The Dark Side of Christmas
At this time of year, we tend to get caught up in our own bubble. While Christmas is a time of joy and happiness for many, it is also a struggle in countless ways for too many others.
In recent weeks, I have seen a lot of posts on social media promoting things like “Sleep in the Park” and “Social Bite” to support rough sleepers and those without a permanent address. It is great that so many are supporting others. Where is the government?
However, I have also seen some appalling & callous comments on Facebook from people who have no sympathy for rough sleepers: “I have no sympathy”, “give them a shovel” and “it is their choice”.
What a crock of shit. I urge these reprobates to walk a mile in these people’s shoes before making comments like that. How do they know what their circumstances are? They have no idea how they ended up where they are presently. Do they really think these people would be where they are now through “choice”? Have they seen the weather?
There may very well be an extremely small number of people that live their lives in a certain way through choice. The majority would surely prefer to have a warm bed, a hot meal and a job giving them a steady income so they can support themselves and their family.
It Could be you…
There are a myriad of reasons why someone may find themselves in these circumstances. Indeed many of us are only a couple of month’s income away from being unable to meet our own commitments and the hardships that may result.
Some of us are lucky and have family and friends who could/would help. But what if you have no-one? What if the problem is your family and friends? What “choices” do you have? Addiction and mental health problems can send some down a road that they find it hard to come back from. What if your mental health problems stop you from asking for or getting the help you need?
It is hard to put yourself in someone’s shoes if you haven’t been there yourself. Don’t judge.
Christmas can be an impossible time of year if people don’t have the means, support or coping mechanisms that will help them through. That could be money worries or a lack of roof over their heads. It might be that this time of year exacerbates addiction problems. Or Christmas (or should I say everything that surrounds Christmas that makes it difficult) brings on poor mental health through stress, anxiety or depression.
Fortunately, I have never been in the position of having no permanent address or had to sleep rough and I haven’t had to rely on food banks or the charity of others to feed my family. I am all too conscious though that it could happen to anyone. I would urge anyone to do whatever is in their capacity to support by doing what you can, but not just at Christmas, to support your fellow human beings.
Christmas and Mental Health
I can, however, relate to people who may be suffering from poor mental health. I can also see how that may be magnified at this time of year. Some of my past issues with anxiety and depression could easily be exacerbated by Christmas. I have a fantastic family and friends round me & I have been in the fortunate position of getting support through employee’s schemes at work. These have enabled me to gain the knowledge and skills to be able to recognise when my self-belief, thoughts, actions and behaviours are taking me down the wrong route and this helps me to take the right action to turn around. Unfortunately, the same levels of support aren’t accessible to everyone
I love Christmas and don’t find it to be a problem, but I could see how someone who does struggle with anxiety and depression could hate this time of year.
What do I mean?
Take social anxiety for starters. If you are someone who suffers from social anxiety, I can totally understand how Christmas party season could be hell. Be it a works Christmas nights out and parties having to constantly be around people, talking, joining in, laughing, joking, generally having a good time. Sounds like hell doesn’t it?
For someone who has never suffered from this, it will be difficult to understand, but yes this could be like hell. Being in the middle of a crowd of 100 strangers is sometimes easier, and preferable, to being with 20 people you know. You can hide, and you don’t need to talk to anyone!
I you are suffering from anxiety, and faced with a social situation you will start questioning everything. What will I say to them? I’ll look like an idiot if I say the wrong thing? What if they have more to say than me? What if they disagree with my opinion? I am inferior to them all, and if I say the wrong thing that will confirm it. You then open your mouth and speak. Oh no what did I say that? They must think I’m a dick? What can I say to make it better? How can I excuse myself and leave?
Add that over-thinking and over-analysing to the mix and you have dug not a hole, but a pit for yourself that you can’t climb out of.
These thoughts may not be logical but can either make these events unbearable or result in bizarre or inappropriate behaviour. Perhaps drinking heavily to cope or to build up the courage to join in, which of course can end up in acting the fool and the next day, week, month become an excruciating exercise in over-analysing and thinking the worst.
In more extreme circumstances, it can also mean isolating yourself and avoiding these social circumstances altogether, coming up with various excuses why you can’t attend events. This only makes things worse, especially if your anxiety means that you need the acceptance of others, you have created a lose-lose situation for yourself.
Many anxieties are brought on by ingrained self-beliefs – such as a feeling of worthlessness or failure and trying to over-compensate by being a perfectionist and setting unreal goals. This could be in any situation work or otherwise. I used to do it constantly in work, set myself unrealistic goals that would ensure EVERYTHING would be perfect. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, but that didn’t stop me dwelling on it, beating myself up and either working harder to make it happen, which often a waste of time and energy and only had the result in driving my mood lower, or almost giving up – that feeling of “what is the point, I’ve failed – I can’t do this”.
