It’s December and I Still Have Depression

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It’s Christmas time again, and I still have depression.

Every year a big part of me dreads the holidays. Not because I don’t want to celebrate. Not because I don’t like giving gifts. And not because I’m down on the magic of the season. Does having a mental illness mean I’m like the Grinch who stole Christmas? Not necessarily.

I’m beginning to realize it’s hard to have depression and meet the many expectations that arrive with the holiday season. Take a look at this:

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It strikes me the most common symptoms of depression – feelings of sadness, fatigue, loss of pleasure – aren’t exactly conducive to celebrating the season. For those of us with a mental illness, the expectations to experience prolonged feelings of joy, go to party after party, decorate our homes and shop for gifts can be unrealistic. Being with (or without) family and friends can trigger a sense of hopelessness.

I often feel like I’m starting a grueling marathon when December rolls around — I feel the need to meet these expectations not just for a day or two, but for an entire month. I want to enjoy the holidays, but I also want to take care of myself. The reality is I have depression whether it’s Christmas Eve or the Fourth of July. Depression doesn’t vanish during the month of December.

So this year, I’m trying to celebrate the holidays in ways that are still authentic to who I am, which includes having major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is what I’ve come up with so far:

1. I’m giving myself permission to feel sad.

It’s not realistic for me to feel jolly, merry or bright from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. Because I’ve suffered some traumatic losses, the holidays bring back memories of loved ones who are no longer here. Seeing Christmas trees and hearing beautiful carols make me think of my dad and of how magical everything seemed when I was a child. In the past I’ve tried to push away feelings of sadness, but this year I’m allowing myself to feel them. Because it’s OK to feel sad on Christmas. It’s OK to cry. In fact, acknowledging our true feelings can help us create new and more authentic ways of celebrating the season.

2. I’m limiting my holiday schedule.

I have a tendency to push myself and say yes to every invitation. Not this year. I know how important it is for me to have alone time to rest and recharge. Before accepting automatically, I’m thinking carefully about my time. I’m choosing to say no if I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. While this isn’t easy and may mean letting someone else down, I know how important it is to take care of myself first.

3. I’m giving experiences instead of traditional presents.

I’ve had it with fighting my way through crowds at the mall. Hunting for gifts triggers my anxiety and I can get obsessively focused on finding the “perfect gift” (which doesn’t exist). I’ve spent hours (probably days) on the quest to find incredible gifts for everyone I know. So this year, I’m shifting my focus and giving experiences to the people I love, rather than a million more things they don’t actually need. Homemade gift certificates for day trips, tickets to museums, excursions or concerts will allow me to spend time with my family and friends. This will help us create positive memories together. It also gives me something to look forward to after the holidays are over.

4. I’m finding new Christmas music.

For a long time, I would listen to the same several Christmas albums I heard as a child. While those songs are still special to me, they can bring on additional feelings of sadness and loss. I’m using stations like Pandora to find new music that lifts my spirits. For example, I love Irish and Scottish music, so I’m discovering some fun Celtic Christmas albums. I’m also giving myself breaks from listening to Christmas music – while it’s unavoidable in stores, I can choose to switch the channel in my car if I feel I’m getting triggered.

5. I’m doing things to help other people.

To me, the meaning of Christmas is about connecting with people we care about. It’s about the possibility of hope in the darkest of winters. One way to honor the spirit of the holidays is to give something back to people who are suffering. I lead a peer-to-peer support group for adults with mental illness, and it runs right through the holiday season. This is a meaningful way to support others who share my own struggle, especially at this time of year. I also donate money (as I’m able) and clothing items to local shelters to assist people who are homeless. My mom has always told me one way to help yourself when you feel down is to do something nice for someone else, and I think she’s right on.

My wish for this holiday season is to be more authentic in the ways I celebrate with my family and friends. I need to practice self-care, especially when the stress picks up. For Christmas, I’m giving myself the gift of self-compassion and the permission to be myself, even if that means feeling sad. While it may not be the most wonderful time of the year, it doesn’t have to be the most miserable either. I’m working on finding that middle ground between sadness and hope. Between light and dark.

On my holiday cards this year, I wanted to share something that resonated with my journey to find a more authentic Christmas. This is what I found:

“May you be blessed with the spirit of the season, which is peace; the gladness of the season, which is hope; and the heart of the season, which is love.”

Follow this journey on Blue Light Blue.

