What does Christmas mean to you?
Time spent with your family, time off work, giving and receiving presents, lovely food and perhaps even some snow?
If the current TV ads are anything to go by, Christmas is a truly wonderful time when we’re all laughing, smiling, enjoying each other’s company, eating beautifully cooked food, and opening piles and piles of amazing presents .. all, of course, as the snow falls.
Then there’s the reality.
Even with all the money in the world, surrounded by family and friends, the festive period can be the loneliest, most isolating time of year – a time when the pressure cooker that is our ‘mental health’ can blow.
We spoke to Camilla Plekker (29), Chair of Front Lounge, the organisation behind Foolish Optimism, about her own challenges and perspective on ‘the most wonderful time of the year’…
What led you to become involved with Front Lounge and the Foolish Optimism film?
“My want to be directly involved in Foolish Optimism stems from my personal experience in trying to navigate services as a young person in the throws of anxiety and depression, which extended and exacerbated my symptoms unnecessarily over the years. I had no idea what was happening to me, how to talk about it, or who I could trust with my health.”
“Now, the conversation around the mental health of young people in Scotland is demanding attention at national and policy level because my story is one heard again and again and again, and sadly I’m perceived by many to be one of the ‘lucky ones who made it through’, because I survived. We, as contributing members of our communities have the opportunity – through this project – to raise the profile of mental health and services available, provide an opportunity for individuals to identify with the themes in the film experienced by others, generate discussion, and provide real life stories to make an argument for the needs of young people and our future generations.”
What do you find particularly challenging about the festive period?
“Well, my experience is a sense and feeling that people sort of disappear over the festive season (healthcare and third sector services close or reduce significantly, shops shut and friends go off to spend time with their families, all that kind of thing), and this has at times left me feeling lonely, isolated and very unsure about how I should manage the perceived pressure to commit to the expectations of those around me to showcase that perfect Christmas and incredible New Year. It’s a really strange time of year for those reasons and has been for me, in the past, painful made worse by my anxiety and depression.”
What do you do to help yourself at Christmas?
“I still have ups and downs and I have to consciously maintain my mental health throughout the day, daily, using skills I’ve learned through counselling (like CBT techniques and reflection) to change any negative perception I have about myself from moment to moment. Fundamentally for me, its about giving myself a break: being able to tell myself that it’s ok to feel the way I’m feeling (and truly believing it), but also trusting myself to identify when things are not right and act on it in a healthy way. On a practical level, sometimes we just have to do what we have to do, and be where we have to be, so I decided to make sure that I would try to organise some time in the season to spend time with close friends, maybe do something on my own that I normally wouldn’t get the time to do and, in the quiet times, reflect on my achievements of the year past. Personally, I find volunteering a really fulfilling thing to do at this time of year.”
And what about 2019? How do you manage your own expectations as we enter a new year?
“I used to put so much pressure on myself with the thought of the new year creeping up on me. I used to think, right, this year I’m going to eat a clean diet, lose weight, save money, work harder, have a tight sleep routine – the list would be endless! For some people, this totally works. For me, it doesn’t work at all – in fact it does the opposite, because I end up feeling guilty for not being able to maintain all the things I said I would do, probably because I wasn’t truly doing them for myself, but to generate a perception of success to others. So now, the new year is about celebrating what I’ve done in the last year and if I plan to make changes in my life, it comes from a realistic place of care and compassion, at a time when I have the resources to do it and I continue to strive to make them realistic!”
As the Year of Young People draws to a close, what have you learned from the Foolish Optimism project?
“This project has illustrated the power of young people more than ever all over Scotland, from here in Dundee all the way to the islands of Barra and Uist, by contributing to a national conversation with confidence to talk about difficult subjects from personal experience, challenging stigma from every angle and raising the profile of this area in health.
“It’s been a fantastic and challenging project to be involved with and I’d like to thank everyone who’s organised and hosted the many roadshows we have held throughout Scotland. It is, however, not over because the major learn from this project is that young people continue to say that this work must continue. That is absolutely a fact. And we must continue to push forward.”
Samaritans offer a free listening service for anyone who is struggling to cope. There is no age restriction, and you don't have to give them any personal details if you don't want to. You can call them free in the UK on 116 123.
Mindfulness is a useful technique for dealing with anxiety in your day-to-day life. It helps you to stay present in the moment and not retreat into your own mind, where anxiety can take over. Find out more about mindfulness from Mindfulness Scotland.
Habitica is an app which can help you keep on top of your day-to-day responsibilities. By setting and completing small tasks, you can unlock rewards, upgrades and even pets! Mental health challenges can often impact your daily routine, and having a rewarding way of keeping track of your successes can be very helpful.