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When Depression Robs You of Holiday Spirit

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It’s often easy to feel the pressure to have holiday spirit. Watch any related special or movie on TV and it practically demands you to have the warm fuzzies. If you play holiday music for more than a minute, you’ll probably hear the cheerful croons of Andy Williams singing about how this is the “most wonderful time of the year.”

But what if you just can’t feel it?

It can be hard for many people, whether they struggle with mental illness or not. With the world being as stressful as it is these days, it can be hard to summon up any joy for the holidays. But most people eventually find it in their families, holiday office parties, or being with friends.

For someone with depression, however, it’s often much harder than that.

Between the pressure to feel happy and grateful in abundance, to be more social than usual and dealing with family, the holidays usually demand everyone to put in more effort. This can feel impossible when it takes so much of that effort just to get out of bed and try to go through the motions of life. For many people, this time of year might also trigger seasonal affective sisorder (SAD), adding an extra layer of exhaustion to everything.

Some people might “playfully” demand you to “cheer up.” Depending on how empathetic they are, family members might harp at you that you’re lucky to have so much. After all, it’s the perfect time of year to count your blessings!

The thing that people often don’t realize is that most of us know this. We know that it’s supposed to be a wonderful time of year – it’s almost impossible not to notice. There have been years when I would’ve given anything to feel that holiday magic like I did as a kid on Christmas morning. I thought there was something wrong with me for not feeling like a Christmas TV special. Between the stress of the holidays and dealing with my own numbness, I couldn’t even put up my usual front of pretending to be “just fine.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of depression around the holidays and struggling with SAD, it’s that it’s impossible to force it. It’s OK if you don’t feel that picture-perfect holiday joy that all those Christmas specials emphasize – it doesn’t make you weird or any less deserving. If anything, it can feel unfair. Mental illness might already rob us of so much — why does it have to rob us of holiday spirit?

But maybe it doesn’t always have to, even if it’s just a front. If it makes you feel better to bake cookies and sing carols, absolutely do so. If you’re still not in the spirit, that’s OK too. Depression doesn’t take a winter vacation, so please don’t ignore your symptoms, even if the rest of the world is trying to make you celebrate. Take care of yourself, there will be many more holidays to come.

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Getty image via MariaDubova

Originally published: December 14, 2017
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