5 Ways I'm Making the Holidays With Mental Illness Different This Year


It’s the most wonderful time of the year – but what if it isn’t?  ‘Tis the season to be jolly – but what if I don’t feel it?

What if you struggle with mental illness and Christmas is one of the hardest times of the year? What if it’s just one of those times you wish you could disappear from or somehow skip? What if the pressure of being happy and “having it together” is just too much?

But what if this year was different? What if this year, you were somehow able to take the pressure off and just be OK with not being OK this Christmas?

Because it can be different.

As someone who struggles with borderline personality disorder (BPD), depression and an eating disorder, this is how I am going to make it different this year:

1. I will allow myself to feel whatever I am feeling and not succumb to the pressure of having to put on my “happy face.” If I am missing someone I love, then I will grieve. If I am terrified at the idea of the food that will be placed in front of me, I will let myself feel the anxiety. If I am desperately sad because I’m not where I want to be, I will not feel ashamed of crying and feeling sad. It’s OK not to have it together and it’s definitely OK not to act like it all the time!

2. I will have an escape plan if it all gets to be too much – a hot bath, a long walk, a cup of tea and my favorite music. I will learn to say “no” and plan in advance what I can say “yes” to. If I am overwhelmed, I will not feel bad about it.

3. I will do my very best to be around people and not be alone because we need each other and I know that people care and love me. If I am in church on Christmas day and I am the only one crying instead of rejoicing, I will let people love on me and hug me even if I would rather hide. I am also aware that it’s not just me. I am not “going crazy.” Everybody is not having a perfect Christmas with their perfect family in their perfect life.

4. I will carry on taking my meds and I will check in with my psychiatrist before and after Christmas so that I know I have support in place and somewhere to go if I fall off the wagon.

5. I will not starve myself before Christmas or go running endlessly in preparation. Instead, I will remember that this is a meal like any other, with food that I may not have prepared, but that’s OK. I will try to be as flexible as possible and I will not feel guilty about what I eat or do not eat. I will talk to someone in advance and explain how I am feeling.

This year, because of my recent family situation, I will be having two Christmases, which is not how I pictured it. And although this season might be fraught with anxiety or disappointment or pain, I will remember that this too will pass and despite everything, there is always, always something to be thankful for. And so I will give thanks.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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