It’s the most “wonderful time of the year”. At least that’s what the song says. Sorry Andy, I’d have to firmly disagree. Starting around Thanksgiving and lasting until post Valentines day, I tend to get a little down in the dumps. Since I’m in the middle of an episode, I thought it was as good as time as any to address dealing with holiday depression.
Holiday depression isn’t the same as chronic illness depression. As much as I’d love to blame my funk on my chronic illness, I can’t. I can recall feeling subtle twinges during my teenage years (well before my diagnosis) but now I find myself dealing with yearly holiday depression.
Back in the day
Things were so much simpler when I was a kid. The holidays truly were magical. Everything seemed so grand and memorable: the excitement of everyone coming together and sharing laughs and memories; the delicious food; serving as the official taste tester; staying up until midnight and opening gifts surrounded by my cousins. The vibes were everything the holidays “should be” or so I thought.
The older I get, the less exciting the holidays seem to be. I was probably around 13 or 14 when the mystique started dissipating. I started paying attention to the semantics and the nuances. As an introvert sitting back and watching situations play out is kind of my thing.
Not to put our business out there but the tensions in the air my my family gatherings were quite thick. We all came together and put on good faces but I don’t know I questioned if truly enjoy each others company. Drama party of 12 would be an understatement. It gets old after a while.
In general the loss of a loved one is difficult. The holidays tend to intensify that loss, especially if you have favorite traditions and memories with that person. Sometimes the pain dulls but that persons absence is still felt.
About 5 years ago the family at the family gatherings started getting smaller and smaller. It hit me about 4 years ago that it’s because my grandmother had passed. Some people are like the family nucleus: the center of the beast, the glue that keeps it all together. Without the matriarch, people started branching off and doing their own things. I can remember every room of the house being full of people. Now if five people are at the gathering, I’d say thats a big turnout. The vibes simply are not the same.
I think the biggest joy stealer during the holidays is expectations. These could be expectations we have of ourselves, or that others have on us or that we have of the holidays. As a teenager, I was stressed out because I didn’t have enough money to buy extravagant gifts to give my family or I was forced to decide which side of my family I was going to spend which holiday with.
Whether or not I put those expectations of myself or my family instilled them in me, is water under the bridge. Of course no one expected me at 16 to buy Cartier watches, but I wanted to. And because I couldn’t I felt like I was letting everyone down.
How to Cope
I’m not a therapist and I don’t play one on TV. So don’t look to me for a certified prescription to dealing with holiday depression or chronic illness depression. But I’ve been trying different things to help pull me out of the darkness.
First I started tracking my moods. I created a mood tracker and named it In My Feelings. This makes it easier to tell if I’m just having a bad day or if it’s an endless string of bad days. Second I started daily journaling and meditation again. Sorry to report that I fell off a bit from that.
Third, I released myself from all social obligations and expectations. The pressure of choosing houses to visit, and what to buy folks and where to spend which holiday is overwhelming. Lastly, I give myself permission to feel my feelings. Trying to suppress my feelings never works. If I feel sad or antisocial, I feel it un-apologetically. But I try not to stew. Instead I do self-reflection and try to uncover the root of the emotion (which is mad hard).
Oh and I’m definitely going to look into finding a new therapist. The last one didn’t work out but that’s another story for another day. My hope is that these things will keep me out of the darkness. Now I don’t want to wish depression on anyone else but I’m hard pressed to think I’m alone in my plight. Can anyone else relate? Have you ever fallen victim to the winter blues? What are some of your tools for dealing with holiday depression?
Oh and if you wanna try my tracker you can download it. Hope it helps you.