Dylan is a volunteer at WayAhead with a lived experience of mental illness. Here he shares his insights into what it is like ushering in the festive season and how to make the most of Christmas.
Christmas is often a time for celebration. It can also be a time of stress, especially for those of us with a mental health diagnosis. Although there are many aspects of the holiday which we may enjoy, parties, shopping and presents can all contribute to stress.
Christmas parties are aplenty in the December period. More food and drink can be enjoyable but it is a well-known period of weight gain, so for me, it is important to be careful. Most people can enjoy parties but there are some of us, both with and without mental illness, who may be a little shy or experience social anxiety. Happy, friendly people can make us feel like we are a part of the celebrations.
Christmas shopping can be both enjoyable and expensive. I love to buy presents for those that I am close to. For some, they are able to afford the presents they wish to buy, but there are those with a major mental illness who may be receiving the Disability Support Pension. These people may struggle to pay for the things they want to give to their loved ones. This can add to the stress. One way around this might be to make presents, especially for people who are good with craft or cooking, or to offer “gift vouchers” where people offer to do things like household tasks or teach a skill they might have. People might appreciate having their lawn mowed or being taught how to play an instrument.
There are certain Christmas parties that may involve a Secret Santa, everyone buys a small gift of $5 or $10. You then give a present to someone else and choose one for yourself. It is a nice way of giving and receiving gifts without spending too much money.
Some of the Christmas parties I have been to in recent years, and will be going too again this year, involve a whole bunch of people. The managers, case workers and the clients of mental health services all get together at this time and have food and drinks together. It is a good chance to meet some of the other clients and case workers. I often see some of my old caseworkers which is nice, and lots of other people I have met along the way.
The Christmas period isn’t all about gifts and food. It is also a very soulful period. Many religious people will be attending church sermons and in general thinking about the time as a matter of the heart. I have met many religious people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. They are very soft and kind people who care a lot about life and everything in it. They create a more serious tone to the mood of the period.
There is more to Christmas than just presents and get-togethers and religion. Some don’t believe in Christmas at all. These people may or may not celebrate Christmas but many do admit that they love it when questioned. For the children, there is always Santa Claus. This paternal figure of giving has warmed the hearts of many a child, possibly even yourself when you were young.
The malls are full of Christmas decorations that lighten up the mood when shopping. People catch up with old friends they might not have seen in a while. Everyone seems to be happier. It is a good period to be friendly instead of keeping to yourself like at other times of the year.
So Merry Christmas to all,