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Mental health under the Christmas tree: individual challenge & book tip “A boost for the soul”
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Mental health under the Christmas tree: individual challenge & book tip “A boost for the soul”

Nora Hille
Mental Health unterm Weihnachtsbaum-Individuelle Herausforderung & Buchtipp Aufwind für die Seele-Artikelbild

The countdown is on, only a few days left until Christmas. Now is the time for good ideas for gifts (for example, the latest book tip: “Aufwind für die Seele”) as well as a conscious approach to ourselves so that we don’t get caught up in the pre-Christmas stress.

Many look forward to the days off and being together with their loved ones, while others face the annual “festival of love” with fear of conflict and stress. After all, there is hardly any other holiday where there is so much tension in the air as at Christmas, in addition to the (childlike) anticipation and the desire for a harmonious celebration. Christmas can be an enormous challenge, especially for people with difficult family relationships, in mental crises or with acute mental illness. For some, it’s even the worst time of the year. Relatives and friends are particularly important as supporters here. 

For our psyche, Christmas symbolizes a milestone at the end of the calendar year that stands for community and togetherness. Part of this celebration is to recapitulate the past year. […] For many, this is ambivalent.

Etleva Gjoni, graduate psychologist 1

How we experience this festival also depends on how we experienced it in our childhood, what memories we associate with it. Which is encouraging: as adults, we have the opportunity to shape Christmas days more and more according to our ideas and needs and thus make them more pleasant for us. I was able to experience this myself: In my mid-20s, I “escaped” the difficult and always stressful Christmas with my mother by celebrating with my now-husband’s extended family – a pleasant contrast! This remained the case when our two children were still small. We’ve been celebrating Christmas at home with just our children for a few years now and have been able to establish our own family traditions that are good for us all. Instead of Christmas, we are now going to my husband’s extended family for a week at Easter.

This is what awaits you in the latest column:

Reduce Christmas conflicts: This can help

We often have high expectations of the Christmas holidays and of ourselves: The home should be tidy, clean and festively decorated, the food should be a feast for the palate and the lovingly and carefully selected gifts should make the recipient’s eyes sparkle. And of course everyone should get along well and never argue!

Such high expectations put everyone involved under pressure and increase the potential for conflict enormously. This can make the Christmas season more relaxing:

  • Alternatively, how about a take-away buffet or a visit to a restaurant? 
  • When it comes to gifts, rules that apply to everyone can make life easier, such as a fixed amount of money that must not be exceeded, a restriction to no gifts or a fixed number of gifts; alternatively, a donation to a good cause instead of colorful packages.
  • If you have a large number of guests or family members, you can meet them at different times or on different days.
  • Going for a Christmas walk in the fresh air after dinner is good for the soul and cools down heated tempers.
  • And the option of traveling over Christmas to escape the stress of the holidays should not go unmentioned.

Gift ideas with a mental health connection

Once you have decided on a joint celebration and gifts, there are many ways to find presents related to mental health. Of course, it is particularly nice if these take into account the preferences and needs of the recipient, for example:

  • Vouchers for wellness, yoga classes, etc.
  • Lovingly selected teas
  • High-quality scented or massage oils
  • Joint activities
  • Fascia roller, acupressure mat etc.
  • Board games
  • Books

On the last point, I would like to introduce you to a special book related to mental health and the story of how it came about. You can give this as a gift yourself at Christmas or have it given to you and do something good at the same time.

Book tip “Upwind for the soul”

This anthology of donations on the subject of the psyche brings together touching, informative and entertaining, autobiographical and fictional short stories by 32 authors:

  • 200 pages of varied reading material about mental crises and illnesses, full of hope and light despite the serious subject matter.
  • The proceeds will go to the Irrsinnig Menschlich e. V. association, which visits schools, universities, companies and organizations to raise awareness of mental illness together with those affected, thereby destigmatizing it and contributing to an increasingly open approach to mental health in our society. Irrsinnig Menschlich e. V. writes on its website: “We open hearts. We give hope. We make mental crises discussable.”
Perfect as a Christmas present: The anthology “Upwind for the soul”. The picture comes from Stefanie Hempen’s Instagram account @aus_federkiel_und_tintenfass, she also contributed a story.

The editorial team and the idea

The editors and authors Diana Dick, Melanie Gömann and Nina Biesenbach came together some time ago via Instagram. The idea for the anthology came to Diana Dick around Christmas 2021, triggered by reading an Instagram post: 

“It was about self-esteem and I remember the author writing that he wished he had more of it and that he often felt lonely and worthless. He is not alone in this. Many people have negative thoughts and feelings. Many people struggle with problems that they don’t want to talk about for fear of being judged or ridiculed. For this very reason – to create more awareness and understanding of psychological issues – I wanted to publish this anthology.”

