I want to take a break from mental skills development this week to highlight how difficult Christmas can be for those struggling with their mental health. I would also like to remind everyone that no matter how dark the day may seem, free spiritual support is available across Ireland thanks to wonderful organizations like SOSAD Ireland.
Christmas is often said to be the happiest time of the year, but it was usually the time I struggled the most. The two times in my life that suicidal thoughts and feelings came closest to acting occurred between Christmas and New Years. This December marks the 10th anniversary of my last reaching that tipping point. I hope that today’s review of this memory will help you take care of your sanity and take care of others in the days and weeks to come.
I remember standing in my favorite pub in my hometown of Bailieborough, Co Cavan in December 2012. I was there physically but not in mind or spirit. I was in a dark and confusing place inside. Everyone else seemed to interact, engage, and mingle with each other with ease. Instead of hanging out with childhood friends and sharing old stories, I spent my time fighting back the tears that lurked behind my eyes. Although the world expected me to feel joy and connection, I was depressed.
Sometimes I would crack a half-hearted laugh or nod my head like one of those toy dogs in the back window of a car. I felt sad and lonely even though I was surrounded by my best friends. The alcohol didn’t numb my feelings and it was all too much for me. I went to the exit. The cold air that greeted me as I stepped outside was soothing, and its coldness matched my inner feeling.
‘It’s Christmas. You have to enjoy Christmas,’ I said aloud to myself. I couldn’t spend another minute hiding how I really felt, so I made a mental note to walk home alone – every three miles of a dark, winding, and icy country road. Instead of finding peace on that drunken walk, depression increased its hold on my mindset.
If you’re in a good place this Christmas, try your best to look out for others. They might behave differently or they might just appear “fancy”. Never be afraid to ask someone how they are and show them that you care
I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did. I discussed what had become of my life and asked myself many questions. Who am I? What’s the point of all this? Do I even know what makes me happy? Will I ever be happy again? Should I go to counseling again? Does it really help, or am I just prolonging the inevitable – suicide?
Suddenly the street ahead was lit up brightly as a car rounded the corner. I thought about putting my hand up to be picked up, but then I felt the urge to throw myself in front of the oncoming car. As my eyes filled with tears, I took a half step towards the middle of the street. Part of me wanted the car to throw me out of this world. For a brief moment it felt like such a logical decision. Leap. bang. Gone. no more sadness No more depression. no more pain
Luckily, instead I threw myself out of sight behind a nearby wall and slumped miserably on my stools. It scared me how quickly these suicidal thoughts and feelings almost turned into action. I sat for a while in the dark of the night trying not to cry. I gathered enough energy and clarity to safely head home and to bed. Before I fell asleep, I promised myself that I would see a psychologist again. And I did.
10 years later my life is in a much better place because I sought help and got the support I needed. If you have any trouble in the coming days or weeks, know that you are not alone. SOSAD Ireland is an organization that is here to support you and your mental health. Call the 24-hour hotline at 1800-901-909.
If you’re in a good place this Christmas, try your best to look out for others. They might behave differently or they might just appear “fancy”. Never be afraid to ask someone how they are and show them that you care. They may put you off, but they can also be honest about their struggles and open about needing support.
In feel-good conversations, focus on listening as best you can rather than offering opinions or advice. Having someone to listen to can be a tremendous help. I truly believe that the best gifts we can give people are our time, attention and love.
Alan O’Mara is the founder of Real Talks and a former Cavan GAA player. This column is part of the Real Talks with SOSAD Ireland series on wellbeing. Check out sosadireland.ie/real-talks
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/how-to-be-happy-with-alan-omara-christmas-is-billed-as-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year-but-it-was-when-i-struggled-most-42243099.html How To Be Happy, with Alan O’Mara: “Christmas is said to be the happiest time of the year — but it was the time I struggled the most.”