The Mighty is asking the following: As someone who lives with — or has a loved one with — a mental illness, what’s one thing that’s particularly challenging around the holidays? Why? What advice would give someone going through similar challenges? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Show This Video to Anyone Who Doesn’t Believe Depression Is a Medical Condition

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Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. An estimated 350 million people of all ages from all over the globe live with depression.

Yet, it’s still a highly misunderstood condition.

A particularly harmful misconception about clinical depression is that it’s the same as feeling a bit down.

Clinical depression is different,” says the narrator in the animated video below. “It’s a medical disorder and it won’t go away just because you want it to.”

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So next time someone tries to say depression isn’t a medical condition, just go ahead and send this video their way.

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When Taking Care of Yourself Isn't Enough to Stop Depression

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I found myself in my doctor’s office not too long ago.

It took everything I had to make that phone call and book an appointment. It took even more to go in and tell him what’s been going on.

“I’m not OK,” I said quietly when he came into the room and shut the door.

“How so?” he asked.

“First, I want you to know I’ve been taking good care of myself. So much care of myself. I’m eating well — OK, I still love chocolate in a bad way and that will never change — but I’m also trying to get enough sleep. I’m running, circuit training and doing yoga. I have biceps to die for. Asking you to touch them would probably be inappropriate, wouldn’t it? But you can see them from here, I’m sure. Epic buffness! And I have a therapist, I do meditation and I have a great circle of friends. I’ve lost nearly 50 pounds this year, which has been no small feat, I’ll have you know. Because did I mention I love chocolate?”

I’m all about the jokes until I’m not. I took a breath to try and hold the tears at bay. It didn’t work. They started to run hot down my face.

“But I’m struggling,” I said. “And I hate that I’m struggling despite all the hard work I’m doing to keep myself afloat. It’s maddening. I’m not down all the time. There are things I’m still passionate about, like my advocacy work. That’s the stuff that keeps me going. But so many things in my life are just…grey. They’re all grey.” I sighed. “I miss color.”

They have been. Grey, I mean. There’s a blanket of fog over my life, and it’s been getting heavier. It’s a million little things weighing me down and it’s also none of them.

It’s the overwhelmingness of my life, and it’s not that at all.

Depression slowly wraps its tendrils around everything, squeezing the joy out, suffocating the light, until you don’t remember what it used to be like before. You think it’s always been this way, even when it hasn’t.

Little things become big things, big things become too big to even look at or deal with. You avoid stuff. You become scattered and forgetful. Everything gets harder. Relationships suffer. But when it’s this slow and insidious, it’s so hard to notice until those tendrils are wrapped around you so tightly you can hardly breathe.

“I need your help,” I said, taking my glasses off and wiping my eyes. I should not have worn mascara to this appointment. “And I hate that I need your help right now. I hate that I can’t be stronger and manage this on my own. I’m really angry with myself.”

“Amanda,” he replied gently, “This isn’t a question of being strong or not. You’re plenty strong. Look, I have a checklist on my screen in front of me of all the things I should recommend my patients do when dealing with depression. You are doing everything on this list. Your brain just needs a boost right now to get you over a hump. Let’s give it some help so you can feel better.”

So for the first time since I had postpartum depression 18 years ago, I was given a prescription for an antidepressant.

I walked out of that office feeling a sense of defeat. But I filled the prescription and have been taking my meds every day.

I contemplated not saying anything publicly. I know I don’t have to. It’s really not anyone else’s business. And that little toxic voice screams at me not to share. It says that as an advocate, I need to be strong, and you won’t think I’m strong after reading this.

But here’s the thing, little voice: I am strong. I’m strong enough to take good care of myself despite having a whole lot going on in my life.

I’m strong enough to know when all of that is not enough.

And I’m strong enough to ask for help rather than continue suffering.

I’m not going to be ashamed of having an illness, recognizing it and treating it. 

I am what strong looks like.

I’m sharing this here because there is still a stigma wrapped around mental illness, and that’s total balls. People still speak about it in hushed tones when we shouldn’t. We hide it from each other and pretend everything’s OK. Nothing to see here but my smile, everybody, move on.

But we’re human and we have brain chemistry and we have lives and seasons and traumas that can affect us. It’s natural when things aren’t OK all the time. That’s called living. We should ask for help when we need it, and we should see this as an act of courage, not weakness.

The drugs I was so hesitant to ask for are working. It’s early yet, but there’s a noticeable difference. Depression’s tendrils are retreating. The fog is lifting, and life is becoming more manageable again. I’m laughing more awesome laughs. I’m enjoying going out more and seeing people. I’m remembering what balance feels like. Even chocolate tastes better, although the jury’s still out on whether or not that’s a good thing.

