Keeping My Festive Head Above Water

I still love Christmas the way I did as a child. It may not be the stomach-aching excitement wondering whether Father Christmas will bring me the ‘My Airline’ toy on page 95 of the Argos catalogue but I still get butterflies from the magic of Christmas. Since having the children their anticipation only compounds my excitement, but in the last few years I’ve experienced a vicious new tradition where my depression gets really bad around two weeks before the big day. In 2018 it got so bad it was still with me by February so I’m determined that it doesn’t get out of control again.

This picture of Hen sums up how my brain feels a couple of weeks before Christmas

There are really good reasons why the symptoms of my depression get worse in December and this year is the first time I’ve been able to somewhat pre-empt the dip in my energy and the uptick in invasive thoughts. The reason my depression worsens is due to three main factors:

  • The lack of sunlight depletes my vitamin D intake so by the middle of December, when I have invariably forgotten to buy more vitamin D, my natural energy reserves are knackered which in turn slows down my production of serotonin which then allows my depression to flare up.
  • There is so much more to do in December: extra activities at school to buy, make and pay for, planning and buying gifts for everyone, organising the festive food and tending to the inevitable colds. In a normal year there’s also a slew of social events to attend and/or organise. This makes my list brain go crazy which further depletes my brain’s natural happy chemical which lets a healthy brain know you’re having little wins in your day.
  • The marking of the end of another year triggers my ‘you won’t achieve anything’ insecurity which has invaded my brain since I was 20 (writing that literally just made me cry because that fear has stalked me for so long).

My December Depression Defense Tactics

  • This year I ordered the vitamin D as soon as I realised I was feeling really tired by 2pm and made sure that I didn’t miss my anti-depressant medication. In the lighter months I can go 2-3 days between doses but I can’t sustain that in the winter yet. I will.
  • The Covid-19 restrictions have actually made things simpler for me this year. No parties to mentally and practically prepare for, no traveling around the country to see friends and family. I’m sad that we won’t see each other but it gives my brain one less job and right now that’s a huge gift. In normal years saying “No” is crucial to not exhausting my brain.
  • I’m trying to make my goals optional. If I get the kids to school with the right object/outfit/money/memorised song then great. If I don’t, I don’t. If I get all the blog posts I wanted to share on OTC done that would be amazing (and frankly a miracle) but if not then I still launched this blog in 2020 which was just so important to me and that’s enough. I’m also trying to remember (sometimes on an hourly basis) that I’m enough and that I do achieve and I do make a difference if even on a small scale.

Sometimes I have to write down mental reminders if I know my brain is trying to sabotage me. I have found it useful. I write them on the notebook I keep in the kitchen for recipe testing. I sometimes just see it as I’m reading something else and sometimes I actively have to seek them out. Here are some of the reminders I use, maybe they’ll help you.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect December to be a plain sailing month when you’ve got kids. Throw in a monster cold like I had last week and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by managing the festive expectations of family, friends, school and work. Now that my brain is in recovery I was able to recognise some of the things that are helping me navigate this December depression flare. Small but significant things that stop my depression from snowballing… terrible pun at this time of year. By the way, Father Christmas did bring a My Airline and it was just as wonderful as page 95 of the Argos catalogue promised it would be.


Published by One Tough Cooker

I'm the writer at One Tough Cooker. My experience with post-natal depression has shaped my appreciation for the family cook. We make thousands of meals to feed our families' tummies, hearts and minds.

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