Merry Christmas pals. I hope it was good for you – that your stockings and bellies were full and love was all around.
Of course, not everyone will have been so lucky.
Maybe it’s age; maybe it’s being a mum, but I have never been more aware that there are Dundonians who are struggling.
I make more of an effort to find out how I can help each year.
Like most people, I could do more but I hope, in time to come, I will.
Scratching the surface in Dundee this year, I’ve seen the organised efficiency of food banks and charities such as Togs For Tots, where volunteers work away like Santa’s elves, filling care boxes with clothes for needy children.
Youngsters usually come to their attention through a referral – someone who notices their carers are struggling.
That word ‘struggling’ implies financial hardship – the trauma of not being able to feed a child or send them outside in warm clothes and shoes.
But another experience with a Dundee organisation made me realise how real the struggle with mental health is too.
Covid has worsened many people’s invisible struggles with mental health
It always has been, but lockdown and restrictions have made problems more acute than ever.
And when mental health is poor – in the form of anxiety, depression or other issues – there are often knock-on effects.
SAMH offices and our Information Service will be closed for the Christmas and New Year bank holidays.
— SAMH (@SAMHtweets) December 27, 2021
I know someone who had health issues but was a sociable, able person and deteriorated to the point of being unrecognisable after Covid hit.
And I swear dementia hit like a train over lockdown because he had no friends visiting or people to go out with.
A young chap volunteering at a charity in Dundee told me he struggles with his mental health.
I told him you would never know to look at him. But that’s the point – we never do know what’s going on in anyone else’s head.
The more I live, the more I learn you cannot judge by what you see.
A mum who puts your organisational skills to shame and seems to nail everything – a great wardrobe, lovely holidays, kids who never need a nose wipe – might be nursing a manic depression hidden from the world.
And that guy who never seems to stick at a job might not be lazy. Maybe there’s something that happened to him which haunts him and has him opening another bottle every day.
We all have thoughts we’d rather not admit to from time to time – and for some, it’s more of a constant, dark companion.
With mental health, it’s good to talk – and to listen
I’ve also learned that if someone opens up – whether at a charity or on the street – the best thing you can do is listen.
And sometimes they want to listen to you too.
To hear something funny that happened to you on the way there, or maybe an admission that you don’t always feel great yourself – that they are not alone.
Honesty and taking off that brave face is always touching.
The funny thing is, I intended writing about something else entirely in this column.
But just having a natter with you about some of my experiences in the run- up to Christmas – moments that touched me, and taught me something – seems more important.
I hope you all have a happy, safe New Year.
And no matter what, remember, you really aren’t alone.
Not so fantastic plastic
The amount of plastic packaging that came with the Christmas presents this year made me feel a bit sick.
For starters, it doesn’t seem very easy to recycle in Dundee.
Any advice as to where you put your plastics would be hugely appreciated.
Merry Christmas pals ❤️ pic.twitter.com/399be9VyV8
— Martel Maxwell (@MartelMaxwell) December 24, 2021
I do what I can and find the best recycling spots possible. But still, it’s frightening.
I always have an image of David Attenborough, looking sad at the thought of all that waste ending up in landfills or getting stuck in a seal or a dolphin’s guts.
Why aren’t there more friendly alternatives to plastic toys and packing?
Surely it can only be a matter of time before it’s a legal requirement for manufacturers to package their products with something that won’t kill animals and eventually the planet.
It’s the big guns who have to make change.
We can have all the grand intentions in the world, but change will happen much more quickly if it is done on a global scale for us all.
Pity the poor department store shoppers
You know who I feel sorry for? Dundonian men who used to buy their other halves’ Christmas presents in Debenhams.
I know two chaps who were very forlorn at the realisation they would not be able to go up to the same lady at a counter, as they did every year, with a list their partner had written – or a request for her to choose “a few things she might like”.
The loss of the department store and so many other high street stalwarts is felt most keenly at this time of year.