This week, I’ve dusted down my collection of classic Christmas albums for their annual hearing: Phil Spector, Bob Dylan’s weirdly compelling Christmas In My Heart and, perhaps most pertinently, Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas.

Because for some, Christmas can very much have that hue. It’s easy to feel like you’re on the outside looking in, while the rest of the world is having fun around you. The pressure to enjoy yourself, and to feel you should be enjoying yourself, can feel relentless. If you’re someone feeling that way, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in doing so.

One of the quietly powerful trends in publishing in recent years has been the growth in books with a mental health theme. That’s been led by writers like Matt Haig, who we were lucky enough to have headlining the LitFest last year. This year, we were fortunate to host Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, whose Costa shortlisted novel Starling Days was acclaimed by one reviewer as ‘a poetic, hypnotic exploration of mental health’.

Waterstones, meanwhile, have announced that their book of the year is Charles Mackesy’s charming The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse – a sort of AA Milne for adults that the author hopes will encourage people to ‘live courageously with more kindness for yourself and for others’. At one point in the book, the boy asks, ‘What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?’ ‘Help,’ replies the horse.

I know myself how hard that word can be to say. I’m not very good about talking about these sorts of things, which is perhaps part of the problem, but like many people (men especially) I’m incredibly skilled at not saying how I feel. Indeed, over the years I’ve perfected the art of deflection, chatting away about sport or music or books or politics, anything to steer the conversation away from myself.

This summer, I finally said, ‘help’ myself. I started going to a counsellor and began unpacking thoughts and feelings that I should have confronted years ago. The process is not an easy one: indeed, it says something that I find it easier to write this down in a newspaper column than to say those words out loud.

But it’s been an invaluable experience for me. What I’ve learned is that, yes, I am unhappy sometimes, but I’m far from alone in feeling that way. I’ve learned it’s ok to tell people how you’re feeling, and they won’t laugh at you or think you’re feeble for doing so. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned it’s not a weak thing to see someone about it. As Charles Mackesy suggests, that can be the bravest thing of all.

To find a local counsellor, visit