Although the prospect of listening to Michael Bublé for the next month fills me with immense joy, it doesn’t take long for my excitement to be swept away and replaced by dread as I remember what living with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) at Christmas time does to me.
I never took too much notice of the grip mental health had on my family at this time of year.
When I was younger, festivities in my household involved: a mum who has anxiety, a dad that suffers from depression, a brother who battles anorexia and me. Despite all the potential pitfalls we always managed to have the best time; festivities would start in late November and carry on all the way into the new year. The never-ending queue of family and friends that would descend into our home at Christmas time meant that I never took too much notice of the grip mental health had on my family at this time of year, yet for everyone else this was when their difficulties would be most prominent.
Here I was on Christmas day surrounded by family…yet I was crying.
My own turbulent relationship with Christmas began around four years ago when I was 13. My parents had just separated, and it was the first Christmas I had spent away from my dad and brother. I cried at the dinner table in front of my whole family. Here I was on Christmas day surrounded by family, having opened presents and just about to tuck into my Christmas lunch, yet I was crying. Yes, the circumstances weren’t ideal, but I knew I still had so much to be grateful for. In that moment I felt angry and embarrassed for feeling the way I did - little did I know my mind was in the process of being invaded by a series of irrational thoughts, which I now see was the beginning of my OCD.
The day often overwhelms me. My OCD triggers arguments.
Christmases since haven’t really been the same. The day often overwhelms me. My OCD triggers arguments (with both myself and others), ranging from disagreements over the turkey cooking time (if it’s not cooked properly, I fear it will give me food poisoning) to me sneaking off to wash my hands repeatedly at every opportunity. All of which is made worse as, for me, the magic of Christmas fades with each passing year.
But the aspect of Christmas I find most challenging is the internal battle I fight with myself.
Thankfully I’m now in a much better place and have fantastic support from the team at CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services). Nevertheless, Christmas continues to instil a tremendous amount of apprehension in me; I probably start to panic about it around the end of August!
I often notice a spike in my obsessions resulting in me completing more rituals, which I find increasingly difficult to hide from family and friends. But the aspect of Christmas I find most challenging is the internal battle I fight with myself. The thing I am most scared of is letting my OCD dictate the day and spoiling Christmas for the people around me.
There’s no shame in feeling low regardless of the time of year.
My word of advice for the festivities is not to be too hard on yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then take a breather. There’s no shame in feeling low regardless of the time of year. I try to tackle Christmas in the same way I would any other day of the year - the only difference is that I’ve had a jumbo tube of smarties for breakfast! However, if I do find myself in a bad patch at Christmas, I like to make myself a big hot chocolate, put on the cosiest and most festive pyjamas I own and sit and watch a Christmas film (Nativity! is a personal favourite). Remember the best gift you can give this Christmas is to be kind to yourself!
Where to get help
If you are struggling with OCD, or know someone who is, have a look at our OCD page for advice and guidance on where you can get advice and support.