Depression sucks, you guys. It’s the hair on life’s sac. But it can get better, and don’t you forget it. Fight your way out of that darkness, OK?

There’s chocolate out here in the light, and it’s f*cking delicious.

Follow this journey on The Maven of Mayhem.

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The Biggest Thing Depression Has Stolen From Me

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This morning I came across an old picture from when I was around 7 years old, and for some reason it made my heart hurt.

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I miss the girl I used to be. That photo of me was taken when life felt so easy. The sun coming up in the morning meant new possibilities and hope. Who knew one day that same sun would bring overwhelming feelings of dread, despair and so much fear?

Depression steals beauty and joy, and the hardest thing for many people to wrap their head around is that this is not a choice.

Who knew light could be taken from you without warning? Who would think the built-in emotions of happiness and loving freely could one day disappear without a trace? When darkness takes over, these are the questions that fill my head, leaving me feeling like part of my soul was stolen — but I have no clue how to get it back.

One of the biggest things depression has stolen from me is my ability to have relationships.

When the ability to socialize, maintain friendships, call people back and show up for important events are no longer things you’re able to do, people start to disappear. Who wouldn’t disappear if they felt like someone didn’t care enough to call them back or show up to the big milestones in their lives?

It’s almost a cruel joke you can be born with this ability to be social and make friends and then one day, poof, it’s gone.

I’ve played out in my head what people must think. She’s so selfish. She only cares about herself. Where did she go? I don’t need friends “like that.” I’m over this friendship. I don’t want her to be in my wedding. I don’t even know her anymore. She doesn’t care about me, so I’m done with her.

And just like that, the friends you thought would be in your life forever are gone. They gave up. They had to. Some might stay, but not to the same degree. It’s not the same as before when you were the past version of yourself, the person who wasn’t eaten alive with depression.

The worst part is trying to articulate what happened. You want to tell people you’re so sorry, but it happened so out of the blue. One day picking up the phone felt like the scariest thing you’ve ever done. Showing up at birthday parties or showers made your heart explode with massive anxiety. How could they believe you? That’s not how you used to be.

Exactly. That is not who you used to be and you have no idea how to get that person back. So you isolate, mourn and grieve the loss of yourself, your soul and your most important relationships. You have to. It seems like you have no choice and that’s what hurts the most.

Some of us don’t give up. Some of us learn to coexist with the pain and the path our lives have taken us. We know we’re in a dark hole, but we start to see moments of pure light. We try to remain hopeful one day we can go back to the way we used to be.

You see, depression is a thief. It’s a rotten, heartless, cruel, atrocious, wicked, evil, harsh and brutal disease that steals every single thing that is important to you.

I’m sharing this so people who live with this condition know they are not alone. For those who don’t know what it’s like, but have someone in your life who suffers, please try to have compassion and love in your heart. They’re doing the very best they can.

We already judge ourselves harshly enough, so choose love — for yourself always, and others as well.

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To Those Who Don't Understand the 'Rip Tide' That Is My Depression

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Let’s go on a trip…

It’s a sunny summer day at the beach. By all accounts, a “good day” for those of us who struggle with this invisible pain.

I am able to enjoy the moment, enjoy my husband and children. And play. Feel the sun. Smell the salt in the air. It feels nice. A kind of nice I could learn to live with. The kids call to me to come play in the water and I happily get in. Riding waves. Playing.

Suddenly, I am caught up in a rip current. It takes complete control of me as it drags me down, down, down. I am helpless to the power of the current below me. This ocean is vast and so much bigger than me.

There are life guards. Many of them. Some with life vests, some with floatation devices. All of them have the knowledge to get in the ocean, swim against the tide that is now almost drowning me and save my life.

Instead, they stand on the shoreline. In complete safety. Far from the current that is trying to take my life. And they yell things like, “Rip currents aren’t real!” “You are deciding to drown!” “Just stand up!” “It’s not that bad!” and “Just come out of the water!”

All the while, my lungs are beginning to fill with the very same salt water than I was so enjoying only moments ago. The ocean now may be my grave. And apparently, it’s all my choice.

Finally, thankfully, the current releases its grip on me. It spits me out and I crawl back to shore. Nearly lifeless. Completely exhausted. The life guards proceed to explain to me that this is all my fault. I could have changed the situation if I tried. If I wanted to, badly enough, I could have just stood up. People don’t drown from rip currents. As a matter of fact, rip currents don’t even exist. I should be thankful that I didn’t allow myself to drown… I should stop thinking about the imaginary current that tried to kill me. It’s all in my head.