The three editors want to draw more attention to mental stress and illness in our society: “We want it to become just as normal to talk about mental difficulties as it is to talk about a broken leg.” And Nina Biesenbach summarizes the objectives in relation to the book’s target groups as follows: “With this book, we want to help by encouraging those affected, strengthening understanding among those not affected and preventing it among younger people.”

Write call and selection process

To find out more about the process of creating the book, I arranged a phone call with co-editor Melanie Gömann and found out a lot: over 60 authors responded to their joint call to write on Instagram in January 2022 and submitted their texts, 32  made it into the book, including an anti-stigma text by me, which I am very pleased about. The three editors have also contributed stories.

“The selection process was really challenging for us,” reports Melanie Gömann. “With every story, it was clear that personal, often very profound experiences had been incorporated and that it deserved publicity. The selection process was therefore extremely intensive. We then tried to select a broad mix of the various psychological challenges and expanded the slim volume originally planned for only 10 to 20 stories to 32 contributions.”

Motivation to make taboo topics visible

Now I would like to know how my interviewee Melanie Gömann has constantly gained new motivation over the long process of creating the donation anthology.

“Overall, the process of producing the book was quite stressful and mentally draining, which I hadn’t expected beforehand. I was always motivated by the conviction that certain stories need to be heard because many readers can relate to them. They convey the comforting feeling that ‘you are not alone’ and can therefore help people to open up to others. That’s why I write about mental health and other taboo subjects myself. It has to become normal for us to talk and write about painful topics. It must become normal to say ‘I’m not feeling well mentally, I can’t get up today’. Our book should lead to dialog and an exchange of experiences.”

Melanie Gömann works part-time with young adults and teenagers, some of whom she has been able to encourage to write texts themselves: “It is very touching to observe the young people’s development processes. Over time, they become more and more self-efficacious and can get help if they need it.” This is exactly what the anthology “Aufwind für die Seele” aims to encourage.

At this point in our conversation, a quote from one of my texts comes to mind, because it is also important to me to address taboo subjects:

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“There is a taboo over so many things. A quiet whisper called ‘Don’t talk about it. Don’t touch it, this pain’. Not talking or no longer writing about something means allowing it to be forgotten or repressed. And that doesn’t do justice to people and their fates.”

Nora Hille

Initial reactions to the book

The anthology was published in September 2023. Co-editor Nina Biesenbach reports on the response so far: “We are very pleased with the feedback we have received about the book so far: from the topic of the anthology to the selection of texts and the cover. Those affected write that they feel understood and seen. Someone told me that she now sees the ‘strange behavior’ of a friend from a different perspective. A medical employee thanked us for our efforts to make the topic of ‘mental health problems’, which is so commonplace in her profession, visible. Feedback like this adds value to every minute of work we put into the anthology.”

Melanie Gömann comments: “Even though the individual stories are self-contained, we deliberately chose the order, as it creates its own dramaturgy. The positive ending with the story ‘Taktgefühl’ by Anea Fähe was very important to us.”

Blurb and bibliographical details

If you are now curious, you can find the blurb and bibliographical details online. If you order directly from BoD, most of the money will be donated to Irrsinnig Menschlich e. V..

Instagram enables exchange with participating authors

All authors are listed in the book with their Instagram account. Interested readers can visit them, find out more about the authors and their writing and get in touch with them directly via comments or Messenger. 

Included in the anthology in the order of publication:

Merry Christmas

The message of Christmas: There is no greater power than love. It overcomes hatred like light overcomes darkness.

Martin Luther King

With this last column for 2023, I would like to wish all FemalExperts readers a wonderful Advent season and a Merry Christmas. Be brave enough to free yourself from burdensome expectations and make the most of the holidays according to your own needs. Take good care of yourself and give your soul a boost!

All the love
Your Nora

About the author

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Nora Hille was born in 1975, is happily married and has two children. She studied history, literature and media studies, worked in communications/public relations for 12 years and has now retired for health reasons. Today she writes articles on the topics of mental health and mental illness as a sufferer and experience expert. She also writes literary essays, poems (preferably haikus) and short prose. She regularly publishes her mental health column here at FemalExperts Magazine and is Editor of eXperimenta - the magazine for literature, art and society. Anti-stigma work is close to her heart: she is an encourager at Mutmachleute e.V. and is committed to Anti-Stigma-Texts against the stigmatization (exclusion) of the mentally ill in our society for more togetherness, tolerance and equality. In autumn 2023 her book "When Light Defeats Darkness" will be published by Palomaa Publishing. A book of encouragement about how to live a good and rich life despite bipolar illness - and the enormous challenge that this means every day for the inner balance of those affected.

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