Girl Talk: Why Do I Feel So Depressed Around The Holidays?

The irony about people who cope with depression is that some of us are actually quite happy people. We are not, contrary to stereotype, slogging through life with the weight of one thousand sorrows dragging behind us. I may feel things intensely, sure. But I’m not someone whose blue-colored glasses see everyone screwed up and the world a terrible place.

That is, until the holidays come around.

Last year, simply put, the Christmas season drained me. Finally I understood why some people experience the holiday season as arduous, instead of a childlike celebration of good cheer. I just wanted it to be over so we could all go back to our normal lives. I felt stretched thin in my then-relationship, work, my friends, family drama.  I spent a lot of time crying and feeling alone — despite all the people who were pulling me in different directions, wanting a piece of me.

This year, I vowed the holidays would be different. I’m an adult woman, dagnabbit. I am in control. I recused myself from family drama. I told my friends “no” and didn’t feel guilty about it. I’ve tried to make a point to play as hard as I work (or, at the very least, take the time to recharge my batteries).  I even bought Christmas lights and the flashiest light-up snowman that I could find at CVS to decorate my apartment.

But still this year, depression has trailed the holiday season. I’m struggling to pull myself out of bed each morning and make it through each day. Mostly, I want to be left alone — preferably in bed, asleep. My usual spitfire inside me, that will to fight, to care deeply and intensel which is always so present in my belly, is dwindling. The tiredness can’t be perked up by coffee. Even the smallest responsibilities — call the landlord, pay this bill — feel overwhelming.

Of course, this holiday season there is an elephant in the room. Not an elephant, really — more like a big blue whale. It sounds trite to say it was devastating … but that’s what it was. The murders of 27 innocent people in Newtown, Connecticut, has cast a shadow over every single hour. The children are my nieces’ and nephew’s age. Two of my sisters are teachers. Newtown is two towns away from the town where I grew up. Newtown is a quaint little town I’ve visited throughout my life and the last place I would have guessed a mass murder would happen. On Monday, a funeral for one of the little boys was held in my hometown. The idea that the Westboro Baptist Church wanted to be in my town protesting the funeral of a six-year-old made me feel sputtering enraged. I sobbed looking at the pictures in the news of the hearses driving down streets I know.

My sister, who lives in the town below Newtown, says everyone she sees is eerily quiet, moving more slowly, like they are stunned. I myself may as well be caught in molasses.

“Despair” is the word that I most often use to describe to other people what depression feels like. People think the depression means “sad,” but really depression is an emptiness and hopelessness than it is feeling anything explicitly frowny-faced. Any time that I’ve gone through a bout of depression, the feeling of despair has mounted over time. With the tragedy in Newtown, a big cement block of despair dropped all at once.

I hope that my despair related to Newtown will recede and I am hopeful for healing for everyone — most importantly for the families who buried their children.  The past week has shown kindness from people all over the world, especially in this country and especially in Connecticut. It’s enormously comforting to see all “the helpers” and to know that the kids who died were bravely being protected by adults who cared for them so deeply. Sometimes I try to make a concerted effort to put my devastation aside and remind myself that I am so in awe of these heroines.

The larger question of making it through this already tough season — with Christmas and New Year’s Eve still directly ahead — is still that: a question. I am trying to stick to the original plan. Say “no.” Set boundaries. Recharge the batteries. Don’t get involved in other people’s drama, even if you love those people with every fiber of your being. (That last one, I’m sure everyone can agree, is easier said than done.)

And I am also remembering to be grateful for how blessed I am, especially in light of the past week. I have my friends. I can’t imagine coping with this difficult time of year without the safety net that I have underneath me. I have my family. I have a job I love. I actually have two jobs I love. I can afford to see a weekly therapist and take anti-depressants daily to keep myself healthy. I am so privileged and I have so much to be grateful for, even in trying times.  Just like last year, I know that the happy person will return come January. I just wish she never had to go away.

Does anyone else experience depression during the holiday season? If so, let me know how you cope in the comments.

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