Christmas, for many reasons, is a time of year when I always feel particularly contemplative. I'm not a religious person - I was raised in a "respecting all religions but following none of them" kind of household and seem to have continued along that path into adulthood - but there's still something about Christmas that seems special. There's no denying that, as a little girl, at least part of the excitement was about presents, but I think it's always been about more than that. My Daddy used to finish work at lunch time on Christmas Eve, we would probably see friends and cousins who we didn't see often, there would be lots of people visiting and, of course, no school for us or work for our parents, so we spent lots of time together as a family. Overwhelmingly, though, what sticks out in my memories of my childhood Christmases is that everyone was happy. It was simply a time of seeing the people you loved and enjoying being together.
During my teenage years, as many of you will know, I had a rather difficult time with my mood. A time when everyone was so cheerful, and the general attitude appeared to be "you should be happy, it's Christmas!" suddenly became difficult to cope with. The general tolerance for misery seems to drop at this time of year, and anyone who isn't feeling full of the festive spirit not only has to contend with their own difficulties, but also with accusations of bringing everyone else down and spoiling Christmas.
Now, as an adult, I enjoy Christmas again, but a combination of my teenage difficulties and work and family circumstances mean I'm all too aware of how difficult this time of year can be. I'm working again this year, but come Monday when I have some time off, I'll be heading up to see my parents and sisters before spending New Year with my boyfriend. I'm lucky to have not only a job that I genuinely enjoy and that pays me enough to be able to spoil the people I love, but (more importantly) people I love close by, happy and healthy.
Working over Christmas in a hospital is an odd experience which brings with it a strange combination of emotions. I still smile when I remember the sweet nonagenarian who burst into tears of happiness when Santa came around the ward and gave gifts to all the inpatients. The same day, I had to tell a lady that the symptoms her son had brought her to A&E with were likely due to metastatic cancer. Another year, I got a Christmas kiss on the cheek from a very mischievous older gentleman patient before discussing end of life care for someone else. Last year, I saw babies and children spending their Christmas in hospital - for some it was their first Christmas, for others it would be their last; for a few it was both.
Whatever you're doing this Christmas, spare a thought for those who aren't enjoying the festivities in the usual way. My colleagues in the health service, from the domestic staff keeping the wards clean to the consultant surgeons performing life-saving operations, will be there to ensure you and your family are well looked after. Those in the fire service and police force are making sure our streets and homes are kept safe. Thousands of hospitality workers are spending today serving up countless turkey dinners and glasses of prosecco to help other people have a merry day. To everyone working this Christmas - thank you.
If Christmas is a challenge for you, know that you aren't forgotten. Those struggling to get through the day without a loved one - be it for the first or the fiftieth time - I feel for you. If you're spending the day in the hospital, either as a patient or visiting a loved one, I hope Christmas is comfortable and that the New Year will be brighter. If you simply feel overwhelmed and are struggling, there are people who care and who will listen.
Merry Christmas, everyone, stay safe and I hope 2016 brings health and happiness to all xxx
There are a number of places you can get help should you need it. The services I've listed are free to call and open 24/7. A more comprehensive list is available through the NHS choices website, but not all services are free or open over Christmas.
If you're struggling today, or any day, the Samaritans are there to listen for free - call 08457 90 90 90.
Children and young people can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 whilst adults who have concerns about a child can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.
If you feel in danger of hurting yourself and don't have a crisis plan, please call 999 or go to your local A&E department.
For those who need help with domestic abuse, contact Refuge on 0808 2000 247.
If alcohol is a problem, you can call Alcoholics Anonymous on 0845 769 7555.
If you need help with drugs, you can speak to Frank on 0800 77 66 00.