I could see how Christmas could easily have a similar impact on someone who has low self-esteem. Christmas movies all ultimately have a happy ending where everything turns out perfectly. Unreal expectations. If those outcomes aren’t replicated for someone with anxiety – they can feel they have failed. TV adverts show perfect Christmas dinners with smiling family and friends. Another potential unreal expectation – nothing ever goes that smoothly. You can plan your perfect Christmas as much as you like, but would you not be better just taking things as they come and enjoying it as much as possible? Think about why you are doing something, why are you having that thought, what has brought it on? What would be the result if you didn’t do something?
Add to that equation the money worries. TV ads again encourage people to spend what they don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. That may not have an immediate effect on mental health. I’ve experienced something similar, just not at Christmas. Spending money you don’t necessarily have on “stuff” in a vain attempt to lift your “mood”. It works momentarily, but come the month of January when the bills hit…
That’s just scratching the surface. Once you add fatigue into the mix too – managing your normal daily life and making lists of other things you “must” do to make it the perfect Christmas – get the decorations up, write cards to all and sundry, shop excessively, tidying the house for visitors. Physical exhaustion can have a bearing on how someone manages their mental, spiritual (in a non-religious sense) and bodily health. Lack of sleep, over-tiredness and lack of the right exercise can impact your ability to think the right way, make the right decisions and ultimately take you down “that” path, which for many people is one way journey.
Loneliness has also been in the news. I’m sure people aren’t just lonely at Christmas though. Why are we only supposed to care about them for a couple of days a year? Another thought though, lonely people aren’t just people who live on their own. You may know someone you work with or live with who is constantly surrounded by people but still feels dreadfully lonely. They feel they can’t relate, they feel worthless and although they may be in company they cut themselves off. They stop communicating, their mood changes, maybe their behaviour is not normal? It can come on over time and is sometimes not easy to spot in yourself, but perhaps sometimes others can see a change.
I can see how, without the support network of family, friends, employers, colleagues around them, someone could easily spiral. The impact of that could be serious – relationship breakdowns, inability to work, loss of income. It is easy to see how someone could end up on the streets or worse. Is that a “choice”? I don’t think so.
Does the government even care?
I do believe that those in authority do very little to support a lot of these groups of people. How low does the temperature have to go before they do anything? How many people will have to freeze to death?
How many empty homes and office buildings do you see around your area that could be opened up even as temporary refuge to people who are rough sleeping? How much is being spent on social housing? I see plenty of luxury homes being built. What about housing for those for whom that type of property is and will only ever be a dream?
That isn’t enough in itself. There needs to be a whole programme of support to put a roof over people’s heads, temporarily to get them out of the cold, but ultimately permanently but this needs to go hand in hand with money & work advice and support for other issues such as mental health and addiction problems. Without this, many will end up back where they are.
However, what are the authorities interested in? To me it seems they are more interested in spending billions on pointless tram systems, superfast trains (part of the issues of the modern world – everything needs to be instantaneous – maybe if we slowed down and chilled out it might help?), fancy bridges, fixing big clocks and archaic buildings, automating everything to save time and money and buying new nuclear weapons. Oh and there is the self-promotion interests form pro- and anti- MPs, focussing their all on Brexit and forgetting the basics about looking after their citizens NOW.
No amount of lobbying seems to make a difference. Just watch an MP in full flow – every excuse under the sun will be thrown out as to why it is not a simple solution. If they had the desire to do anything, they would. They all have an excuse, no matter their political persuasion and so it comes down to people power.
Care for each other
We can only what we can, but make sure it is not just at Christmas. Be a caring human who cares for their fellow human all year round. Don’t be like the unfeeling morons on Facebook who make blasé and frankly disgraceful comments about people they don’t know and have no idea about how they have got to where they are. Ditch these fools.
It could be as simple as speaking to someone. Find out how they are and if there is anything you can do. Buy a coffee and hot meal for someone rough sleeping. Even stopping for 5 minutes to say hello. Make a donation to a local food bank.
No matter how simple it seems it makes a difference to someone.
Find out what is happening locally that you can support – food banks, restaurants serving Christmas dinner to people who aren’t able to provide their own, charities or individuals providing sleeping bags & warm clothes to rough sleepers.
But don’t forget those close to you. Has their behaviour changed, do they need support from you but they just don’t know how to ask?
Remember, Christmas isn’t a competition. It should be spending quality time with family/friends, not about who spends the most on presents, has the biggest turkey or the flashiest tree.
And no matter how much I enjoy Christmas, it is only a day. There are 364 more in the year. Don’t put yourself under financial or emotional strain for a day. Enjoy your time with family and friends.
Mental Health Hotline 0800116123 (Samaritans).