Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When the Holidays Aren't So Very Happy: Making Room at the Table for Sadness, Grief, and Depression

It's Christmas Eve, and as I count my blessings, I find myself running out of fingers and toes. I am truly a lucky woman, and I cherish all that surrounds me: my family, my friends, and the experiences I have been fortunate enough to have. Other than the snow (winter being my nemesis), I have no complaints, and I have nothing pressing to demand of Santa.

But I've walked this earth for more than 40 years now, and so I know that life can be a complicated, messy thing. And I know that for many, the holiday season brings with it as much sadness as it does joy. Though I don't have a huge blog readership, if statistics are any indication, at least one or more of my readers is struggling with something significant this season. Perhaps you, somewhere out there on the other end of a vast computer network, find yourself amongst that struggling number.

The holidays offer many opportunities for hard emotions. For some, there's the matter of inflated expectations v. reality, of holding up one's own life to the unrealistic light of glossy magazines and concluding that real life falls short of the mark. Others deal with family scars and conflicts that are reopened by the holidays. For others, there's the ache of loss, of holidays changed by distance or illness or death. For still others, there are issues wrestled with all year long that become Larger Than Life in the midst of a time of year that seems to belong only to The Happy People. Sadness, grief, and depression knock at so many doors this time of year -- unexpected, unwelcome guests that nonetheless demand a seat at the table.

And in most cases, there comes a sort of shame -- for aren't we all supposed to be joyous during the holidays? And if one isn't happy during the holidays, doesn't that make one a failure?

No. It does not.

If your holidays are feeling less than happy, that does not reflect anything about you other than that You Are Human. Life can be hard. Life can be sad. Life can be discouragingly, awfully unfair. And to pretend otherwise in the face of facts is a sad futility that only makes the whole thing worse.

If you are carrying on your back sadness or grief, I say, be honest about it. Don't pretend otherwise. Sadness is not contagious. If you share your feelings with others, they will not "catch" your sadness. Instead, they will have the opportunity to connect with you, one human being to another. Don't fear that you will somehow, by acknowledging your pain, end up dwelling in your grief. Instead, by being open about your emotions, you will be more likely to be open to the other emotions and experiences that this time of year brings. Let those unwelcome guests come in, and treat them as you would any other unexpected partycrasher: with courtesy, decency, and dignity.

Above all, do not be ashamed of your tears.

Should it all become too much, there is help. If you don't feel you can reach out to a family member or friend, there are phone resources available. Many unique resources exist at your local level, but if you're not sure where to begin, a useful number to have is the Lifeline Network at 1-800-273-8255.

Be honest about your emotions, and be unafraid to lean on those who love you. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, you are a crucial and irreplaceable part of this world.

We would not be who we are without you.


Lori Van Hoesen said...

Debbie, You do a great service to those who are suffering right now. Thanks for the reminder. And Merry Christmas to you and your family. :o)

Liza Martz - Cogitations and Codswallop said...


You are a wonder! What lovely, comforting words. They make the day seem a little less gray.

Gina Gort said...

Merry Christmas, Debbie!

Boni Ashburn said...

Thanks, Debbie- those are words some of us really needed to hear this year.

Merry Christmas to you and Mr. Fish!