So that was Christmas, or whatever you celebrate, … and what have you done? … It happens every December, the moods of so many darken in the midst of the season of joy, and bloggers write up their tip lists about how to survive the holidays. Depression is the Grinch who wraps for you a perverse present of guilt.
It feels so wrong to be lost in the isolation of this illness and yet so impossible to match the glow and warmth that seem to be everywhere. So guilt tops off the other miseries. All the more reason to look for help – what can I do just to get through this? Where are those ten tips?
The season seems to concentrate both happiness and sadness, the way a magnifying glass focuses sunlight in a tight pattern so hot that it can start a fire. But in depression, it’s darkness, not light, that is intensified, and the fire is cold.
It’s especially easy to feel that chill at the darkest time of the year (well, at least on the northern half of the planet) when the sun hits the winter solstice, dipping to its lowest point in the sky. Maximum darkness, minimum light – so easy to fit life into depression when it seems close to extinction. I’ve read, though, that, far from dying, life is concentrating itself into its most intense form – that of a seed. It looks pretty drab and dead, but there’s a lot of power hidden inside. … Another year over … and a new one just begun …
In the best times, I’ve been able to sense in this season a time of reminders that life keeps coming back. It doesn’t matter how ugly the mood I’m in or how much I’ve thought about cutting out of a life I believe is hopeless. Even without knowing it, I’m trying to find the fallback, the base of being human, even the start of finding purpose in staying alive.
Everything comes together, from the cosmic to the personal, and people are telling me it’s all about hope and renewal – even salvation. The message of many faiths, however little I feel like hearing it, report that there’s hope from the spiritual world. That’s one thing humming in the air. Then there’s the universe’s freebie of the winter solstice. Sure it’s the darkest time, but it’s also the start of the sun’s return from its annual decline. Light and life are renewing.
Family bonds are celebrated – at least symbolically – through feasting and gifts. And there is that unmistakable feeling of expectancy and energy that flows through crowds and is felt at no other time of year. In that atmosphere, most people feel the personal hope that things can be better in the new year.
But then there we are, the depressed ones, even more self-conscious than usual about not being able to share all the good news.
During my own long years of depression, the feelings of loss and loneliness were keen, even in the midst of family and friends. How I wanted to be able to stir the energy and let the love I knew was there be felt, both by me and by them.
Instead, I would try to stage-manage a lift of spirit, making the motions I thought would work but never fooling anyone. I’m sure you know what it’s like – trying to reshape a face worn out by depression into a cheery mask. Not a pretty sight. And it’s a huge strain that’s impossible to handle for long. Pretending to be what I’m not can never feel good.
Nevertheless, I felt that I should be there not just to keep others happy but because I had to be there. The obligation seemed to come from something basic, even ancestral. A clan gathering to feast and exchange gifts must be the essential affirmation. Keeping life going takes a lot more than one person. It takes a family – like it or not. … I hope you have fun … the near and the dear ones … the old and the young …
So there’s a primal draw – get to that table and make the best of it! There’s likely to be every kind of love, tension, anger, hurt, loss and hope breathing through each person. The family can be a wreck or a loving support, but it’s mine to love, hate, learn from and leave. It may not even be there anymore, but it’s still inside.
And then there are those most complicated things – the gifts, the giving, the receiving. Also age-old tradition – symbols of the relationship. How much do we value each other? That’s not just childishness, pettiness or commercialization, though these days it can involve all those as well.
There are memories in the blood long lost to awareness when gifts were signs of what holds humans together. But of course you know that the gifts aren’t a matter of what you pay for. They’re also in preparing food for the celebration, spreading the table, accepting what’s offered.
All this universal and ancestral stuff is part of who I am. So what if there were times I couldn’t believe that was true or that I’d ever deserve a place in anything. I’d been convinced so often that I’d screwed up my life forever, couldn’t do anything right, might as well die. But there’s still something going on with the convergence of so much in these few weeks. It’s out there trying to tell me, impossible though it seems to believe, that even I belong.
As I’ve been writing here recently, beliefs like this have finally found their way inside. So this year’s holiday season was different. I wasn’t lost, out of it or absent. I felt good, and, for the first time in years, I was there. The worries about meeting expectations, dampening good feeling around me or disappointing the universe vanished.
That’s the strange thing about getting well. There you are, just being you. You can even feel grateful about being alive. It’s almost January, and I don’t need to double check the ten best tips from my holiday survival guide.
What does depression bring you in a season that’s supposed to kindle happiness and warmth? Perhaps like John Lennon, you can feel hope even while fighting the demons. So have a happy new year. … Let’s hope it’s a good one … without any fear.