SEED: Dealing with Christmas – Gemma Oaten


Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…

That Christmas song used to put the fear of god in me. There I was dreading the day of the 25th December fast approaching. Tormented inside and out, not sleeping, on edge, and some little kids are stood at my front door singing that through the bloody letter box!? Excuse me??!!! Shut UP! Sound familiar? Chances are it does. Having an Eating Disorder or knowing someone suffering/caring for them, is one of the hardest challenges a person could face. It’s all consuming and takes over that person with venom and viciousness, exerting control over the whole body and mind, often leading to tragedy. An ED (Eating Disorder) traps you and feeds off you, literally…at Christmas time it laughs in your face. So here is what I propose…laugh right back! As patron of SEED, I felt it essential I did a new blog for Christmas as it it’s one of the hardest times of the year for those suffering with an ED, or indeed any mental health illness. And to be fair, any normal or sane (if normal/sane exists?!) person can singlehandedly become a dithering wreck of popping out head temple veins in the lead up to Christmas. We ALL seem to go into melt down…the pressure, the cooking, the family feuds, the fight for the last ‘Frozen’ Princess doll etc. Or at least to many that is what the focus becomes. Well, I thought I’d write a few thoughts down to try and blitz that stigma away and maybe along the way help you laugh in the ED Grinch’s little face!

Christmas is coming the goose is getting fat…stop there. Fat. That word. Not nice right? Scary? How about this then…Christmas is coming, the goose is getting full. Better? No? Ok, how’s this…Christmas is coming, the goose is getting enriched! See, I like that much better. It’s getting full of good stuff as we all should at Christmas, we should all see Christmas as being enriched and loved, and cared for and valued. Christmas seems to become all about food and pressure to be around lots of people and even worse, eat in front of them. I’m throwing that out of the window, grabbing it from your head and chucking it in my bin (it’s OK, I have a huge bin for such rubbish. HUGE.) Christmas is one day of the year like any other, just with more red and green glitter. You can choose to make of that day as you will. But it does exist, not to scare or pressure you, but for many it’s that one chance to see loved ones, to unite and to laugh. It’s a day to put it all aside and it should be the same for you, the sufferer or the carer. Let me tell you a story that might put it in perspective…

The week before Christmas when I was about 16 or 17 years old, I was admitted to Hull Royal Infirmary. One of many stays there. This time my weight was so low that my heart rate had become tachycardia. I have never been so scared in my life.

Gemma with her parents Marg and Dennis Oaten.

My Mum and Dad saved my life so many times by knowing the warning signs and taking me straight to A&E, but this time something felt very wrong, like my body was losing all control. I haven’t thought about it properly for years and to be honest, I just stopped writing for a minute to wipe my tears. It’s a very real memory all of a sudden. Anyway, I was admitted to hospital and had a drip put in for potassium. My levels were so low my heart was slowly failing. Here’s the devastating thing, and hardest for me to write…I was relieved. 5 days before Christmas and it was looking like I would spend Christmas day in hospital…that moment I could have cried…I was safe! I didn’t have to face the family, the food, the games, the drinks, the laughter. I was safe in hospital. I was away from it all and I wouldn’t ruin their Christmas. Now isn’t that devastating? I would rather be isolated, with a needle in my arm attached to a drip, sat opposite ‘loopy Lorna’ who screamed obscenities at the nurses from 2am-4am like clockwork whilst excreting in her bed…then be with family on Christmas day. Not because I didn’t want to be with them, but because it would be easier. Easier for me and for them. Or in my head I thought they would have a better time without me. Don’t you see how messed up that is? How the ED can control your mind so much that it convinces you to stay away from your family? Makes you feel guilt and shame? As it came to Christmas Eve, my parents visited me for the 3rd time that day (they often never left) and held my hand and cried, saying they wanted me home for Christmas, there would be no pressure, just love. That moment I suddenly awoke from the ED’s grip and saw the reality. What was I thinking? Christmas is about love. Sod the rest. It’s about LOVE. It’s about being enriched with those you love beside you. The fear in me welled up so much so I couldn’t breathe. I looked around and already the drinkers at Christmas had started coming in swearing and shouting having broken their nose from blacking out. In contrast, there was a little old woman opposite whose family were visiting and the son had walked to the exit to wipe his eyes so his Mother wouldn’t see. He wouldn’t have her home for Christmas. It made sense right then…I wanted to feel full of love and be home, where my parents and siblings and doggies, no matter how hard it was for them, wanted me there to love. Someone looked down on me that day…my blood test results came back and my potassium was back up and also I was no longer dehydrated…I could go home. I will NEVER forget that moment. The ED wasn’t thinking for me…I was. I was delighted, euphoric, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I know I would be safe AT HOME. From that Christmas on I started to learn over the years to cope and put it in perspective…Christmas in my home was about love and family and protection and care. I’m not saying we’re all lucky enough to have our parents still or indeed be as lucky as I am re family, but whoever you have in your life that is like family to you and who you spend Christmas with, or even if it’s just you…remember it’s not about anything but love and enrichment of YOU for YOU. Get rid of anything else in your mind apart from that thought.


One of the things we did at Christmas when I was still suffering (13 years for me), was we would plan and talk about how we as a family would get through the day the best to support me. We’d pre plan and make a pact that, on Christmas day there would be no confrontation, no battles over food, no resentment or upset, there would be just be as much love and joy as we could give each other. My parents and I would agree a meal plan and we’d tell my siblings or whoever was over for dinner that day for Christmas, that I would just have a turkey sandwich, followed by a little pudding if I felt able, and it wasn’t to be brought up and discussed. What mattered was that I was sat at that table, with my family, eating something I felt safe with. It’s just a suggestion and one my Mum and Dad teach at SEED, but pre planning can help so much. It takes the pressure and unknown off. Maybe try it? Take all focus on food away and focus on that time with your family. Laugh in ED’s face and stick up two fingers and tell it from me that it is NOT going to spoil your day, your love, your enrichment. Hopefully as you start to feel you are beginning the recovery process, you will be able to see and feel this. I plan to do a blog on recovery next year, and hope it proves useful, but for now, it’s one step at a time.

On the website, there is this document which my Mum has created with her team And as ever, there’s the helpline. You’re not alone. And remember, Christmas and life in general can be hard for so many…you’re not alone, you are never alone. Life is full of challenges and an ED is simply one of them. One which you can overcome. Don’t give it the power to think it is winning and is the only challenge we as people face…that gives it far too much credit. Laugh in Eating Disorder’s face, tell it, it’s insignificance and allow YOU to take control again.

Just quickly to end or wrap up (geddit….Christmas wrap…! I know, I know…groan!) but I’ve been reading a fabulous book called ‘The Power of Now’ which is all about how our thoughts can become addictive and destructive if we allow them to take over our ‘time’ of past and present and stop living in the now, being present and just simply ‘being’. I am finding it a fascinating read that really does resonate with all I have overcome. Here’s a passage and one of my favourite parts so far as a taster…

“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future and not enough present. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of no forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough present.


Most people find it difficult to believe that a state of consciousness totally free of all negativity is possible. And yet this is the liberated state to which all spiritual teachings point. It is the promise of salvation, not an illusionary future but right here right now”

So there we have it. I truly hope this has helped and I haven’t rambled too much (I have a tendency to do that!) I wish you all a rich and fulfilling Christmas. One where YOU are in control and feel nothing but love. It’s my gift to you when I say…you are fabulous and you can do it.

Love Gem xxx

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