Depression at holidays is no joke. It’s a real thing and a struggle that hits nearly every family in a different way. Sickness, job loss, death, and depression itself are all heightened during this time of year. But there is also much joy. The trick is finding that when the chips are down.
There’s no denying that holidays are stressful. Spending all the money, figuring out what to buy for people and just dealing with traffic can be a downer. And those are the seemingly “non-important” parts of Christmas. But if you’re like me, you tend to let them take over. This year I’m venturing into the new territory of sharing my son and new daughter-in-law with a whole other family over the holidays. I’m not sure how to handle that and how to let it lift my spirits. But, there are the good things. That feeling when a beautiful Christmas song touches your soul and you remember what this season is all about. The other day my 6-year-old daughter was crouched down by the fireplace re-enacting the Nativity with some small Nativity sets that she has deemed as “hers.” It was a magic moment for me. Prayer is at an all-time high for me during the month of December. I find myself on my knees often asking for nothing else, but some serenity and a simple reminder of why I am doing all the stuff. And usually if I am in tune, that comes to me.
Last year I remember picking up the phone to hear my dad’s sad and tired voice on the other end I knew something was up. Before letting him talk any further, I asked him what was wrong. “I think I’ve got a kidney stone.” Oh, man. I suddenly felt deflated. Christmas and kidney stones seem to go hand in hand in my family. When I was just 7 years old my dad spent a good portion of the holiday season in the hospital suffering from a kidney stone. It was serious business, because this wasn’t any kidney stone – it was the size of a half-dollar and it was craggly rock. I know this because it was such an amazement the doctor sent it home with him after major surgery – he came home on Christmas Eve.
At the time I didn’t realize how sick my dad had been or how desperate times were for our little family. We had just moved to Utah from Lake Tahoe a few months before. Money was tight to begin with, and then my dad’s major sickness with major surgery to follow (they had to remove part of his kidney to get the huge stone out) didn’t help things.
For me, it was one of the best Christmases ever. I got a beautiful baby cradle and these huge, deluxe sized sugar babies along with several other things. I was amazed. It was our first Christmas in Utah and it seemed pretty perfect to me. I would learn later that people in our LDS ward had helped my family out a great deal – a man had made the cradle, my mom had sewn some of the baby clothes, and there were many other sweet donations to bring a magical Christmas to two little girls.
At any rate, the whole sickness at Christmas isn’t new. My dad has had kidney stones around other Christmases and I can’t forget the Christmas 19 years ago when I had one. The pain was so severe in the early morning hours of Christmas, my husband had to take me to the emergency room where we spent most of our holiday. Worst Christmas ever. I will never forget Mat throwing a blanket over my 2-year-old son’s head so he wouldn’t see what Santa brought him until we could enjoy it together – on December 26.
The Favorite Holiday
If you ever were to ask me and so many others what our favorite holiday is we would say Christmas, I know it’s true for me. But there are moments of sorrow, stress, depression and loneliness that can often accompany the holiday – and some days I think I experience all of them in one day. The trick is to not let it take over and run into all the days of the season. There are people who are willing to “mourn with those that mourn” as it says in Matthew 5:4. And we need to let them.
This year I am preparing for my daughter to come from her LDS mission on December 19 (that’s in one week folks) and it’s a little crazy. Trying to fit in work, shopping, and doing all the projects I thought I would complete around my house while she was gone…I feel like things are collapsing on me. A friend of mine texted me to see how I was doing. In her text she said, “What can I do to help you and I really mean it!” And I know she does. I probably should give her the service experience and let her lighten my load.
When hard things strike
But sometimes it’s a trick. Sixteen years ago my husband was laid off from his job two weeks before Christmas. He was laid off the next year from a different job two weeks before Christmas. It was in the days of rampant venture capitalism and for us, we were on the downside, not making millions like so many did. I can still feel sick thinking of those days. It was stressful and hard. The other day I asked my husband how we got through it and enjoyed our Christmas. He said, “We didn’t. It stunk.” We both laughed at the memory. I think it’s taken us this long to laugh about it. Those were hard years, but like my parents did all those years ago when our church and family members provided much of our Christmas, we put smiles on and went on, capturing glimpses and moments of joy whenever we could.
My friend Jenni explained it well when she talked about how her father died just before Christmas 10 years ago – he played Santa Claus and Jenni always spent a lot of time with her dad at Christmas driving him around, so those first holidays without him hit hard. “Sometimes you just need to sit and cry. Sometimes you need to remember the joyous times and put on your game face for others. It’s important to be able to do both. Focusing on the eternal perspective probably helped me more than anything,” Jenni said. This is so true.
Loss and depression at holidays
My cousin Sandy also shared that her father passed away right before Christmas six years ago and a close friend passed away just before Christmas two years ago. She admits that it’s still rough some days. “I have no wise or iconic answer to how to push through or cope. I just keep plugging along moment by moment. The good thing is that with time and love, many of those moments are amazingly blessed, and sometimes the memories make me smile through the tears,” she stated beautifully. I agree wholeheartedly. When those memories are fresh, it’s hard, but now when I think of loved ones during the holidays I smile and remember them with love and fondness, but it takes time!
How do we cope?
One idea I absolutely love about overcoming those lonely and sad feelings comes to one word: Service. Seems so simple, yet so complex. My friend Mike who recently returned from an LDS mission, said for him the lonely feelings he felt during the holidays while on his mission were overcome by finding others who felt lonely and helping them out. It brightened his day and those he was helping. My friend Alison said serving others can give us perspective on our own lives. “One particularly tough year for our family, on Christmas Eve, I took my children and spent the evening at St Anne’s shelter with the homeless people there. We gave them a Christmas Eve party. We played Bingo, sang Karaoke with them and took family pictures of the families together. The children made frames for the pictures. It was one of my favorite Christmas Eves,” she said. I love it! Serving others can be the answer in so many ways.
Another friend said loneliness is a struggle for her at the holidays. She is single and her family doesn’t live close by. Some years because of her work schedule she has found herself completely alone on holidays and then the tears come. For her, turning to good friends that make her feel happy and love has taken the edge off, even though there are still sad days.
Another cousin suggested doing something in honor of a loved one who has passed. Another friend suggested something as simple as watching funny movies. (That definitely helps – those cheesy Hallmark ones can create a laugh or two as well.) My niece takes comfort in the moments she can spend with family and just to sit back and watch the joy on their faces as they interact.
Everyone has different coping mechanisms for sure – mine seem to change from year to year. This week has been full of ups and downs for me – mostly just silly things that I let get me down, but I know I’m not alone. I found this article, “Holiday Depression Can be a Surprising Gift,” in the Huffington Post, which gave some great suggestions to helping navigate holiday struggles.
The key is to know you’re not alone. People want to help, people want to serve, people want to show love, so we should let them. Some Christmases may be hard, but I think those hard Christmases make the good ones that much better.
Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com and Mormon.org. She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.
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