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Christmas with depression: 'I know I should be happy, but I can't help it. I really can't'

When my depression was at its worst, I used to dread Christmas, writes Abigail McDonnell.

Abigail McDonnell See Change Ambassador

BUT IT’S CHRISTMAS! You should be happy!

I know I should be happy, I know I look ‘rude’ for being sad during the ‘happiest time of year’, but I can’t help it. I really can’t.

When my depression was at its worst, I really didn’t look forward to the Christmas period at all. In fact, I kind of dreaded it. And when people looked at me, yeah, I had no ‘real reason’ to be sad.

I received amazing presents. I had an amazing dinner with a wonderful family around me. I had a warm, lovely home that I would go back to at the end of Christmas day. But I was suffering.

Anxiety around Christmas

When I was 17 I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. At that time, even Christmas wouldn’t lift my spirits.

I felt a lot of anxiety around the Christmas period. I worried about a lot of small things. I knew that I’d be seeing a lot of family and friends and I was scared they would ask about my mental health in case I would start to cry.

I was worried if I became weepy that people would notice. I was worried of not reacting well enough to presents from family. One of the biggest problems I used to have was being overly afraid of what other people’s opinions were of me. This was especially difficult during Christmas because I knew I would be seeing so many people.

I wanted to keep a strong, happy face throughout the entirety of the Christmas period, but at times it was just not possible. I didn’t want to let anyone down by having to leave a party or dinner early, because I was feeling upset or for feeling so exhausted after all the interaction.

My social battery used to die

That’s another thing I really struggled with during the Christmas period: fatigue. My social battery used to die so quickly when with others, as I would be putting a lot of energy into trying to look happy.

I also used to get a lot of anxiety around Christmas dinner. In general, I have a weird relationship with food. I know I don’t eat as much as I should, and I get quite nervous when eating out with others in case someone was to comment on how much I had left on my plate.

I used to over think situations like this so much that I’d feel nauseous and wouldn’t be able to eat at all. I don’t think people ever think about the physical effects a mental health difficulty can have on you, and during the Christmas period it can be so debilitating.

Christmas can be a stressful time

These things might sound quite trivial to those who have never experienced anxiety or depression before, but for those who have experienced it, Christmas can be quite a stressful time.

As an ambassador for See Change, I think it is so important for people to start a conversation about mental health around this time of year. Christmas can be so hard for some. A time where we miss family and friends who are no longer with us, or when we stress about how much money we have spent throughout the season, wondering if we’ll have enough left to survive.

I couldn’t be prouder to be an ambassador and I urge you all to start a conversation with family and friends this Christmas.

Abigail McDonnell (20) is an International Business student in DCU. She is from Raheny in Dublin.

If you’re a person who finds Christmas hard, know that you’re not alone, and there are supports out there if you just want to chat. Mental health problems can affect anyone at any time during their lives. For more information visit www.seechange.ie. If you or someone you know has been affected by mental health issues you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit www.yourmentalhealth.ie for a directory of mental health services.

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About the author:

Abigail McDonnell  / See Change Ambassador

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