Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Use Holidays Properly

Why are there so many holidays in December and January? We have Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve, St. Lucia's Day, and all manner of variations on those, as will as ancillary celebrations (such as Advent). In one form or another, these celebrations focus on happiness or light. Celebrations of light, all clustered around the longest night of the year? Surely this is not a random occurrence. Obviously the human spirit craves light and the life it brings, and the dark times of less activity and more eating are being offset by singing, candles, parties (okay, that's also a handy excuse for eating), and opportunities to spend time with other people: cultural and religious offsets to the physiological reactions to winter. We understand that times of cold and darkness can wear away at our resolve, and we fight back by creating a flurry of activities aimed, purportedly, at joyfulness at this darkest time. Hopefully it's enough to carry us through the remaining ice and snow as the days grow longer.

Enter depression, subtle twister of goodness.

Looking at the world through the unwholesome filter of depression can make a good thing into a painful experience. Holidays are designed to bring people together; you just want to be left alone. They encourage you to give; you're overwhelmed by the idea of shopping, or terrified that you'll choose the wrong item. Indoor creative crafts flourish; your mind is a pile of mush and you're sure you can create or decorate anything.

If you've read this blog for any amount of time you know that it's my firm belief that depression has physiological, psychological, and spiritual components, and gleefully will attack you on all those fronts. This is a time of year when it can use the forces of nature (less sunlight and warmth) as its strength, overwhelming the forces of culture (social activities, giving and happiness). Well if it will use the momentum of the year, you can too.

Go to the parties, even if you sit by yourself. Joy is also an infectious disease, and if you expose yourself to it you may find that you catch it. Surround yourself with people that won't judge you for your failings - there is no better time of year to find the goodness in your fellow man than right now. Sing and don't care how you sound. If buying gifts is too expensive or you hate the crowds, try making your own and (here's the trick) stop caring if they're perfect. Spend some time volunteering as a Santa or Salvation Army bell-ringer. Force yourself to be in situations where you will be exposed to the goodness of humanity.

All the drugs in the world will not get you out of bed. Your therapist and your gods cannot do this for you either. Depression is working very, very hard to convince you that you have no power, no worth, no purpose. Set yourself a schedule of things to do, things that intellectually you know are good at this time of year, and stick to it no matter what. You will find many, many excuses to avoid positive, social activities, because the more of them you engage in the more the depression will fight back and try to suck you back in. That's why I suggest literally writing down (or getting a friend to, if you must) your holiday activities and going through the motions. Sooner or later the habit will find its way in deeper, helping out whatever treatments you might have going for you.

And then you'll discover the most amazing gift of all - that you can.

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