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Mental health at Christmas

Monday, 26 December 2016 Jaabir

Jaabir blogs about his mental health at Christmas and shares his experience of being interviewed at the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special Party,

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for many people (contrary to what the mainstream media would have you believe), but I've found it especially difficult as I regularly struggle with my mental health. I've struggled in many ways. I've had several breakdowns and almost tried to take my life before. I've more recently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and for a while I heard voices too. I didn't feel that my mental health struggles would ever end or even get any easier. For me that was the downside of getting a diagnosis. Yes, I'm getting the treatment that I need to get better, but at the same time I was never given any reassurance that things will necessarily get better or that I can recover from this "illness". I've since changed my mind about that.

One thing that's really helped me is sharing my experiences. I've gone from not sharing at all (due to the stigma of mental illness) to sharing so much that I eventually signed up to do just that as a Mind media volunteer. It's cathartic for me, but also something that I feel is quite important in order to help to break the taboo and stigma surrounding mental health.

"One thing that's really helped me is sharing my experiences."

I find myself feeling quite lonely at this time of year. As someone who doesn't come from a household that celebrates Christmas coupled with a distinct lack of relatives in the UK, I grab every opportunity that I can to join a party or meal. This can be quite difficult as I don't have colleagues to have an office Christmas party with and it's almost impossible to get invited to a friend's gathering because they assume that you'll have your own to cope with. (And let's be frank, they probably have more than enough to contend with without inviting the Billy no-mates of the festive season into their celebrations who would stick out like a sore thumb and just be awkward anyway.)

A great thing about being a Mind media volunteer is that I get to speak to people and go to places that I would never even dream about. Well, I tell a lie, my dreams have no bounds really. I've had dreams where I've duetted with Elton John, George Michael and Michael Buble, and presented BBC Breakfast, but I digress. So when I got asked to take part in the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special to promote Mind I was elated.

"When I got asked to take part in the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special to promote Mind I was elated."

The party itself was fantastic. It started off fairly quietly, and not being the most social of people I didn't really explore the room, preferring to stick to one corner and not do the whole "networking" thing. Social anxiety is one of my traits, but I did meet a few people who I got on with and helped me to feel at ease. To me that can make the difference between enjoying the night and constantly staring at the door until I summon the courage to walk out to never return.

Suddenly an influx of celebrities and professional dancers came in which was quite overwhelming, but exciting at the same time. It was quite surreal to see people who are normally confined to a screen in my living room actually walking around and eventually greeting me and asking me questions. This was followed by lots of great food, a dance lesson and a performance from the professional dancers. I realised two things at this point. Firstly I actually have proof that I have two left feet (as opposed to just assuming that I do) and secondly, I agreed to do a piece to camera.

"It was quite surreal to see people who are normally confined to a screen in my living room actually walking around."

I was then called up to do my piece to camera and was greeted with a small square array of LEDs trying to blind me and my interviewer who insisted that I do not look at the camera even though I had a strange urge to constantly do just that. (Must have been the part of me that wanted to fulfil my dream of being a presenter.) I answered a few questions, cringed at some of my answers while trying to answer some more, but somehow I got through it and it was over. I was quite relieved, but I also realised that after all that, my piece may not even be shown in the final programme. I wasn't sure whether this was a good or bad thing.

Anyway, I did have an amazing time and it was so uplifting to be involved in such a great event. I did get invited to a few more festive gatherings after that, but not many. As great as these are, there's always that nagging feeling of dread as Christmas Day itself approaches. The realisation that it'll be pretty flat, dull and spent imagining how much of a good time everyone else is having. I'll try to find some comfort in thinking that for this one day I can stuff my face and drink too much without worrying. Which I'll really enjoy, right? Food (and drink) makes everything better... Then I'll come to the realisation that I'll log everything in my calorie counter app, see what I've consumed and worry about it for the rest of the week anyway.

I guess the main thing that I try to remember is that not everyone is having such a good time. There are many others out there who feel exactly the same as me. It's just a case of remembering that I'm not alone in being alone. Perhaps if we all delved a little deeper and were more honest about the realities of this time of year, we could all connect and have our own enjoyable Christmas, in our own way.

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