The Mighty Logo

When Depression Means You're Already Dreading the Holidays

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

It’s almost that time of the year. With Halloween behind us, the stores are already prepping their inventory with Christmas stockings, lights, ornaments and seasonal gift ideas. We have a tendency to just skip right over Thanksgiving and go straight for the money. If you’re like me, and countless others who experience some form of mental illness such as anxiety and/or depression, the holidays can be more painful than joyous. I find myself dreading the holidays every year and wishing I could just hibernate until after the New Year. I am definitely more “Bah, Humbug” than “Fa-la-la-la-la.”

This is not because I don’t appreciate the intended meaning of the holidays. I certainly know what they are supposed to represent, and there was a time in which Thanksgiving and Christmas were sacred in our society. But now? Well, it seems that the traditions and meanings have gone by the wayside in favor of commercialism.

And let’s not forget the negative impacts of social media that somehow makes people feel the need to “compete” with those on their “friends” list to have the best-looking tree in their perfectly decorated home, serving the most delicious meal before posing in front of the fireplace with the most photogenic family and so on. We endlessly stress over finding the “perfect gift” to please our friends and family. In all honesty, the holidays are exhausting. Do you find yourself feeling that “the most wonderful time of the year” is actually more hassle than heartfelt?

More obligation than celebration?

More ritual than religion?

More habit than happiness?

More commercial than camaraderie?

Me too. I become anxious, depressed and just downright irritable as the holiday season gets underway. I can’t stomach the 24/7 Christmas carols on the radio — thank goodness for free streaming services like Spotify, where I can listen to my own custom playlists and avoid the various (and often poorly done) renditions of the classic songs. And truly, if I never hear “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” or “Dominic the Donkey” again, it would be too soon.

And while people talk ideologically about how the holiday season is a wonderful time to connect with family, that’s only true if you have a family. And if you get along with that family. Let’s face it — there are many people out there, especially those with mental illness, who have been shunned by their so-called family. Friends may be few and far between, too — if you have any at all. So, for many of us, this time of year reminds us of just how alone we are, how much we have been hurt — and maybe that’s not something we want to celebrate. And seeing other people flaunting their “perfect” Thanksgiving and Christmas photos all over social media makes us feel as though we have somehow failed in life.

My Inner Scrooge

So yes, I relate to Ebenezer Scrooge far more than to the eternally optimistic Tiny Tim. I wasn’t born this way; I am a product of what life has dealt me. I’ve become bitter and jaded toward the holidays, having lost connection to the innocent wonder of my inner child who hadn’t yet learned how cruel the world can be. The one who believed Santa Claus was real, that reindeer fly and that even kids who live in tiny apartments without a fireplace still get presents stuffed down a make-believe chimney.

But in my defense, I see people like me everywhere I look, even those without mental illness. I think if most were to be honest, they would say that they struggle more and more to find the holiday spirit with each passing year; that the world’s quest for maximizing profit has taken the meaning and the genuine joy away. Instead of celebrating, we just go through the motions, doing what is expected of us in a robotic fashion, with a serious lack of enthusiasm.

Changing the Societal Mindset

I believe the solution to this is not simply a change in individual mindset — you can’t just “think more positively” about this complex time of year. To restore the spirit and true meaning of the holidays, society needs to change. Collectively, we need to revert to simpler times before Amazon, Google and social media ruled the world.

While those with mental illness may still have their struggles during the holidays, even with a shift in societal perspective and behavior, I think it would help — and it certainly couldn’t hurt. When everyone around you appears disingenuous, it’s hard to pull yourself out of your own funk and take part in holiday traditions with any real enthusiasm.

In other words, be kind. Be gracious. Be human. You never know what someone else is going through, and the holidays can be especially painful for some.

Follow this journey on Bridget’s blog.

Getty image triocean

Originally published: November 11, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home