It’s Not Just Eggnog and Chestnuts for Everyone

This may not seem like a “Happy Holiday’s Post,” but there’s hope in here. You just need to find it.

The holiday season, regardless of the holiday you follow, is often filled with joy and family and all the stuff that makes us fat. However, there is a darker side to the holidays, and it’s one that many people are–unfortunately–acutely aware of. This post is not about happiness, but my gift to those who don’t know what it is.

There was a statistic thrown about years ago that suicides increase during the holiday season. This is, in fact, false. Suicides peak as spring transitions to summer. The cause of this increase can be debated, but while it’s important to understand these trends, it’s equally important to understand that depressive episodes in many people increase significantly during the holiday season and those episodes do not lead to suicide. Because they do not end in tragedy, they are often swept under the rug.

Why is this? Family is everywhere. People are all over the place. Joyful sounds emanate from every speaker in every mall, every store and half the restaurants in the world. So why the decrease in happiness for those who are afflicted with clinical depression?

Like the increase in suicide rates, theories abound. SAD–Seasonal Affective Disorder–is often used as an excuse. The decrease in the amount of sunlight decreases the amount of the critical vitamins used by the body. Any change in our chemical makeup is bound to have its affect. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? What about those closer to the equator? They still get an ample amount of sunlight and yet they, too, can be depressed.

What about those who harbor sadness at the death of a loved one at this time of year? Surely that will have an impact. However, people die throughout the year, and a death in December is likely to have the same affect on loved one as a death in March or October. In fact, I am reminded of the passing of loved ones more in May than any other month.

Perhaps there’s an increase in depressive episodes because there’s an increase in forced joy. This is simply one theory posited, but it actually makes more sense to me than other theories. Depressed people often look at those who are happy in ways that make them more depressed. Why can’t I be like that? Why can’t I enjoy the lights and the music and the eggnog like everyone else? The holiday season forces joy out of billions by selling it like crack–you need more and you know where to get it.

To a clinically depressed person, however, seeing the joy on another person’s face is not contagious. We don’t want to see that joy because it reminds us that we can’t have it. Speaking as a person who is affected at this time of year, I can say with certainty that every light on every tree, every sight of mistletoe, every song sung by choirs in the mall is a stab in the heart.

It’s all my fault, isn’t it? I could be as happy as those other people if I just tried. I really should just “snap out of it” and learn to sing with the choir and drink the Kool-Aid just like my family and my friends. I’m just a complainer, a Grinch, the epitome of Grumpy Cat.grumpy_cat_dashing

That’s not true, actually, and those who say “Just get over yourself” don’t understand or they don’t want to understand. I’m not being mean or stereotypical; people who aren’t clinically depressed don’t have the capacity to empathize with those who are.

I have been like this for years. I hate the holidays, but I’m willing to let my family have their fun. I want them to be happy and drink the eggnog, and in turn I simply ask that they respect my need for space. I used to just stew over the season and make things miserable for other people, but I found it better–and more productive–to take my feelings and translate them on the page. My characters actually express themselves more during the holiday season.

You see, it’s all about PMA–a Positive Mental Attitude–and while I am still very depressed at this time of year, I have energy. Rather than sit in a corner and do nothing, I can use my gifts–because clinical depression can be a gift– and help others by saying what I feel, by working my issues through characterization.

As an example, he’s a bit from my work-in-progress, Driving the Spike. The novel won’t be done for a while, but one of the characters suffers clinical depression, and how she deals with it is as important as how others perceive it.

Claire sat at the dining room table, oblivious to the chaos of Christmas morning erupting around her. Her fingers traced the rim of her cup while the warm coffee tingled her almost numb finger. It was perhaps expected, she thought, that her fingers were beginning to numb as much as her will to live. She’d helped put up the tree, helped wrap the presents despite the pain in her side, helped make the house feel and smell and look like a Christmas house. There was even gingerbread she’d made, iced and waiting to be devoured, the smell permeating every crevice.

She hated Christmas. Always had. There was too much joy, too much singing, too much intrusion of other people into her life. The television was a cacophony of jingle bells and elves doling out happiness like heroin. Those who relied on the generosity of others were at every street corner and every merchant door. As a child, she believed this was the season of giving. Why, now, did it seem like so many people just wish to get?

Thank God the day was finally here. To Claire, Christmas morning signified an end. There was relief on the horizon.

She turned and smiled at Mark who sat to her right. The boy smiled back then pointed to the tree in the living room, its lights twinkling in his eyes. He put his two hands together side-by-side then made a motion, signifying “open.”

“In a minute,” Claire said. She put a withered hand on his shoulder. “After we all eat breakfast.”

If you do suffer clinical depression and it does get worse during the holiday season, do yourself and your readers a favor: utilize your gift through characterization. It can be catharsis, as much as a present under the tree for someone else who may need it.

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4 comments on “It’s Not Just Eggnog and Chestnuts for Everyone

  1. Thanks for this post, Benjamin. Feeling really low at the holidays is fairly new to me. This year, I feel like my personality has done a complete 180. Everything you said above is very true and I realize what I don’t have is a coping mechanism yet. Other than a lot of wine, but I’m running low and don’t want to run the holiday gauntlet at the store! lol I need to find a productive outlet. Thanks so much for the suggestion.

    • I tried the wine (whiskey, actually) for a while, but it didn’t make me any more productive than coffee. In fact, I was actually quite a bit less productive. 😛 Having an outlet is important, especially when our personalities take 180° turns for the worse.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Benjamin. Things like this seem to be such a taboo subject–or at least something people don’t want to talk about–especially amongst men. Glad you ahve an outlet and are willing to share.

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