Coping with Depression during the Holidays
It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. I rarely, if ever, paraphrase other people's writing, but the first line of A Tale of Two Cities seemed a perfect way to describe the odd paradox of the holidays for someone with depression.
Being depressed during the holidays is, I swear, is a punishment thought up by an incredibly sadistic mind. It's hell on earth. and it's not due simply to the juxtaposition of what you should be feeling against what you are feeling. It can be painful in more concrete ways.
One of the most painful times I can remember was the Christmas after I got diagnosed, but before I started antidepressant treatment. One of my major depression symptoms is a sensitivity to noise, lights and crowds. Another symptom is a serious hit to my ability to articulate. Fortunately, I was no longer working in a retail store full-time, but since I worked in the headquarters of a large book chain, I was required to work for a few hours in the local store. It was located in the same mall where I had spent most of my retail career. Geez, talk about sound and lights. The mall decorations were huge, tinselly and bright. The noise from the music and the crowd assaulted my ears and my brain. I couldn't get back and forth to my car or the food court without having to make my way through hordes of people. And as you can imagine, working in a bookstore at the holidays involved a lot of talking.
Being with my family on Christmas Day was difficult, judging by the fact that I didn't stay long and cried uncontrollably on the way home. It wasn't due to anything that happened. I guess the occasion just made me feel sad. Kind of normal if you're depressed to feel sad, but I remember that as one of the longer and more intense crying jags I had.
Even if you don't have the same issues during a major depressive bout that I did, the holidays will not bring the word "joyful" to mind. Even people who are not depressed can suffer from the holiday blues, and everything that they are dealing with is multiplied many times over for someone with major depression. Not enough time to shop for presents, wrap them and write Christmas cards? Try doing all that when even getting out of bed is a major effort. Fed up with the materialism and lack of emotional fulfillment that the holidays usually bring? Believe me, when seen through the gray tinted lenses of depression, it's even harder to take. Are you so swamped with holiday social obligations that you just want to cancel everything? Someone who's depressed probably sees each and every one of those get-togethers as akin to having a root canal.
But there is a reason not to cancel those dates, and it's "best of times" part. Contrary to popular belief, the holidays are not the time of the year with the highest rate of suicide. In fact, it's the opposite. Apparently, despite the fact that family and friends can be as much a source of irritation as comfort during the holiday season, the support a depressed person receives from them is what sustains them through this rough period. So, if you're depressed and really just want to crawl under the covers instead of gathering around the tree or carolling, you may want to re-consider. It might be just what your mental health needs.