Starting with Black Friday, we enter the Christmas season. It's filled with shopping, family gatherings, parties, Christmas programs and more. The season is cheery and bright--only sometimes it's not. Some people suffer from the holiday blues or even depression. And they are often made to feel worse by the pressure to be happy and guilt if they don't.
But health issues, financial woes and loss can rob people of the joy of Christmas (or whichever holiday they celebrate).
My Own Story of Christmas Time Loss
My first Christmas as a wife and stepmom was unforgettable. But not for good reason.
When I married my husband the previous July, his daughter from another marriage had been living with him at an Air Force Base in England for a year. They were part of a Bible study group, and some of the people in the group considered them their "project." Single dad. Motherless child.
So when I arrived on the scene, I messed up everything that was in place. I changed some unhealthy things that were going on--his daughter being babied and everything handed to her because "poor thing doesn't have a mom." She had a mom. Her mom was just going through a difficult time and needed my husband to take their daughter while she got back on her feet. The daughter had learned to manipulate people like a pro at five years old. She knew how to play the motherless child role. Then the "stepdaughter with a wicked stepmother" role. They fell for it.
Meanwhile I was across the ocean from any support I might have gotten with that situation. Although I had no family or real friends there, my husband himself was very supportive.
I unexpectedly got pregnant that fall. Unexpected but certainly not unwanted. But I couldn't get excited about it. And I had no clue why. We should have been thrilled, but every time we started talking about plans, it fell flat.
Then the week before Christmas, I realized all was not well. I went to an Air Force doctor on a base about an hour away. He was told there was an emergency coming in, but when he checked me, he said I wasn't even pregnant. But to humor me, he ran a test. I was pregnant. He brushed off my concerns and sent me home.
A day or two later (don't remember exactly because this was 1988) I knew I was miscarrying. We went to the small local hospital. Big mistake. They did not believe in men being with their wives. After we checked in, my husband never knew what was happening until hours later when I came out of a D&C. When I went into the hospital, no one was there who had experience with miscarriages or who even had used the spectrum before. They finally just decided that since there was a lot of blood, I was miscarrying. I was told, "When the doctor gets back from midnight mass we'll finish your baby off." No sympathy. No anything.
It just got worse from there. I had to stay the night since it was well past midnight. My husband was not allowed to be with me in my room, and since I couldn't sleep at all, that meant a long lonely night.
Looking for a bit of sympathy the next day, I called someone from the Bible study group. I was told, "When I had my miscarriage, I got up and went to Bible study the same day." The neighbor told me, "It's a good thing you aren't having that baby. It wasn't fair to your stepdaughter for you to have a child."
Wow. Merry Christmas? Hardly. More like days of trying to grieve to myself for a child I'd never met. Put on a phony face so I didn't come under fire for not being a cheerful Christian.
This wasn't the first time I'd had the blues at Christmas and unfortunately not the last.
There are a lot of reason things may not be cheery and bright this season.
- You've tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant
- You've miscarried
- You hoped your adopted child would finally be home for this Christmas only to find out that's not happening
- You're in a failing relationship
- You're in an abusive relationship and feel trapped
- You've gotten divorced
- You have in law problems
- Your parents are struggling and the burden has fallen to you alone
- Someone close has died
- You've moved or someone close to you has moved
- Adult children have moved away from home
- You have strained relationships with your children or other family members
- You're facing health issues
- You've lost your job or have been unable to find a job
- The bills far outweigh your income
- You're homeless
The list could go on and on
Unfortunately there's no easy cure. But there are some things you can do that might help:
- Talk to a doctor. If you have depression, you need medical help. Depression isn't the same as feeling sorry for yourself and it's not a lack of trust in God. You may need medicine. Or you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder which hits some people around this time of year.
- Talk to someone. That person might be a trained counselor, a trusted friend or members of a support group. The advantage of a support group is that it's usually free, and you'll be with people who understand what you're going through. They are unlikely to judge you.
- Be realistic about the holidays. Not everyone's life resembles a Hallmark Christmas movie. Sometimes the happy ending is years away. Accept that and prepare for it. If your in laws can't stand you the other 364 days a year, chances are things aren't going to be any better at the Christmas dinner. Either you'll spend the time being phonies or you'll spend the time throwing verbal darts at each other. Same for other situations in your life.
- Whenever possible, avoid people and places that get you down. Skip the parties if you are going to be miserable or hiding behind a mask. Instead, choose to do something positive like volunteering with an organization that's collecting food or gifts for the needy.
- Don't worry about the stuff you can't control. Instead take charge of your own life. Make sure you are following a good routine of exercise, good nutrition and enough sleep. It's hard to fight off the blues if you're feeling run down.
- Take control of the things you can. If you are in an abuse situation, get help. If you are homeless or jobless, talk to a local pastor to find out what help is available or where you can go for the right help.
- Grieve your losses. No matter how big or small, acknowledge your losses. Give a book to the library of a gift through Angel Tree or another organization in memory of someone. Make a digital scrapbook or journal. Acknowledge your feelings.
- Focus on others. Helping others meet their needs whether for material things or companionship will distract you from your own issues or at least give you an outlet for your feelings.
- Focus on what matters. Jesus. Family. Yourself. Choose activities that emphasize those things and let the rest go.
- Look beyond the holidays. Set some goals for the new year. Learn a foreign language or sign language. Start or continue an exercise program or class. Read to school children once a week. Plan a trip and save for it. Have something to look forward to beyond the holidays.
Holiday blues and depression are real. If you're suffering, talk to someone. If you're not, be sensitive to the feelings of those around you. You might be part of the cure for someone else.
For more information:
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Preventing Holiday Depression
Myths and Facts About Depression