2020 has been one of the most challenging years since the end the war. Many of us continue to struggle with very real challenges caused by the pandemic. In particular those many thousands who have lost relatives this year will look at Christmas in a very different way this year. Overcoming grief and dealing with Christmas is something many people face right now. Here is a moving blog written by one of our staff about how she has struggled with Christmas since she lost her dad. Reminding us all that not everyone welcomes Christmas with the same rapture and excitement as others.
As soon as the Christmas cards hit the shelves in September, the dreaded countdown and build-up to Christmas descends on me. Christmas music, films and advertising campaigns add to the dread and as it gets closer to Christmas week, the more stressed and intense it all becomes.
The stress of Christmas started back in 2002, the first Christmas without my Dad. I knew Christmas would never be the same again and I really did not know how to get through it. My family tried for two years to have a normal Christmas at home, but it just didn’t work for us. We decided to try something new and so we took the huge step of packing our bags, jumping on a plane to a sunnier destination and seeing what we could do to create our new normal.
It was the best decision we ever made. It allowed us to celebrate Christmas in a new and different way. We could pick and choose how far into the festivities we wanted to go, and did not have to endure Christmas at home. As soon as September hits, I would start planning our next Christmas adventures, somewhere with sun, sea, palm trees and blue skies. Once everything was booked, our countdown began and this helped me conquer my feelings of Christmas dread and stress. This has been the pattern of my Christmas for the last 17 years.
But this year, COVID-19 has prevented me from booking any holidays abroad and so for the first time in so very long, I will be home for the festive season. I have tried so hard to ‘get on with it’ and ‘keep going’ but I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so much anxiety. It’s having a knock-on effect on so many areas of my life. I am struggling physically and mentally. I am finding it difficult to get up in the morning. My concentration is suffering. I feel exhausted but can’t sleep at night. Yet, if I could, I would sleep right through to January!
I have tried so hard to ‘get on with it’ and ‘keep going’
As I’m writing this, I cannot help but think how ridiculous I sound. Compared to others, I know I am very lucky; I have a close family, friends who are there for me and an employer who would fully support me if I needed time out, and would provide additional professional support. But even knowing all this, I still have to admit I am struggling. If 2020 has taught me anything this year, it is that travel and time out really helps me with my coping mechanism.
travel and time out really helps me with my coping mechanism.
I also keep thinking of others. This year many will be facing their first Christmas without loved ones. Some will be facing a very different Christmas to one they would like or one they are used to. It has driven me to share my thoughts and jot down some suggestions that I would ask you to consider when encountering those who may be struggling with what will be their “new normal” this Christmas:
- If you know someone who has lost a loved one this year, check in with them and tell them you are thinking about them. Ask them if they are ok?
I know from experience that you don’t need a daily “are you ok” message but it is still nice to hear from people and be reminded that you are not forgotten.
- If you are shopping and you find a fellow shopper just standing there, looking upset and ‘stuck’, please bear in mind they might be suffering a ‘Christmas dread’ panic attack. Try to give them space and patience.
This year many will be facing their first Christmas without loved ones.
I know from experience that going shopping could, and still can, trigger a minor panic attack. Having to listen to the continuous noise of Christmas songs such as “I wish it could be Christmas every day or All I want for Christmas is you” breaks me down and sometimes I just get overwhelmed with it all.
- If someone you know is ‘tetchier’ then usual, try to give them some space and consider they might be struggling. Ask them if everything is ok and if they need help with anything?
I know from experience how the smallest things can sometimes trigger a reaction in me that may seem irrational to others. It’s usually because I am struggling with everything and find I need more time to process things before I can get my thoughts together.
- Don’t give up on people who don’t want to join in Christmas festivities. Continue to invite them to your online drinks and quizzes etc but try not to take it personally if they do not accept the invite.
I know from experience that attending Christmas festivities can be overwhelming. It’s not that I want to be unsociable, it’s just that I cope better if I don’t have to attend them. Thankfully I have friends who understand I won’t be able to attend, but they still invite me along to keep me close.
- Sometimes answering ‘Are you ok?’ can be very daunting and difficult to do. If you feel someone isn’t answering honestly, try not to give up on them and reassure them that you are there for them if they want to talk or need support.
I know from experience that saying ‘yeah I’m fine’ is easier to say than ‘I’m struggling’. I really appreciate being asked. It can give you the reminder you need that others care about you.
There is so much more I could say but I hope I have been able to put across some of the thoughts and feelings that I and others have around “the joys of Christmas”, but even though I am finding it all a bit difficult this year, I do still and have always believed in the true meaning of Christmas, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a safe and Merry Christmas and a very Happy and Healthy 2021!