Here we are again — the Holidays! It’s a season that’s very difficult to deal with when you have depression and have extended family or friends who expect you to participate in the seasonal activities. Their enthusiasm and high energy can be overwhelming when you are struggling so to keep it together. You dread it, then feel guilty for feeling so. And what if you are among those who do not have a large network of family or friends to surround you? Perhaps you live in a different part of the country from your family and cannot afford the time or money to travel, maybe you’ve had a falling out with them or your loved ones have passed away. Perhaps your circle of close friends has dwindled due to your illness and you are left feeling quite alone.
The media often makes this feeling worse, with television, magazines and the internet blaring images of groups of seemingly happy people gathering together in celebration of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or New Year’s Eve. When you are depressed, this visual image seems to be present everywhere you go, with little or no escape from it. It’s often easy to forget that this is just an image created by actors and not reality, and that there are many people who have just a few close personal connections similar to your own situation. It’s also easy to forget that in reality, people have real stressors and imperfect lives, physical and emotional illnesses, family disagreements, difficult children or elderly parents and financial woes and are not as “jolly” as the media image portrays. For some people, sitting at a big family dinner or going to the company holiday party is not exactly the grand time you might imagine. So how do you get through this time of year when you feel so apart from those you see in your town?
First, this is a time for a fact check. Feelings are not facts. Ask yourself who you know well personally, and what your relationship with them is. Focus on the facts, ask yourself who stands by you through thick and thin, whose company you enjoy. Here is where the quality of friendship wins over quantity. Remind yourself that you are not alone, that there are people who do care for you even if at times it might not seem to be so. Take a moment to appreciate them. Remind yourself of the many others who also have a small, not large, network of family and close friends to support them. Not everyone has the life depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting — that’s just “feel good” advertising! Then make an effort to connect with your network of friends, no matter how small, which is especially important to do at this time of year. Maybe it’s time for a quiet lunch together, or hosting an evening at home. Create your own traditions. Try to drop the artificial desires raised by the media and enjoy each others company.
Beyond that, some people find it helpful to reach out to others in need at this time of year. Many volunteer organizations are looking for assistance and are grateful to receive your help. You may find that in giving you, too, receive something positive in return. Perhaps your church, synagogue or local community center has an organization for this purpose that you can participate in. Things like food and clothing drives, toys for children in need, reaching out to the disabled and elderly. Try it if you are able and you may be surprised by the results.
Lastly, make sure to take good care of yourself. Stick to the basics of mental health even though you may not feel like doing so. Keep up a regular routine and structure to your day, eat healthy, regular meals, and maintain a regular pattern of sleep and exercise. Don’t forget your medications, and limit your caffeine and alcohol intake. Remember that it is very important to keep up with your social contacts and not isolate yourself from them, so pick up the phone and call a friend. You might make someone’s day!
A version of this article was previously posted on my website www.susannoonanmd.com