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When You Cope With Depression During the Holidays by Being Extra Festive

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Most people assume that the holiday season is the happiest time of the year for me. My tree is always up and my house is decorated by the day after Thanksgiving, sometimes even a week or two before. From Thanksgiving straight through to New Year’s Day, there’s often Christmas carols or movies playing in the background at my home. Every year, I can be found building snowmen and making snow angels out in the cold. I’m quick to point out all the holiday displays we pass and to like all the festive pictures friends post and share online. I always try to put a lot of thought into meaningful gifts for loved ones and dedicate half a week every year into making scores of cookies, fudge, caramels and popcorn balls to share with family and friends.

But I would be lying if I said I was happiest during the holidays. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not secretly a Grinch or Scrooge in disguise who hates the whole Christmas season. I don’t go around “Bah Humbugging” the festive cheer of others. In truth, it is my favorite part of each year. This season is just also very hard for me.

I struggle with depression. It is not that I’m being an eternal “Debbie Downer,” trying to ruin everyone’s holiday and rain on their parade. It’s not that I’m just not trying hard enough to be positive or look on the bright side of things. It is a medical diagnosis. I often have no control over my moods. Despite whatever wonderful things might be happening around me, my mind often betrays me, pulling me down into that dark abyss of hopelessness and despair.

There is a lot of pressure for everyone to always be happy around Christmas. Most people seem to expect others to be jolly throughout the holidays and to take part in all the seasonal fun. My depression often gets in the way of that. Many days, it is a constant struggle to not break down and cry or go in the other room, crawl back into bed and isolate. Even on regular days, I carry within myself that ever-present fear that my diagnosis will ruin other people’s days.  That fear is doubled, if not tripled, around the holidays. The last thing I ever want to do is ruin anyone else’s Christmas with my depression.

So I decorate early to prepare myself for the upcoming festivities and to try to get myself into a Christmassy mood. I fill the air with the sounds of carols and the scents of the season. I watch hours of Christmas movies while sitting under the glow of lights on the tree. I try to continuously remind myself of all the reasons to be joyful during the holiday season and to refill my cup of Christmas cheer to overflowing. I do my best to distract myself as much as humanly possible from the depression dragging me down inside. I want everyone around me to continue enjoying the overabundance of festivity, even if I am unable to feel the warmth of Christmas spirit at the current moment.

Over the years, some people have teased me that I do far too much and try way too hard, that everything I do around Christmas is excessive and over the top. That is in many ways the truth, but it is also how I manage to survive through to the New Year. I am extra festive because that is how I cope with the holidays. I surround myself with as much happiness and festivity as I can, hoping some of it might sink into my subconscious and that it might ward off my depression just a little bit more. My depression constantly surrounds me with so much negativity that I need holiday joyfulness in droves just to balance it out and feel remotely cheerful throughout the season.

But that festive happiness is not always possible. When my depression rears its ugly head, as hard as I might try to power through, painting on that smiling mask for the benefit of others, there are times it will crack under pressure.  As much as I hate disappointing family and friends, there will be days I just cannot bring myself to feel jolly no matter how hard I try. There will be moments when tears well up in my eyes and I need to sneak away for a little while to let it all out and recompose myself. More likely than not, it isn’t that anyone has done anything wrong to upset me. I’ve done nothing wrong either. My depression has a tight grip on me that even the happiest of holidays cannot break.

It honestly isn’t even that my depression is terribly worse during the holidays. Yes, things like the loss of both my parents weighs on me around Christmas, but I feel those pangs of grief throughout the entire year, not just at Christmastime. It’s that it is the season of togetherness, where family and friends want to get together to celebrate. It’s the season of holiday shopping and running into each other at crowded stores and malls, chatting and catching up. It’s the season where there’s so much going on that it is hard to participate in it all without my depression seeping in. It isn’t that my depression is worse during the holidays as much as others expect me to be more present and involved, more jolly and festive. My depression is always with me throughout the year, however, I usually have more down time to cope privately the other 11 months of the year that aren’t as chock full of festivities. The more holiday events that are going on, the more likely my depression is going to come along for the ride, whether I want it to or not.

I do enjoy the holidays as much as I can, as much as my depression allows me to enjoy them. I do love the carols and movies, the soft glow of lights on the tree, fresh baked Christmas cookies and fresh fallen snow. I just also have depression, which sometimes does not allow me to enjoy the holidays as much as I’d like. I’m not being a Grinch or a Scrooge if I momentarily lose my Christmas spirit and need to step away. I am managing my mental illness the best that I can and trying my hardest not to let my depression ruin anyone else’s holiday or my own.

Follow this journey here.

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Getty image via Sasha_Litt

Originally published: December 7, 2017
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