Eating disorders, like many mental illnesses, are often misunderstood. People can see themselves as underweight when they’re actually overweight, and vice-versa (or even at a “healthy” weight).
Christmas dinners out with friends/colleagues bring about those agonizing arguments in your head: Will I be able to go to a restaurant or will I have a panic attack the minute I walk in? You find the menu online so you can inspect it beforehand and be prepared for where you’re going. You try not to panic or cry as you have to eat in front of other people.
Anxiety is the feeling of unease, worry or fear. We all feel it from time to time. But some people can feel consumed by it, especially when big events are on the horizon (like Christmas).
When I’m at my most anxious, the thought of being in a traffic jam fills me with pure dread. In the run up to Christmas, the roads seem permanently busy, especially with late night shopping in lots of places. I feel compulsions to constantly check, and double check traffic news, and plan multiple back up routes. That's if I can even find the courage to leave the house to begin with.
Depression is, unfortunately, quite common in the UK. People living with depression often experience a lack of self-worth, interest and pleasure in their daily lives. And a lack of understanding from those close to them can lead to the symptoms getting worse.
Christmas is supposed to be a time to be with our families, extended families and our closest friends. To be joyful, merry and festive. This wouldn’t be the case for me. I would try to smile for my wife, tried to laugh and encourage my children to play and tried to engage with my friends. Behind the scenes, I’m in a dark place, I’m a nervous wreck, I hated to be around others, I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I would ask the wife & kids to go elsewhere and I would stay at home alone. I dreaded the door bell ringing, and wouldn’t answer the phone. I just wanted to hide away until it was all over.
I know now the people that suffered from my condition were my nearest and dearest, my wife, and my children. I can never replace those lost years.
Christmas is a time where you are supposed to be “merry”. It’s encouraged with every song, card and twinkling light. Christmas is everywhere and you can’t escape it for months. Starting as early as October, it’s in your workplace, in every shop you go in to, it's on the radio and on the television. If you don’t feel that merriment that others feel, then you’re labelled a Scrooge, and told to get into the “Christmas Spirit” - as if it’s just that easy.
Bipolar II Disorder is a little different to Bipolar I, but both conditions can leave the individual experiencing “highs” and “lows” at seemingly random times, with the “lows” sometimes leading to feelings of depression.
I’d go to work’s Christmas meal to be polite and then escape as quickly as I could from the packed pub or restaurant. I would regularly break out in sweats and find myself grinding my teeth. Then there is the joy of New Year’s Eve. I can once again spend days beating myself up for not achieving anything in the past year or, for that matter, ever (which, of course, is not true).
My mental health issues stemmed from the circumstances I found myself in mentally after I had lost my job as a 50 year old man. I felt a sense of loss, I had no direction or a reason to get up out of bed in a morning, however that was what I was feeling. My actions, physically, were to keep pretending that I was doing well and smiling when friends and family where in my company so to hide the emotional distress I was feeling. This is heightened when Christmas comes around, The bigger the family occasion the more you have to hide the turmoil, try to smile even more and pretend that much harder that all is well.
Christmas lunch with my family is a constant balance between staying present and not letting the “eating disorder tick” take away from the few days I have at home – and with them.
Buffet style eating is difficult. I never know how much food to scoop onto my plate, and am constantly aware of other people waiting behind me and I worry that they think I will be taking too much. I can also become preoccupied about how many calories I put on my plate and whether or not I’m eating balanced, which distracts me when I sit down at the table.
AllClear has commissioned this project as part of its commitment to raising awareness for mental illnesses, and those who live with them.
It’s important to remember these conditions are not limited to the Christmas period. People living with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and bipolar II disorder live with them each and every day of their lives.
From the hearts of everybody involved in the project, thank you for taking the time to view this page.