my life twice. I live with a number of diagnoses- some of which I talk about more openly than others, because I still have shame too. Even if I did nothing wrong.

All of this – the medication, therapy, talking – have helped me to manage better. It is a slow work in progress but it is happening. And it’s helped.

Along the way I realised it wasn’t enough to just have medication and therapy. I needed to do some things myself too.

  • Volunteer

Every year I still volunteer with Crisis at the homeless shelter. It forces me out of bed, because I know there are other people who need me too.

  • Share

I talk to other people who have shared experiences, maybe not always the same as mine but who can identify with the pain I feel.

  • Feel

Feeling what I feel sometimes is scary and I tried to suppress my emotions. But now I try to allow myself to feel what I’m feeling (with borderline personality disorder my emotions are quite intense) but I acknowledge my emotions at the time, try to work through them or come to some conclusion that will allow me to then put it to rest so I can carry on (until it resurfaces).

  • Do Christmas your own way

I don’t place pressure on myself to participate in Christmas in the way other people expect me too. Years ago my well meaning friends insisted I spend the holiday with them and it was agony at a large dinner party when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball under the duvet. I do what I feel like and I understand I have some more leeway because I live on my own and have no children. But all I mean is, I don’t spend money I don’t have on physical presents because II’ve realised showing love in other ways is more important. I go to have mulled wine when I feel like it, and if I want to cancel plans because Im not longer up for it, I do. I get as involved as much or as little as I like.

I hope some of these tips will help you to cope with your feelings over the holiday period.

Who to call

As always I would like to remind you you are not alone. And there is always someone who you can talk to. If you’re in the UK you can call the Samaritans on116 123 or Papyrus and other helplines, and if you’ve hurt yourself or feel unsafe please call 999 or go to A&E. 

Gentle hugs x

Feature image byNathan Fertig
Cover slider image byJoanna Kosinska

Read more: Dealing with depression

Dreaded holiday depression


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