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What to Remember If Family Think Your Depression Is ‘Cured’ Over the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us. Whether that strikes dread into your heart or fills you with excitement (or a combination of both), the days of family gatherings has arrived.

I love my family and I know how fortunate I am to have parents and a sibling with whom I enjoy spending time… y’know, that good, specified amount of time. But, more of us may have this in common: my family struggles to understand my mental illness. I have educated them to the best of my ability, and I continue to do so; however, there is an intangible element too elusive for them.

I have observed one specific recurring issue: my family doesn’t grasp the undulating nature of my depression. During the holidays I “perk up” when the mundane routine of life is peppered with exciting events. I love the beautiful lights and Christmas carols. And, if family comes to visit, I do my best (using most of my spoons) to clean my house and spend quality time with them.

The holidays are a special time for lots of people, disrupting the natural rhythm of life for festivities and gatherings. It’s no wonder that it’s an unusual time for my depression. My family sees me during this time of year and leans toward the belief I’m pretty darn close to “normal.” All year around, they desire my health and happiness, so the holiday season gives them confidence I am, essentially, not depressed anymore.

This presents problems when I need a few hours or a day to replenish my spoon count. It baffles the people around me that I would still need the rest of someone in the throes of depression if I appear exuberant and healthy. Even more so, I start doubting my own illness in it’s severity, which makes it even more devastating when depression symptoms resurface after my return to the less-exciting habits of the non-holiday season.

When family means well but can’t reconcile the reality of my illness with the presentation of my holiday self, I have to remind myself that my depression is still around. I remember that symptoms abating does not necessarily equate with my illness evaporating into thin air. It may seem pessimistic – but it works.

If I can understand my mental state is merely distracted by the feeling of the holidays, I can appreciate the need for the same level of self-care, regardless of my appearance to my family. If I can see my post-holiday “crash” coming, I can give myself the grace to allow it to happen, knowing the holidays weren’t evidence of complete healing and the aftermath isn’t a relapse. If I’m lucky, I can even explain this to my confused family come the second week of January when I find it difficult to make it to work on time, let alone with expectations of productivity.

This holiday season, if you have fun and festivities planned, try to enjoy them. Relish them. Savor the season of good cheer. Let it permeate and momentarily distract your mental health struggles. If your family thinks this means you’re “cured,” so be it. Hold in your own space the reality of your illness. This isn’t to make you sad or morose, but to help you understand why you still feel drained at the end of an amazing day, to help give yourself grace when the struggles pop up in the midst of celebrations, to let yourself need the rest and care during a season of great joy, when you think you shouldn’t need it at all. Be healthy and whole, this season and the rest of the year.

Photo by Aldo Delara on Unsplash