So often November and December seem to be all about Christmas as opposed the seasonal shift. From the end of October to the day itself, Christmas seems to be everywhere, telling us what we ought to be doing, thinking and feeling. Don’t you want more stuff? and, Aren’t you having fun? is what this time of year screams at us.
Last winter was a very difficult time for me. I was working full-time in central London. I was having to queue for half an hour outside Oxford Circus tube station in order to travel home on an overcrowded train from a job that was causing me a huge amount off stress. By the time Christmas arrived I was unable to enjoy it. I was suffering from extreme anxiety and had depleted all my emotional reserves and mental strength. I was experiencing physical symptoms too. I couldn’t sleep. My eczema was the worst it’s ever been. My vision had become impaired and the world, at times, was reduced to a fog of people, traffic, shopping bags and busyness that was just too much for me.
Christmas can be particularly problematic for lots of people. Not only is there the social side to contend with but also the increased sensory stimulation: bright lights, additional noice, and general abundance of stuff.
I actually love a lot of the traditions associated with Christmas. I love it when the Christmas lights are switched on. I love mince pies and mulled wine, decorations and carols. I also love winter: frosty mornings, evenings spent with a good book, a drink with a friend in a quiet corner of a local pub, feeling snug in my favourite cosy jumper, the possibility of snow.
I live in London and there are so many great things to do at this time of year. Unlike last year, I want to be in a position to be able to enjoy my city, to travel on the tube, meet friends, visit Christmas markets, browse bookshops. I know I can do these things if I am feeling emotionally stable and if I have no fear or what could happen (i.e. a panic attack on a busy tube train or in a department store). I now accept the fact that I find certain experiences and environments difficult. I accept and then I move through those environments with the knowledge that I am, and will be, okay. I no longer fight my fear of the everyday experiences that others find so easy. I don’t pretend to be normal or put myself under pressure to relax, I just accept the way I am and allow that acceptance to let me float through situations that would previously have caused me to have a meltdown.
This year I have decided to embrace all that I love about winter instead of becoming entangled in the craziness of Christmas. Christmas should be about slowing down, being grateful, spending time with those who are important to us. I want to take all the good parts of Christmas and enjoy them and not let myself become involved in social or economic pressure. I will enjoy winter, the time of year that I really love.
When in London, I love looking at the Christmas lights on Regent Street, the smell of roasted chestnuts from street vendors, how pretty Hampstead High Street is in December, the mince pies in Gail’s bakery, mulled wine in The Holly Bush, hot chocolate in the cafe at Foyles.
In December, when I go and visit my parents, who live in rural north Lincolnshire, I will experience a very different version of winter: walks across frosted fields, the smell of a real Christmas tree, reading by the open fire and, of course, my dad’s signature dish, Lincolnshire sausages in cider.
This year I have decided to celebrate not just Christmas but winter itself. I want to notice, and enjoy, all that is around me, all that makes this time of year so special. Come Christmas, I will be celebrating with those I love, the publication of my first novel, and the acceptance of myself. I will be leaving behind everything about these months which usually makes me stressed and anxious and I will be embracing all that brings me joy.