In case it has escaped anyone’s notice (and based on my twitter feed I doubt it) today is Valentine’s day: a day for celebrating love.
I ‘m not quite sure where I stand on the whole Valentine’s day thing. Part of me thinks it is a lovely idea to celebrate love in all of its forms. Another part of me thinks that it’s a cruel reminder to people who are lonely of the lack of love in their life. Plus I find public declarations of love annoying. Plus it costs a lot of money so no gain there. So I guess on balance I am not a big fan of the day…
This brings me on to holidays in general and their relation to mental health, in particular depression. I find holidays really hard to deal with. Holidays are a time where everyone is supposed to get together and celebrate an event. It is supposed to be a time when everyone feels all communal and happy. The problem is that mental health doesn't discriminate between normal days and holidays. If you are unwell you don’t suddenly feel better just because it is a holiday. If you have a mental illness then it’s tough shit that you are unwell when everyone else is having fun.
In fact holidays can be an even more difficult time for people with a mental illness. There is the weight of expectation on you that you should be enjoying yourself. Family members and friends will get annoyed with you if you are not having fun. They may feel like you are ‘sulking’ for attention or that you are ‘not trying hard enough’. They may feel like you are being selfish and ruining everyone else’s day. They may feel like you don’t care about them or anyone else.
Having people think all these negative things about you is not easy and can fill you up with feelings of guilt and shame. This only feeds further in to your depression. In addition you may feel misunderstood and like no one really gets what you are going through.
The reality is that mental illness is not in your control and people need to be educated on this. The whole concept of depression as an illness is that you feel in this awful extreme mood for no particular reason. There may have been trigger factors but the illness takes on a whole life of it’s own. You don’t suddenly feel good when positive events happen. Otherwise you wouldn’t have what is known as clinical depression. Your brain chemicals are malfunctioning and you need help.
In summary, it is not your fault that you are not enjoying the holidays. It is the nature of the illness. Don’t let everyone else tell you when to feel happy or not.