Why I Don't Love Christmas

It's very difficult to write about depression positively, especially during the holiday season. Too often it comes off as comedic, and it's just painful to read. It's awkward and dishonest and it only trivializes something that most people need to understand with meaning and significance rather than jokes and familiarity. So rather than write about depression with this new sarcastic spin that's become so popular, I'd rather make it positive in my own way. On my worst days, I know that I need to hear something hopeful, but appropriately serious. A sober look with a positive attitude, rather than a dark sense of humor filled with half-jabs and self-hurt. All I know is that over the years, these are the things I've realized I need to hear most, especially during the Christmas season. And here we are. The Thanksgiving turkey is making excellent cold-cut sandwiches and the radio started playing Jingle Bell Rock every hour and the American suicide rate started to rise again, so that must mean we're at Christmas Day One.

Depression, for me as with many others, is always worst around the holiday season. The streets are all dressed up and Will Ferrell dances across the tv screen in green tights on every other channel. People travel out of town, go shopping, and reflect on everything they've accomplished during the year. And if you're inclined as I am towards feeling low, this can feel like they're flaunting their triumph and contentment in your face. I like to keep my head down and joke about having a "staycation" and just wanting a cute pair of socks under the tree, and I hope that no one at family gatherings will ask me what I really enjoyed about this year. During Christmas, everyone expects you to be festive, and if you can't get that kind of cheerfulness up, every movie and every little decoration feels like a personal confrontation. The whole world is asking you in green and red neon lights, "Why are you so depressed? How could you possibly still be depressed?" And I'm left with a quiet and embarrassed answer: I don't know.

I've got a hard enough time as it is trying to make this work. I'm pretty good about taking care of myself during the year: I know what days I need to push through it and get up and work out and get my stuff down and I know what the threshold is for when I need to call it early spend some time by myself with a cup of tea. I know what sets me off, I know when sleeping or crying is the thing that's going to make it better, and I know which friends to talk to when I need real help. But that's just during the regular year. For Christmas—during Christmas I'm not allowed to get into any of these states, can't reach out or reach in or anything. You can't take care of your depression during Christmas because you're not allowed to have it in the first place.

I am seventeen years old, I'm not even out of high school yet, and I've spent my past five Christmases stuck in of those long slumps of Really Shitty Days. So many older, wiser people have been dealing with this mental illness longer than I have and writing about it for themselves, but I've finally figured out my own patterns. This year has been better, but even now I can kind of feel it. I won't pretend to have discovered some cure, because depressions's never going to go away. It will always settle in for a period every now and then and you need to know what to do when that happens over the holiday season.

Because here's the thing about Christmas Depression. It's the nagging thought of why can't I feel festive with everybody else? that quickly devolves into why can't I feel joyful with everybody else? It's the Jimmy Stewart "Merry Christmas Everybody!" The Tiny Tim "God bless us, everyone" moment, the "ho-ho-ho, and mistletoe, and presents to pretty girls". Because these things are charming and wonderful and quotable and cute, but they set up this mood, this expectation, this standard of happiness that becomes so destructive.

Well so? What if I'm not that happy? What if I'm just not. When November starts, I'm doing fine. I'm just a regular kid who's figuring out depression and I've got my good days and I've got my bad days and sometimes it really sucks, but I've mostly come to terms about it. The day after Thanksgiving however, you may no longer have regular depression or have the occasional bad week or even a bad day.

"Am I really doing this again?" I say as I'm sitting on my couch. The lights across the street are shining out from a neighborhood party I was invited to and my family has gone across to join them. There will be food and people, and all I can think about is how I know I will eat too much and avoid all the neighbors I know and not introduce myself to the people I don't. "I won't do this again next year," I tell myself. "I really won't." And every year that little hope comes around again. "Next year will be better. I'll be confident and I won't be scared or anxious and I'll enjoy a good party and good people and a merry Christmas."

So in light of that, here's my promise for myself this year. I will not expect myself to be cheerful. I will not expect myself to be happy. I will not expect myself to be celebratory, or delighted, or merry, or any of it. I will drink hot chocolate and I will flip channels past all the stock holiday specials and I'll go to half the parties they host. And if I'm not having fun, then that's okay. And if I'm not feeling that connection with Santa and the Yuletide spirit, that's okay too. Christmas, for me, can be a normal day, and there I won't put any pressure on myself to be grateful or gleeful for every second of December. Gratefulness and glee can come in their own measure at any time during the year. Right now, I'm going to focus on how I can be just as happy or bummed out as my depression lets me be. And if I can learn to be okay with that, then that's the best Christmas cheer I'll have had in years.