The Holiday Season

Like many, Christmas with the winter festive cheer is my favourite time of year. The child in me is rekindled and set alight. I become un-containable and overcome with excitement and anticipation for the time of giving (and receiving of course)! Somehow no matter what I am going through or where I am in my life the Christmas magic never fails to momentarily heal me and take me back to what really matters – my family, my friends and making them smile. This year I can’t even imagine the season I have ahead of me. Spending the first Christmas together with my girlfriend and her family, I cannot put into words how much it means to be invited and welcomed into an other persons home and treated truly like family. This year I can already feel that it is going to be magical and show me a different side to the holidays, like no other.

When Christmas comes around it feels like sometimes we rush to count the days away to ‘the big day’. Eager to see our loved ones faces opening that long sought after gift. Itching with anticipation of the surprise to see what we have received. But this year I really want to take time to notice the little things. The arrival of the first Christmas card. The glowing lights illuminating streets and homes alike. The careful wrapping of the presents. The decorating of the tree; delicately placing the worshiped and so dearly held baubles and the angel. The precision of decoration placement, abiding to tradition so closely, you can’t help but feel warmed inside and taken right back to the years of listening out for Santa and all his reindeer on Christmas Eve. Honestly, I can’t help myself but to fully embrace and almost embody Christmas and all my families traditions. Every year I fell like I’m 8 again. I suppose it has a lot to do with my Nana. To me she really was Christmas. She was the most loving, caring and giving person I know and anything I can do to honor her memory and keep her close at heart like she always is I will. With the nights closing in and lights shining brighter than ever, I always feel closer to my Nana around this time of year as her birthday follows straight after Christmas on December 28th. The picture above was taken when I was 18 – my last Christmas with my Nana. If love could have saved her she truly would have lived forever and for the rest of my life I shall do my upmost to make her proud and be more like her. In this time of giving, my Nana is at the forefront of my mind and she always manages to make it feel like Christmas, even in memory.

However, with Christmas comes stress. Stress of finding the right present to show your love and gratitude. Stress of decorating. Stress of having everything sorted in time for Christmas. And for the cooks in the family I imagine the stress of cooking the turkey or that nut roast just right. Some people are so tuned in and manage such havoc and rising tides before Christmas so efficiently and are the picture of serenity and calmness. As you’ve probably guessed, that is not me. Unfortunately, as I’ve got older the pressure seems to mount, the pinnacle of Christmas joy seems to be more of an illusion in past years when struggling with mental health. Although the season never fails to pick me up, my anxiety builds exponentially but is masked by winters snow and chocolate caked yule logs. I wish it was something you could turn on or off because for years I have tried to turn off my worries, worries about worries, to break free from the clench grappled around my lungs suffocating me but all that comes in the new year is a flood back of emotion, self-hatred and self-sabotage. So this year and the holiday season I am trying to acknowledge my worries, nurture my anxiety and not let it railroad or control my life anymore. I have learnt so much in the past year through confronting my mental health struggles with depression and anxiety but the most revolutionizing food for thought was just this weekend when my girlfriend said to try and let go, there is no point of worrying about things so far in the future, things out of my control. Despite having heard similar advice a million times over from others it was the true sentiment and thought provoking feeling of love for each other that made me really hear those words and reflect. Now I can’t say that I am no longer anxious, worrisome Heather but I can say that it has made me want to reflect and unearth my feelings to truly heal the most sabotaging and tormenting demons of my soul.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that with this holiday season embrace it, let the joy take over you and let your childhood spirit be rekindled with the magic of Christmas. But pay attention. Pay attention to your loved ones around you and even mere acquaintances. A simple dose of Christmas cheer can make them feel wanted, feel cherished and feel at home. In a time of giving lets give love, give care and give friendship. Something so simple can help mend a broken soul, and find the true hidden identity of a lost spirit begging to be found and sucked out of the depressive abyss into the light. And please if you are like me and struggle with your mental health don’t hide it and be in a constant trance of denial because the wound only deepens and makes healing that much harder. Reach out. Open up. And most importantly love; love Christmas, love your friends, love your family, love your partner and as always find it in you to love yourself again.

