Christmas, a time of unadulterated joy and happiness. No tears allowed, faces must display smiles at all times and sadness must be hidden. Sometimes, it can seem like these are the unwritten Christmas rules.
I have no desire to be a scrooge here, I happily indulge in Christmas coffee, a mulled-wine candle and fairy lights as soon as the 1 December rolls around! The thing is, I see something profoundly melancholy about Christmas. There is great joy at the birth of a King, but there is also great fear in the Christmas story which I think we ignore all too readily and that I think can speak particularly to those with mental health problems.
The Christmas story isn’t one that tells us life is going to be happy and fluffy because Jesus came. It’s one that tells us that on the darkest of nights, God shows up in the most unexpected ways, using the most unexpected people to enact his rescue plan for a world gone awry.
Mary was a pregnant teenager, brave in her willingness to follow God’s plan, but the text tells us her first reaction was “troubled”. There is something in the story of Mary, mother of Jesus which speaks most profoundly of Jesus, King of Heaven and Earth, as a helpless baby. In a song from Graham Kendrick’s “Thorns in the Straw”, he puts it beautifully.
“And as she watched him through the years
Her joy was mingled with her tears
And she’d feel it all again
The glory and the shame
And when the miracles began
She’d wonder, who is this man?
And where will this all end?”
When I read this story of a young woman used in an incredible way by God to carry out His rescue plan, I cannot help but think of those for whom Christmas can seem to make the darkness around deeper.
And when everyone around you is full of happiness and joy, it can be even more difficult to grapple with your own feelings of sadness or emptiness. Whilst it can be tempting to stuff down the sadness with mulled wine and minced pies, we’ve put together a few tips to help get you through the season of goodwill.
- Make sure you get regular fresh air.
- Try and eat little and often (with the exception of Christmas Dinner!) to keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent that crash.
- Give yourself a break – if being with family members is tough, make sure you have times away with friends or some down time by yourself.
- Staying up until 3am watching Christmas films might feel like a good idea but ensuring that you get good and regular sleep can help to keep your mood more stable.
- Keep talking. It can be tempting to keep your feelings to yourself to avoid being a burden, but life doesn’t stop because it’s Christmas! Take advantage of Christmas coffees to meet up with your friends or mentor.
- Manage your merriment: alcohol is a depressant and won’t make you feel better in the long run. Just stick to a glass or two!
- Plan ahead and work out which parts of the season you might struggle with and try to put in nice things around the difficult parts.
We hope you have a peaceful Christmas, and if you’re struggling, remember that the King endured Christmas in a stable to be amongst us and Emmanuel; God With Us.