Day Seventeen: Holiday Depression

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Last night after packing and sorting things in the formerly flooded basement I flung myself on the couch. The idea of dinner loomed in my head and the kids began to make noises about “being bored.” They’ve had the last five days off school and Dave and I spent those days cleaning up the basement to be ready for the rehab to come after that water leak from the refrigerator upstairs destroyed the finished basement. The 2 levels above the basement are now packed out with stuff; boxes, clothing from closets downstairs, videos, trash bags of things that were ruined. The house has a distinctly musty feel, though the dehumidifiers are working overtime down there.

It’ll be okay. It really will. Insurance will cover the rehab. We’ll muddle through in the midst of the holidays. We just have to get past the holidays.

Except that the holidays ought to be the very thing we cling to, move towards, revel in. The “to-do” list for Christmas is long and like so many, travel is in our future, packing and planning is required. It’s hard to cling to, move towards and revel in the season when so much pressure has been added to that season.

While I lay sprawled on the couch my husband wandered into the room and moved aside enough stuff to sit in a chair across from me. We debated what we should “do” with the rest of the day or the weekend because we ought to “do” something. The kids were bored, the holidays were upon us, the pressure to “do” was strong and imposing. I didn’t want to “do” anything. I wanted to check out. More than tired or simply worn down, I was reluctant, unmotivated, unwilling, angry and profoundly sad. “Do you think I’m depressed?” I asked. He shook his head, not knowing how to answer. I recognize it, though, the holiday blues. It’s no stranger to me and my persistent engagement with my melancholic tendencies. The holidays bring it out in me anyway, the stress of house repair only compounds it.

So often, I’m tempted to toss aside feelings of anxiety and depression these days over things like this with the catch phrase of “first world problems.” After all, my problems are really not that bad. We’re all relatively healthy. The problem will be fixed. Our work situation is still solid (mostly.) So many others have it far worse than we do.

And yet…

It’s no revelation that the holidays bring with it some emotional baggage for a great number of people. Most of that baggage, of course, has little to do with the actual holiday itself and more to do with personal history and expectations, consumeristic brainwashing about what the holidays “ought” to look like and ongoing family dramas. The reality of the “holiday blues” is all around us, reaching into every nook and cranny of the season, an unhappy byproduct of our complicated lives.

We hear about holiday depression on news and at parties or online and if we don’t succumb to it ourselves we most certainly know people who do. It’s hard to know what to do with it, whether it’s mine or anyone else’s. It’s a weight we carry around, through crowded department stores and tree lighting parties. We try to keep it all together, put on a happy face and just keep moving though we are, all along, dragging this weight, this depression, this anxiety.

And here’s the thing- because mine is a situational sort of depression and anxiety and a familiar struggle, there’s a good chance that the weight will fall away with time and awareness and attention. There’s a good chance it will lift, that I will lift, that the couch is not always going to be more comfortable than time spent with family and friends, that the musty feel will not linger. I admit, it’s a bit of cold comfort though, in a time I always hope will be warm and nourishing.

What I hope for this holiday season as I stumble through house repairs and kids moving into adolescence and family drama and rampant consumerism is hard to articulate but a well worn picture comes to me, a visualization of sorts I use to move through seasons like this.

I see myself standing outside of it all, like a photo taken of the Earth from space, the giant blue planet residing below and me, floating in the quiet of space watching from the outside. Here, in this quiet place I can watch, knowing somehow it is unfolding below me, I can stay here where it’s safe and it all looks beautiful and tranquil, but you know, it’s lonely in the safety of space, without hands to hold and air to breathe. This withdrawal from life means that I am also missing.

The truth is that I have to want to be there in the middle of it more than I want to be here on the outside looking in. I have to locate that “want” and nurture it, feed it, listen to it. It’s no easy task but the hope is to seek out and find those moments of connection, moments of truth and goodness in the midst of the madness. The hope is to choose to dive back into the burning atmosphere, into the deep blue sea, into the arms around me as I lay on the couch in the middle of the worry and fear. From high above the chaos and crowding the hope seeps in slowly, locating the want of being engaged and embraced, trusting there’s a safe place there, below.

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