Finding The Will To Carry On

Sometimes life can really feel like you are grasping at straws, never coming up trumps; or even grasping at the mere illusion of straws – false opportunities, any tiny sense of fulfillment to make all the ‘BS’ seem bearable. This is only a mere surface scratch to relate to how I have felt in the past and often felt completely lost in a sense of despair and drifting. I don’t know if everyone experiences the same struggles and manage to ‘fake it’ much more convincingly. But, to me, it felt like I was alone. Failing at life. Disappointing everyone and ruining everything. This feeling and almost deep-rooted belief became second nature, an embedded act of cynical thinking if you will. And so often I found myself falling, and falling, and falling; further and further into the dark, never-ending abyss of depression and scarring of my soul – my intrinsic being – with an emotional crater, creating a seemingly unbridgeable void to my former self. Honestly, looking back I have to count myself lucky. Lucky that I never let go of the most minuscule sense of hope. Lucky, that I battled against my demons. And most of all, lucky that I repeatedly found the will to carry on and stand back up fighting every time I knocked myself down.

For years, I found myself dumbfounded and completely puzzled at what destroying force could possibly have the heart – thereby lack of – to cause such consuming, callous thoughts. I realize for many, the source of depression and mental health struggles can be the result of a capitulation of multiple events, circumstances and issues. But for me, everything boiled down to one thing. Underneath my own reckless, demonizing and persecuting mask of emotional trauma was me. All my pain, suffering, self-hating and down right self-torturing was all from my own internalized shame of self-identification and latent self-worth. Years of self-hating and shaming myself due to my sexuality and own image; years of self-abusing verbally and physically due to my own inability to accept myself and have trust in my peers, my family and wider society to welcome me in; and years of mental scrutiny and distress due to my own self-defense mechanism being in overdrive. I worried about my worries, almost a sense of heightened anxiety, described by doctors as severe anxiety. Such feeling, I fear I could never truly bottle the essence of sheer panic in overdrive. I can only attempt to reach a mere abstract comparison from my own experience of anxiety and the mental toll it takes out of you; triggering depression and ultimately, for me, mental relapse.

The feel of being a claustrophobic asthmatic in a tightly enclosed space. The walls pushing in, closer and closer. Squeezing each last molecule of oxygen out of your lungs and the tightening of your chest begins. A haunted hand grappled around your throat. Every sense draining out of your body, until you feel like an empty vessel of nothingness, only harboring one thing – panic, terror and pure unfiltered anxiety. That feeling of confinement, asphyxiation and complete hopelessness is what drives the monster; is what tightens the noose around your neck and amplifies the unwanted benefactor, which for me was depression of the darkest of sorts.

As highlighted in previous posts, I am still recovering and still receiving treatment and on medication. But, I can truly say that I am not the blank canvass I used to envisage, I am a fully grown independent woman, living with my beloved girlfriend and studying a university course I am fully invested in. So what changed? How did I find that will to carry on? I’d like to think in some enchanted, fairy-tale mythological sense that it found me but in truth I don’t think I ever truly let go of hope. Buried deep it may have been but I protected it, I nurtured it and when the time eventually came I trusted myself in it. For me the magic in that moment, when you pick yourself up in midst of such a depressive cyclone of raw emotional release, you don’t give up, you stand back up to take another hit , to go the full 10 rounds and escape the KO. That magic, shows you that you believe in yourself, have faith in yourself and one day will return to yourself.

I cannot emphasize enough how often I wanted to throw in the towel, let down my defences and take that final KO punch. However, that is not what happened. Call it persistence, call it inner strength, or even call it a miracle; I never let go and neither should you. Believe me when I say, the hardest thing to do is to keep on standing, keeping on fighting and to keep on believing. Once, you accomplish that, you can do whatever you set your mind to. So, ultimately, it’s not about finding that will to carry on but instead, always holding onto it because deep down you hold the keys to your own power, your own tenacity, you own dedication, every little attribute that protects that fostering of hope and manufactures the will to fight.

Please know that you are not alone. Keep on fighting, Keep on willing. Keep on surviving.