Hark! how the bells
Sweet silver bells
All seem to say,
“Throw cares away.”
Christmas is here
Bringing good cheer
To young and old
Meek and the bold
— The Carol of the Bells
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
That’s the common sentiment about Christmas. The season nowadays starts as early as October with ubiquitous carols and Christmas tunes on the radio, and malls festooned with trees, baubles and poinsettia.
But not everyone feels the Christmas spirit. Many people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, who are ill, who are lonely, or who are unemployed experience grave depression at this time of the year.
Donna*, 33, of Belmont, is one who admits to having the Christmas blues.
“It’s been building,” she said of her depression, “but getting closer to Christmas it hit hard.”
She’s sad, listless and unenthusiastic about the season. Just before Christmas last year she lost her job, broke up with her boyfriend and had a surgical procedure that left her with a chronic health problem. Having been out of steady work this year, she said, she has had to choose between buying groceries and paying for medical attention.
Seeing the orgy of spending that Christmas brings with it leaves her cold.
“It’s going to get worse, I know it is coming,” Donna said of her depression. “I’m going to be single, I’m going to be broken, I’m going to be non-participatory in any kind of Christmas celebration, so I know it will be at its climax at Christmas.”
“Moms, is it just me? I have no Christmas spirit. It’s like I’m dead on the inside (about Xmas),” said one participant on a local Facebook parenting group. Dozens of others responded to say that mom was far from alone.
“With so much going on around us it’s no surprise that many feel the same,” said another poster in response. “Our present social and economic climate has a lot to do with it. Crime is everywhere, plus every day all the talk about recession and no money etc. Some people don’t even realise subconsciously they are being affected.”
Depression is a clinical condition and not merely passing feelings of sorrow. It affects millions of people worldwide and can be treated with therapy and medication.
“The signs of depression are feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt, crying, loss of interest in usual activities, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, social withdrawal, and changes in sleep, weight, or appetite,” said Los Angeles-based therapist Darlene Lancer in an online article on Christmas depression.
If such feelings continue for more than a few weeks, Lancer recommends, people suffering them should seek professional help. Donna isn’t planning to do that.
“I’ve been depressed before and it tends to go like a wave,” Donna said. “It will get bad just before Christmas and then it will go away. I’ll ride the wave. Just hold strain.”
In the meanwhile, she will avoid Christmas liming, she said. The financial burden of buying the food and drink, decorations and presents that go with the season is too much for her, and she’s tired of telling well-meaning friends, “I can’t do anything this year.” It spreads the depression, Donna thinks, and she doesn’t want to be a drag.
The worst part of this Christmas for Donna is not being able to afford to give charity as she liked to do in the past.
“I could live with not giving your brother or sister or father a gift, but that contributing factor is good for you, especially at this time—the season being what it is.” She said when she thinks about her money and health situations she feels guilty for choices she made in the past.
Feelings of shame and guilt are common in those with depression. The mom on the Facebook forum who said she was “dead on the inside” about the season also said she felt “horrid” because she had no good cheer for her baby’s first Christmas. Indeed, the emphasis on family activities can be exhausting for mothers at this time of the year.
Lancer, in her article, noted, “Much of the planning, shopping, and cooking is done by women, so they carry the greater burden in preparing for family gatherings. Women are at greater risk for depression than men. They’re twice as likely to experience depression. After heart disease, depression is the most debilitating illness for women, while it’s tenth for men.”
Which is not to say men don’t get depressed too; it is a condition that can affect males and females, children, teens, adults and seniors. But if you are depressed there are things to do to help yourself.
One is avoiding isolation. As Donna notes, withdrawing from friends and family can make the feelings of loneliness and sadness worse. She plans to stay close to her siblings on the day itself when she thinks her depression will be worst.
Another is managing your spending. “Shame prevents people from being open about gift-giving when they can’t afford it,” wrote Lancer. “Instead of struggling to buy a gift, let your loved ones know how much you care and would like to, but can’t afford it. That intimate moment will relieve your stress and nourish you both.”
Ask for help and don’t expect everything to be perfect, Lancer suggested. And make time to reflect, she added. Shutting down your feelings will make them worse, so, “Let yourself feel. Then do something nice for yourself and socialise.”
*Not her real name.