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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 22 November, 2017
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Christmas with depression: 'Even putting on clothes can be hard when there’s a lingering dark cloud'

Depression is, by its very nature, an inward-looking thing, talking to other people, opening up about what you are going through can only be helpful, writes Úna-Minh Kavanagh.

Úna-Minh Kavanagh

I WAS DIAGNOSED with depression in 2009, my Leaving Cert year, and arguably one of the hardest years of my life. Between trying to get through my exams, a bullying teacher and a failing young relationship, “stressed” seemed like an understatement.

Over the years I’ve come to live with depression and anxiety. I’ve also learned how to recognise the little signs. It’s getting easier to tell when I’m not feeling overly confident and I can start to combat things with a more positive approach.

This sounds quite simplistic but in truth there are some days where I find it hard to move from the bed to my desk. Even putting on clothes can be a challenge when there’s a lingering dark cloud. My energy is sapped and I start to not care about myself or the world.

Often when stressed I don’t sleep, instead thoughts just whirl around and settle on the negative. It’s taken a lot of work to try and tackle this issue but I’m getting there.

Season of chaos

For me, Christmas has become more and more simplistic. I just don’t need the stress. It’s no longer the tinsel-covered, present-laden season of chaos. Instead of focussing in on gifts, cards, decorations and the general commercialism that goes on in winter, it’s all about spending time with good company and good food.

I don’t need presents or cards. While they’re a nice thought from a friend or family member you haven’t heard from in a long time, I just don’t need them.

The pressure of finding the perfect gift for someone, never mind a group of people, isn’t fun for me. And at the risk of sounding like Scrooge, it’s not that I’m ungrateful, it’s just I would rather the person have the extra cash.

Upsides of Christmas cheer

shutterstock_220041373 Source: Shutterstock/KieferPix

I won’t deny that while there’s a beauty about the Christmas buzz, it dampens my spirits when I wade through hordes of people streaming in and out of shops. The spending culture of Christmas is something that I don’t enjoy.

But there are still so many aspects of Christmas that I love: the lift of energy that many have, the music and yes, even the brisk cold. There’s something truly comforting about being wrapped up in a blanket with hot chocolate and a water bottle, watching Home Alone.

The bright side is, that despite the commercialism that I don’t agree with, there’s still a lot of giving and charity to be seen. From fundraising carol events, to the Luas in Dublin being jam-packed with donated gifts, there’s a lot of heart to be felt.

‘I feel better when I head out’

Working from home means that I often don’t get to talk to people a lot during the day. So at Christmas I try to head to as many outings as possible.

I’m a naturally introverted person and so even though I might feel initially terrified at meeting lots of people, the majority of times I feel better after I head out. Being stuck at home with no one but my thoughts for hours on end just doesn’t work for me.

As a See Change Ambassador there’s always a sense of relief knowing there’s a group of people out there who know exactly what you’re going through, not only that, but that there’s a support in place. Even if I start to feel down, it’s good to know that my fellow ambassadors are just simply there. For many, the season is one of dread, a complete sense of being alone and having no one to turn to. Think of these people and reach out to them. A simple text acknowledging their existence could do wonders.

On Christmas Day, like most years, Mom and I will spend time in each other’s company. We’ll meet with the neighbours, watch movies and eat a delicious home-cooked meal. We’ve moved on from splashing out, the true gift is spending time with family.

In 2017, I’m going to keep pushing outside of my comfort zone. I’m going to continue to look after myself and believe in my abilities. I hope that the conversation around mental health continues to be an integral part of Irish society.

Úna-Minh Kavanagh is a journalist, travel and food writer. She tweets at @unakavanagh. Travel website: www.beforemymamdies.com; personal website: www.unakavanagh.com and food website: www.spillthebeans.ie.

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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Úna-Minh Kavanagh

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