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The question you should ask your family and friends on Christmas.

About a month ago my psychologist asked me if I had anything to look forward to this year, and my only answer was Christmas. As soon as I said it, I realised that I was lying. December is such a full-on time of year. There are so many presents to buy, meals to prepare, parties to attend, family to see and work deadlines to achieve before finishing up for the year.

It’s a hard holiday. I face a huge family dinner table where I am the only one without a partner (unless you count my uncle, who still doesn’t chew with his mouth closed), and – on a more serious note – I face the difficult reality of trying to make the most of the holiday season while feeling crippled by my own mental illness.

"Mental health doesn’t discriminate." Image via iStock.

Close proximity to extended family can make anyone a little crazy, but for me, the social aspect of the Christmas season can become almost impossible. And as an extra kick in the balls, my emotional incompetence isn’t limited to negative feelings of anxiousness and depression. Being happy is almost exactly as bad as being sad, because when I experience any emotional “high”, a parallel “low” always follows. I live in constant fear that enjoying anything too much might kill me once it’s over.

My depression doesn’t go on a holiday. It follows me to my work Christmas party, and watches my friends exchange dumb Secret Santa gifts. It makes this season unpredictable and difficult for a lot of people. So I think RUOK Day needs a Christmas special. We shouldn't delegate the question to September every year. We should talk about mental illness openly, honestly and often.

We do so well at asking the question in September. Let's ask in December too.
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Everyone has their own story. For some, going home is traumatic. For others, going home isn’t possible. Friends and family mourn for their loved ones who aren’t around to celebrate. Many people dance around old wounds and visit several households within a day in an attempt to keep the peace. You might be able to identify what makes Christmas hard for someone, but mental health doesn’t discriminate. The person struggling the most might seem to be doing okay, keeping it to themselves, or trying to avoid the situation.

And that’s exactly why we need another RUOK Day this December - to check in. To ask our friends who might be lonely, sad, or unwell if there is anything we can do. It might be as generous as a formal invitation to spend Christmas Day with you, or something simple like a text, a Christmas card, or sharing leftovers and a beer on Boxing Day.

mental illness
Image via iStock.

Let’s be honest: it’s the end of the year. We’re all ready for a holiday. It can be a hard question to ask of someone, particularly if you don’t feel ready for the answer and what it might require from you. It might cost you your time and some comfort. But you should ask anyway.

It might just be the only thing they have to look forward to this year.

Have you ever struggled over Christmas? How did you cope?

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