For those of us who live with depression, the holidays (particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas) can be overwhelming. For this reason, it seems logical that suicide rates would soar during the holiday season, but it turns out that this long-held belief is actually a myth.
I was really surprised to learn about the suicide myth perhaps because the older I get, and the more loss I experience, the more the holidays seem to bring those losses to mind, and the more I can empathize with those who feel hopeless.
After this year’s big family Thanksgiving feast at my grandfather's home was over, and we were all loading up trays of leftovers to take home, I thought, “I need to take a plate to Dad.” In the very next second, I realized that Dad isn’t there anymore. I burst into tears, reliving the loss of my father last year.
There is so much emphasis on being with family, friends, and loved ones during the holidays. Most of us have experienced the loss of people we love, whether through death, divorce or break-up, which makes the holidays painful for us.
Stress is a major contributor to depression during the holiday season. We stress over which family members’ homes to visit, what gifts to buy and how to pay for them.
Traveling to our destinations is stressful, and sometimes we even stress over such silly things as gaining weight or what we should wear. And, of course, there are the family gatherings which can be very stressful in general, but especially when there is conflict.
All the hustle and bustle can be depressing, but some of the saddest holidays I ever experienced were those I spent alone. Though I knew better, I felt as if I were the only person in the world who didn’t have someone who loved me by my side.
On those sad holidays I spent alone, I threw myself a big pity party, complete with alcohol and lots of sobbing—-not advised! The next morning, I woke with puffy eyes and a hangover, neither of which is helpful when trying to pull yourself out of that big black hole we call depression.
I think we could all agree that the worst holidays are the first to come after the death (or other loss) of a close loved one. If you are in that situation, try to spend as much time as you can with family and friends who understand how you feel.
If the loss is through death, it might be good to talk about the happy times-—like funny things that he or she did or said. The grieving process is a little different for everyone, though. You might just need time alone to reflect.
When the loss is through divorce or break-up, there is also a grieving process you have to work through. If the relationship was abusive or otherwise negative, though it is still painful to let go, you can focus on how much better your future will be without the pain the relationship brought into your life.
Don’t focus on the ending of a relationship. Focus on your new beginning. Look at it as a chance for you to start over and make a new and better life for yourself. It might not seem like it now, but by the time the holidays roll around next year, you might be thanking God for a blessing that seemed like such a tragedy only a short time ago.
Remember that there are always those who are less fortunate than we are. Reaching out and doing something for the homeless or underprivileged children might be just the thing to lift your spirits. Seeing the unfortunate condition of others can help us realize that our problems aren't so bad.
If your holiday depression is more than just a couple of weeks of "the blues," you should speak with your doctor or a mental health professional. Talk therapy can make all the difference in how we perceive things, and therefore, the way we feel about them.
We can all look back on happy holiday memories from years past. We could choose to be “sad sacks,” and wallow in the fact that those days are gone, but let’s not do that. Let’s think of those times and be thankful for every love, every laugh, every smile, every hug, every kiss, and every joyful moment we’ve ever known.
No matter how dismal things may seem, we’ve all been blessed with so much for which we should be thankful. Counting our blessings should always make us feel better, so let’s choose to do that. Let’s tell ourselves, “I am blessed,” and let that be the focus of our holiday experiences.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!