by Ellen Margulies
Days get darker, shorter. It’s rainy and cold. All around you are beautiful reds and greens, but all you feel is blue. If Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays on the radio, you’ll go right over the edge.
Being depressed sucks any time of year, but it seems to carry an extra sting at Christmas. The holidays are full of light and joy for so many, so when something is lacking in your own life, the contrast is all the more remarkable. I’ve always loved Christmas, but I’ve experienced a few that were more maudlin than merry.
What I found particularly difficult was forcing myself to continue with the pretense that everything was great. One December in particular, 11 years ago, stands out. Maybe because I’ve always been such a champion of the holiday, I put pressure on myself to act as if nothing were wrong. My niece was only 8 at the time, and I didn’t want to let her, or anyone else, down.
It was brutal.
I had just lost a beloved pet after a long and difficult illness, and I was devastated. I already felt isolated, because so many people seem to want to assign you a level of allowable grief based on how they feel about your loss rather than how you feel. “Oh, it’s just an animal? You should be fine after a day! Just get another one!” Of course, it doesn’t work like that. Grief is such a solitary journey to begin with, and it is particularly lonely when you’re going through it at the holidays.
I had also just lost my best friend. She had dumped me, as friends sometimes do, and she wouldn’t talk to me or tell me why. She was the person I counted on above all others in my life, and now she was gone when I needed her most.
Add to that the fact that it was just a few months after 9-11, and although I hadn’t personally lost anyone, the national tragedy really weighed on my psyche. It was an ugly trifecta that made for a miserable holiday.
I felt such pressure to participate and act normal and even decorate. In a fit of pique I went out and bought all blue Christmas decorations – lights, ornaments, everything. If I had to decorate, it was going to be my silent protest to the world that all was not merry and bright. In the end, I was too depressed to plug in a single strand of lights or hang a single ornament.
Obviously, I survived. But it has made me a lot more sensitive to people who go through tough times this time of year, and to those who get depressed every Christmas. For some people, it’s just a poignant or painful reminder of everything that isn’t perfect and magical and joyful in their lives. The admonishment to go out and serve others who are worse off than you doesn’t always help, because sometimes your mood is more serious than just the holiday blues.
You have to get to a place where you know it’s ok to get help. I did, and it has changed my life for the better. I’m back to loving Christmas, although at times a certain sadness creeps in, remembering that blue Christmas a decade ago. Not everyone is going to get to that better place, and that’s ok, too. The important thing is to find a way to cope when sadness strikes at the holidays. In the meantime, stay away from Judy Garland.
Q & A: Keeping the Holiday Blues at bay