This, friends, is the best way I can think of to describe what it feels like to live with depression. So many people wrongly believe that it is a pity party of sorts. A decision to live in the past.

Let me explain to you what it really is. It is the inability to get through a day. It is exhaustion after seemingly minimal tasks. It is knowing that no matter how loud you scream, some will never hear you. Some will never accept that the hurt is real and vicious because it is invisible to their eyes.

It is very painful to be on this side of depression and have people dismiss your feelings, as if doing so will take them away.

If you love someone caught in the rip current of depression, love them loud. Love them on purpose. Be available, not to fix, but just to hear. To love. It’s even better if you try to understand that this is not a thing they would ever choose to carry. It’s far too heavy. Too crippling. Too lonely, to ever be a choice.

My only hope is that the tide will release its grip… and one day I’ll be able to enjoy the ocean again.

lets do this,

j

A version of this originally appeared on Periwinkle Wishes

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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20 Things People Who Have Seasonal Depression Want Others to Know

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For those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — also known as “seasonal depression” — the holidays aren’t always the “happiest time of the year.” In fact, for the half a million people with this mood disorder in the United States, symptoms including depression, sleep problems and mood changes peak in December, January and February.

Depression is hard enough, but experiencing depression when we’re supposed to be filled with “cheer” can be extra challenging. So, we asked members of our Mighty community who experience seasonal depression what they wish others understood.

Here’s what they had to say: 

1.It’s not a switch you turn on and off. It just happens.” — Susan Baird

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2. “This too shall pass. Have patience with me.” — Melody Jeffcoat

3.It can occur during the summertime, too. And saying ‘How could you not love summer? Everyone loves sunshine,’ doesn’t help. It just makes me feel more alienated and alone during that time of year.” — Charlotte Fuchs

4. “This is real. I’m not using it as an excuse.” — Vickie Owens Webb

5. “I can’t just be happy because it’s a happy time of the year.” — Shelley Mouber

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6.You can’t wish away how I feel. You can’t ‘reason’ my feelings into submission. But you can be there for me.” — Nnedi Stephens

7. “I can’t just wish away my depression. It doesn’t help when you say, ‘But the holidays are so fun!’ — Beth Buchanan

8. “I’m OK missing out on the things you think are important. I’m OK alone.” — Tina Grome

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9. “For me, sunlight is the fuel that gets me moving when I’m down. When it’s gone, I’ve lost that coping strategy. The next best things sometimes aren’t enough.” — Ella Olive

10. “You can’t fix me, and I’m not faking it. Just try to be compassionate and tell me you care. Because I forget — I forget I’m not a waste of space, that I matter and that anyone can see me at all. Whatever you do, don’t abandon me during this time.” — Jessica A. Leuthner-Johnson

11. “I wish I wasn’t ignoring you and avoiding your calls. I just can’t find the strength to pick up the phone.” — Shari DeCarlo

12. “Sometimes I just need quiet time alone.” — Denver Davis

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13. “I don’t ‘choose’ to ruin the holidays for everyone else because I can’t force myself to be happy. I wish I could be happy — my family deserves a happy holiday.”  — Jessica Love

14. “It’s not something you can ‘snap out of.'” — Christy Hodge

15. “It varies from person to person and it’s definitely not a choice! Please be patient with us.” — Bekr Usque Ad Finem

16. “It doesn’t help when you say, ‘But it’s still sunny.'” — Carina Roberts

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17. “I cannot just go tanning to make it go away.” — Alison Taylor

18. “Please don’t be offended when I don’t want to hang out or come to holiday gatherings. Please don’t think you’ve done something when I don’t answer your phone calls. I need some time. I need to breathe. It’s not my fault and I can’t ‘just deal with it.’ It’s real, it’s painful and it consumes me. Every. Single. Day. Yes, I function. Yes, I work. Yes, I take care of my house and kids. No, it’s not easy, but I do it. Please understand I can’t be fixed and I don’t expect you to try to fix me. I do, however, ask you to understand, to be there when I need you and to accept me as I am.” — Christy Hummel McMillen

19. “Just because I’m like this doesn’t mean I’m ungrateful or unappreciative.” — Lucynda Slattery

20. “Give us time.” — Kay Russow

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*Some answers have been edited and shortened.

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