PSA: When You’re Not Feeling Jolly at Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, despite the lack of snow. Everywhere I go, there are Christmas lights dotting the scenery, Christmas ads on the radio/television, and everyone is talking excitedly about their plans for Christmas. I’m sure if I went to the mall, which I wouldn’t do unless I was under the threat of being killed if I didn’t, it would be full of Christmas jingling and jangling as well. There is so much good cheer in the air, I am practically choking on it, and I can’t escape it online, either. FB pages and Twitter feeds are filled with it, and while I appreciate all the food posts, it can be a bit much. Now, if you’re one of those people who bakes ten dozen cookies for Christmas and put up a tree as soon as the last cranberry is eaten from your Thanksgiving feast, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the problem, Minna? That’s what I love about this time of year! It’s certainly not the cold, damn it. Why’s it gotta be so cold? But the eggnog and the lights and the presents, hell, YEAH! Bring it on.”

This post is not for you. Be on your merry way and enjoy ho ho ho’ing on Christmas. Enjoy the holidays, but please understand that some of us are less than enthusiastic about this time of year. We are not being irritable or depressed or grumpy to cramp your holiday style–we really just don’t like the festivities or all the hoopla surrounding them. It’s hard not to be a fan of Christmas and endure this season. Cut us some slack if we aren’t as holly or as jolly as you wish we’d be. We want you to enjoy the holidays, at least I do, but it’s just not the same for us. For those of you who hate Christmas as I once did, spiraling into depression the minute you hear the first Christmas carol of the year, or who are indifferent to it at best as I am this year, this post is for you. I’ve done a post on depression at Christmas time before, and while I think it’s still a solid piece, I wanted to write one that is more in tune with how I’m feeling now.

I don’t hate Christmas this year. Quite honestly, until this week, I didn’t give a fuck that it was happening. But, somehow, this week, I’ve started to become more irritated at the pervasiveness of Christmas, and I’m counting the days until it’s actually over. In addition, the depression is starting to creep back in as well. I start thinking about how shitty my family life was when I was a kid and how I wouldn’t go back to that time of my life for anything. I’m thinking about how I don’t have a family of my own and how, even though I know it’s not true, it feels like I’m the only person in that situation. To make matters worse (for me), there’s no snow on the ground, my one salvation during this time of year. It’s also that it’s close to the end of the year which means thinking of all the things I have not accomplished this year. I won’t do resolutions because I think they’re bullshit, but I will be thinking of things I intended to do this year, but never did. There are two times I think about the futility of my life, and this is one of them*. The world looks a bit grayer than it did last week, and despite my best efforts, I’m experiencing depression around Christmas. Again. It’s a myth that the number of suicides rise during the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t get extra-lonely and/or depressed around this time.

Over the years, I’ve come up with ideas that work for me when I’m depressed,** so I thought I’d share them with you. I want to stress that these are things that work for me, which doesn’t mean they will necessarily work for you. When I tried to do typical things that are recommended for depression, they didn’t work. I used to fast-walk 4 1/2 miles a day as exercise, and I hated every second of it.  I never got that high that you’re supposed to get from exercising, and I resented having to do it every fucking day. Baths? No. I hated being in water for reasons I have yet to fully understand. Positive affirmations? Oh, fuck no. They make me want to punch someone in the throat. Same with listing my blessings. When I was in the throes of a deep depression, even breathing seemed like a burden. So, again, these are things that work for me. They may not work for you, but they might! In addition, I’m going to mostly include short-term answers as my goal is to get you through the holiday season. None of these are substitutes for therapy or medication or other long-term solutions. The list isn’t in any particular order, either.

