Christmas comes but once a year, and when it comes it comes with a few challenges. This year is no exception.
They say that Christmas is a stressful occasion, and our normal Christmas would be big family event. Last year we had 21 family members for Christmas lunch. Just 12 months later we are facing down the reality that things have changed dramatically in our family.
An Eating Disorder has put a serious stamp on all plans for this year, it has driven division between our family, and we are facing the prospect of our first Christmas with our daughter as an inpatient on a mental health ward over 4 hours from home.
To be honest both my wife and I have struggled to get into the Christmas spirit this year. Where there would normally be an abundance of excitement, decorations and presents for all, this year we have had to cut back. This is mostly due to the challenges with our daughter’s illness, but also the reality that recently we have had to spend significant funds visiting our daughter over 200 miles from home. We do try to visit her every week if time and work permits. We have been forced to adjust this year, but we are determined to make this special for our children no matter what the circumstances. We do feel lucky that we can adjust our means to ensure we can still visit our daughter regularly, but we know many parents with their children displaced, and only able to visit on limited occasions.
At this time of year, this is a reality that many will struggle to understand the impact it has on families. During our planning for this Christmas we came across a charity, Christmas for CAHMS. It is truly heart-breaking to hear their reason for existing:
‘Christmas For CAMHS was originally set up because volunteers saw a huge disparity in the way CAMHS units were treated over the festive period compared to other NHS services for children and young people. We wanted to do something to change that.
Children are admitted to CAMHS units to receive support and treatment for mental health issues, such as depression or eating disorders like anorexia. There are no official figures for how many children will spend the festive season in CAMHS units across the UK. While many members of the public and corporate donors give Christmas gifts to Children’s hospitals or children’s wards in general hospitals, CAMHS units, which are usually based away from other services, are often forgotten, or not known about.’ https://www.christmasforcamhs.org.uk
As a family, we remain positive; we are taking Christmas to our daughter this year as she is not allowed to leave the hospital. Through the beauty of the sharing economy we have rented a small house, one where we can take our dog and set-up home for a few days. When we shared our plans with our daughter this put a big smile across her face (worth every penny). We will be taking our own decorations, stockings, games and gifts from Santa to the hospital this year. We will make this as normal a Christmas as we can.
Whilst Christmas will be spent as a family, it will be only on a limited time basis. The normal eating and feeding routines will still be in place, so our Christmas day will be broken down into two (maybe three) visits. One in the morning from around 10:00-11:30, and then the afternoon from 14:00-16:00, we may see her later, but that will depend on her distress levels after eating, but even these limited hours will be magical moments for us. We are hopeful that we will be able to have some grounds leave on Christmas day as well to walk our dog together.
So, while others take the opportunity to be together as a family on Christmas day as a given, to us this is a precious gift. We will not waste it.
We do have plans to spend time with the wider family after Christmas and although it will not be on 25th December, it will still be time to reflect, celebrate and support each other.
Please remember that it is not only those who are suffering in the system that are challenged by mental illness, it has a much wider social impact on many. There are millions of parents, siblings and wider family communities struggling as well.
We truly wish all families who are experiencing their own challenges this year much peace and love. XX