What Celebrating Christmas Is Like When You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder

by David Clover

The Christmas season is often considered one of the happiest times of the year, but for those, like me, with Seasonal Affective Disorder, celebrating Christmas can be a challenge. It took me years and years to realize that the reason I was always down in the winter, but usually fine in the summer, was due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. As a teen, I just thought it was weird that my depression was so extremely predictable. It would get worse and worse over the course of the winter, and then sometime in the spring, it would break like a storm and I would wonder where it went.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, and for people with SAD, it tends to start at around the same time each year, ending around the same time too. When people with SAD feel depressed can vary, but it's most common for the depressive period to be in the winter. This is what I have.

These days, I’m better at understanding and managing my own mental health. But having SAD still affects my life in a pretty major way. And of course that includes Christmas. Some people love the holidays, and some people hate them, and every individual with SAD is going to have a different experience. But for me, living with SAD affects my yuletide celebrations in a few concrete ways. As winter encroaches again, and Christmas approaches, I’m once again preparing myself for the holiday excitement with simultaneously readying myself for the crushing lows that winter can bring:

1. I Desperately Need The Excitement And Joy That Christmas Brings.

I am 30 years old, and I don’t even believe in Jesus, but I still look forward to Christmas like an excited 7 year old. It isn’t because I want gifts. It isn’t the food (although some of that is worth looking forward to). It’s that I need something to look forward to, and somewhere to put my energy. Christmas is the biggest, most exciting winter holiday for most Americans. It’s all about brightness and happiness and love. And when winter makes you seriously depressed, that is a very welcome distraction.

2. I Go Over The Top And Throw My Whole Self Into Planning

A lot of people in my peer group aren’t into Christmas. They find it stressful and obnoxious. That’s cool, I get it, but I love Christmas and want to do it up right. I listen to Christmas music (including the horrible N*SYNC Christmas album, and you can’t take it away from me), I insist on having a real tree, I drink copious amounts of hot cocoa. You want me to bring a dish to pass for the Christmas party? How about three? Oh and I’ll be bringing this vegan gingerbread. Which is amazing, of course.

All of those things help to distract me, which helps me to cope with the fact that it is seriously the darkest and worst time of the year and everything is terrible.

3. I Kind Of Dread Christmas, Because It Marks The Beginning Of The End

The run up to December 25 may be a thrilling time of busyness and excitement for me, but once we get closer to the actual day, I start to get a little weird. Christmas may actually take place four days after the winter solstice, so it’s actually gradually going to get lighter out once it’s over, but the snowiest and coldest parts of winter are yet to come.

You get Christmas and New Years, and then there are no more fun distracting holidays until spring (unless you’re into Valentine’s day, which I’m not.) All of that means it’s hard for me to relax and enjoy on Christmas day, because I’m so busy knowing that the next few months are going to totally suck for me.

5. The Stress Can Kind Of Freak Me Out

Depression often has an anxiety component, and for me this is especially true. The holidays are great, but no one can deny that the holidays are also stressful. And having SAD makes me less capable of dealing with all the added stress well than I would be if it were occurring in say, May.

5. Taking My Vitamin D Matters — A Lot

I feel like I have to first tell you that the research out there on whether or not taking vitamin D supplements actually helps with SAD is kind of fuzzy. That said, I do take them in the winter, and they at least seem to help me. That might be because part of the cause of my depression is the decreased sunlight in the winter time, which decreases my vitamin D levels.

When I forget to take my vitamins (which happens, because of all the stress and busyness) I notice. My wife notices. Everyone notices. I get irritable and edgy, I lose interest in doing the things I enjoy. It’s very bad news.

6. I Am Never, Ever Hoping For A White Christmas

Please, let’s just let the snow wait until next year, OK? I’m sure we’ll get plenty of slopping white grossness in January and February, and if we’re unlucky, March and April too. There’s no need to start early.

Images: Courtesy of Katherine DM Clover (1) Giphy (7)