  1. Talk to a friend. One of the worst things about depression is the voice in your head that tells you that nobody really loves you or worse yet, that everyone in your life would be better off without you. I’ve heard that seductive siren song for most of my life, and it’s hard not to succumb to the call. In my brain, I usually have a running commentary of every single flaw I have, and it ramps up at times like this. I’m lucky to have friends who love me and whom I love, and when I’m more stable, I can actually feel these two things to be true. When I get depressed, however, that love can feel distant. Talking to a friend, preferably in person, but the phone will do in a pinch, can alleviate the negative voices clamoring in my head.
  2. Move. No, I don’t mean move out of your house or apartment, but get up off the couch and move a little. I know how easy it can be to plunk down on the couch or not get out of bed and just….not move. For days. Moving can feel like such a chore, but if you can, do it. Even if it’s just to walk around the room a bit, getting the blood flowing can shake off some of the lethargy. For me, doing something taiji related helps, too, especially the Sword Form. If you’re feeling up to it, put on a song you really like and dance. I said earlier that I hated traditional exercise, but I loved turning on my boombox (yes, I’m that old) and grooving for an hour or so. Some suggestions: Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars;*** Gangnam Style by my man, PSY; Raise Your Glass by P!nk; Shoop by Salt-N-Pepa; Locked Away by R. City, feat. Adam Levine; Maria Maria by Santana, feat. The Product G&B. Even if it’s just grooving in your seat as you listen to the song, it’s a start.
  3. Related to #2, listen to music you like. Preferably upbeat music, but I’ve been known to wallow in a solid hour or five of power ballads from the hair metal bands of the eighties. It doesn’t have to be Christmas music–in fact, it’s probably better if it’s not, unless it’s O Holy Night, the only Christmas carol I like. I like it so much, I wrote two posts about my love for it. If you decide to go the emo route, allow yourself a good cry for, say, half an hour. It’s important to let it out, but it’s also important to put a time limit on it so it doesn’t stretch on for days. Also, it’s probably best if it’s not an Adele song as you’ll be drunk-calling your ex at three in the morning, and that’s not good for anyone.
  4. Escape. Maybe you have a book you’ve been meaning to read for a while, or a show you’ve put off watching, or a video game sitting in your pile of shame that’s calling your name. Escapism gets a bad rap because it’s overused too much. We all live in the real world in which you actually have to, you know, adult and shit. However, in small doses or all day long on Christmas, it’s OK to do something that allows you to get away from the grind that is daily life. So, crack open that latest Laura Lippman book or watch that Stellan Skarsgård series on Netflix that looks intriguing or get lost in the snowy world of Skyrim to your heart’s content.****
  5. Go outside. This is difficult for me, but it’s especially important during the dreary days of December. I love the winter, but i do not love the gray that sometimes accompanies the coldness. So, when we get sunshine, it behooves me to actually enjoy it. Even if it’s going outside for a few minutes to smoke a few puffs, at least I’m getting some sun and fresh air. The cold is invigorating to me, so I like to go without bundling up first, but for those of you who are not as sanguine to sub-zero temps, put on your coat, hat, mittens, and scarf and just step outside your home.
  6. You may have noticed in #5 that I mentioned taking a few puffs, and, yes, I smoke. It’s one to two cigarettes a day, and, no, doc, I’m not ready to give it up. That leads me to a somewhat controversial solution to getting through the holidays–doing something you know isn’t good for you. I know smoking isn’t good for me. I also know that smoking a cigarette or two a day for me isn’t extremely terrible for me, either. I know it’d be better if I didn’t do it, but i also know that what I get from it (nicotine, obviously, and a sense of calm, plus the ritual of going outside and smoking) is more beneficial than quitting is to me right now. Look, none of us is perfect, least of all me. I’m probably going to eat more than I should on Christmas, especially chocolate, and over-indulge in other ways as listed above. I’m not trying to argue that this is the best way to handle depression, but neither are they the worst. Sometimes, it’s about making it through best you can, consequences be damned.
  7. Cuddle with an animal friend or two. Raven and Shadow are my two black cats, and while they are little brats at times, they are also my heart and soul. Right now, as I’m writing this, Raven is burrowed into my right thigh and Shadow is within hand’s reach on top of the couch. By the way, this is indicative of their personalities in general. Raven always wants to be near me, and Shadow prefers to be close, but not necessarily touching. He *was* sitting on my chest earlier, but I had to push him off because he’s a big boy, and i need to breathe. I’ve said in the past that one reason I didn’t kill myself back in my deeply depressed days was because they depend on me. It sounds ridiculous, I know, because anyone can take care of them, really, but it kept me going. My boys needed me to feed them gushy food, to clean their litter boxes, and to pet them. When I’m feeling blue, I can hug one of them, and while they may not appreciate it, they’ll tolerate it. Loving them is good for my soul.
  8. Write something. I feel most alive when I’m able to write, even if what I write is pure shit. I write, therefore I am, and the converse is true as well. If I don’t write, I’m not really alive, so it’s in my best interest if I write every day. To make it more general, do something you love every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. I’m biased in that I think it should be a creative endeavor, be it knitting or putting together computers or drawing or whatnot. I want to stress that I’m not talking about anything passive with this suggestion–this one’s about engaging and actively doing something. I used NaNoWriMo to write 5,000 words a day, and I’m posting a blog post a day in December–each over 2,000 words. I’m not sure what writing goal I’ll set for January, but it has to be something attainable, otherwise, I won’t do it.
  9. Take a break from social media. I like social media for many reasons, but it can be overwhelming. Situations that would come and go in the real world are worried over until the point of ridiculousness on social media, and there’s little distinction between big issues and small ones. There seems to be a different poutrage every day, and it can be exhausting reading up on the news, especially when it’s being blared 24/7. It’s reached the point where it seems as if you’re missing something important if you’re not constantly plugged in, but trust me, the news will still be there if you take a day or two off, and it’ll be just as ever-present as it was before.

At the end of the day, if you’ve tried everything you can think of, and it’s still too much, try to remind yourself that it’s just one day and will be over soon. Grit your teeth, lower your head, and bull your way through. It’ll pass as it always does, and you’ll be able to forget it for yet another year. I know it’s not easy when it seems like everyone around you is enjoying their holidays, and you just want them to be done for one reason or another. Believe me. I’ve been there. I am there right now, though it’s not nearly as bad as it’s been in the past.

If you can’t hang on and feel as if you can’t bear another minute, please check out the suicide prevention website or call them at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). I’m not going to bullshit you and say that coming out of depression is an easy thing or that one phone call will change your life, but it’s a first step, and you have to be alive in order to work on your issues enough to make life at least bearable, if not worth living. Yes, I know, that’s not very inspiring, but it’s all I have. Life is mostly mundane with moments of pure joy and/or beauty, and many moments of pain and/or hardship. The thing is, it’s all we know we have for sure, so might as well try to make the not-so-very worst of it. Sometimes, life can be OK, and sometimes, that feeling even lasts more than a few minutes. There’s your rah-rah speech for the season. I hope you make it through!



*The other is my birthday.

**As long as I’m not too deep into it.

***Yeah, yeah, Mark Ronson, it’s fucking Bruno Mars.

****I told you, this is what works for me!

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