Thanksgiving was Thursday, December starts this week, Christmas
music is on the radio... which means, the holiday season has
officially begun. A time that was meant to be for connecting with
our spirituality, or for the more secular folks like myself, a
time for giving thanks and being with family and eating delicious
food and giving (and yes, receiving) presents. When I was a kid,
like most of us, I waited all year for Christmas time. It was my
absolute favorite. Not even just for the gifts. But the
decorations, the music, the, well, everything.
And now, I am 19, and I still feel that way. Mostly. But somewhere along the way from childhood to my still youngish adulthood, something changed. Some magic got lost. But powerful feelings remain.
This is my first post that is truly personal, and I will just go
ahead and admit to anyone who may be reading this that I am a
girl who has struggled with depression (or more specifically, the
milder yet more chronic form, called dysthymia) for a long time.
And so, even on a good day, these thoughts are always hanging in
the back of my mind like a gray cloud just waiting for a chance
to spoil the picnic.
In the last few months, I've been making great progress (I'll talk about that another time), but my mental state started sliding downhill as soon as the tree went up. This isn't new, in fact, its been happening every year since middle school, just about.
So why am I so depressed during the holidays, even though I know I love them? This year, a bit enlightened for the first time, thanks to the psychology courses I've taken, I've decided to examine this pattern and figure out how to fix it. I hope this can help someone else as well, because I know I'm not the only one who tends to be moodier this time of year.
I think that my problem, overall, (and this is a very behavioral, conditioned type thing), is that I've started to associate the season with painful memories, things I've never really resolved. I can safely avoid thinking about them for most of the year, but as soon as the twinkle lights go up, they come flooding back, like unwelcome guests. Often, I don't even realize it is happening, which creates an inexplicably depressed mood.
There was the year in elementary school when my parents were split up and my dad tried to force us into spending Christmas Eve at his house, when all I wanted was to be with my mom.
Then there was whenever I stopped believing in Santa Claus. It was no traumatic thing for me, but the day did loose a bit of magic after that.
The fall of my eight grade year, my grandfather passed away. And already sorrowful Christmas was made worse by my grandmother's inabilty to deal with the loss properly. She wouldn't leave her house and it felt then to me that I had lost two relatives instead of one.
Next year, I came down with the flu on Christmas morning.
Eleventh grade, one of the worst days of my life (story for another time, perhaps) fell on December 18. Although the issue was fixed, it definitely cast a shadow over the rest of the season.
And just last year, when a misguided decision landed me at a school out of state where I didn't fit in, I had to deal with the stress of being away from home that winter, and the heartbreak of having to fly back to a place I hated after two too-short breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
And, throughout my whole life, I've had to deal with the fact that the Christmas season doesn't last forever. December 26 is the most depressing day on earth for any kid, and for a sensitive kid like me, the thought of that impending doom almost overshadows the anticipation of the day before. Wonderful demonstration of the faulty thinking that goes along with depression.
This year, I am glad to say that I am home sweet home and finally satisfied with the direction of my life. But I heard "Silent Night" earlier and broke down in tears. Clearly, I have to fight some demons before I can ever make peace with the season. How? My solution is to de-condition these kneejerk depression reactions. Make new memories, good ones. My advice to myself, and to you, is this:
Savor every moment. Don't get caught up in the stressful aspects of the holiday, do only what you enjoy. Put higher meaning back into the holiday, religious or otherwise. Give thanks, pray, remember the past but don't dwell on it. Take it one day at a time. Give yourself permission to eat that extra gingerbread cookie. Don't neglect healthy habits. Don't be alone! Spend more time with the people you love. For fuck's sake, forgive your family. Reconnect with them, make traditions with them, watch Its a Wonderful Life with them. Because it is, and the sooner we can all remember this, the sooner we can start making the holidays magical again, and forget that emotinal baggage.