What Christmas Is Like When You're Dealing With Depression

It doesn’t feel like Christmas, at least not this year. Sure, my tree is up, lights are strung, and a pile of presents sits in our loft, but something is missing. I feel as though I am falling. Falling in a dark pit — a pit which I cannot see, yet I still know its walls are closing in. I can feel them closing in. I feel dull, worthless, and dim. More than anything, I feel numb. Celebrating Christmas when you're dealing with depression is a constant struggle: to be present, excited, encouraged, and happy. This year, it's a struggle I am losing.

Normally I embrace the holidays. I start shopping in October, my house is decorated by the end of November, and cookie baking begins three weeks before the Big Day. I listen to holiday tunes — Alvin and the Chipmunk’s, Trans Siberian Orchestra, and, of course, Twisted Sister — and I watch movies that range from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the original Frosty the Snowman to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Jingle All The Way, and Bad Santa.

I love sales and entertaining. I love kitschy sweaters. I love the lights. I love the sparkle. And I love Christmas. But this year I am dragging. I feel beaten down and battered, and I'm struggling to feel anything aside from sad.

Depression is an insidious illness. It doesn’t discriminate. You cannot cure it with money, people, love, or things, and it certainly doesn’t take time off “for the holidays.” It is a numbing sadness. It is emptiness, and it likes living in a void, one that keeps pulling you down and down and down. You feel no ambition, no happiness, and you aren't interested in anything or anyone. And while you may still “do things" — go to work, eat three square meals a day, and even just get out of bed — it makes you a shell of your former self. Like a ghost going floating from room to room, going through the motions, never really engaging, never really grasping onto anything.

Last night, I gathered gifts and wrapping paper, poured myself a glass of wine, and put on Polar Express. I plopped down in front of our Christmas tree and tried, in vain, to “snap out of it,” but I knew I couldn’t. I knew I wouldn’t, and I knew the best I could do was keep moving forward (one simple, and tedious, activity at a time). And so I wrapped. I wrapped books and boxes and princess dresses. I wrapped strangely-shaped packages — things like a singing Olaf and an oversized playmat — and I carried each and every one back to their “hiding space.” I needed the low lull of the television, the sparkle of lights ... the wine. I needed to stay away from dark and isolating places.

I know my depression is a chemical imbalance, but that doesn't stop me from believing the things my depression tells me — that I'm a bad, terrible mom; that I am a bad, terrible wife; that I am a bad, terrible woman; that I'm ruining the holiday with my "bad mood." But that doesn’t make my feelings and my pain feel any less real, and around this time of year, fighting off the lies my depression tells me doesn't get easier. It only gets harder.

So what do I do? How do I handle Christmas and host dinner when I barely want to eat? How do I get dressed and put on makeup when I can barely stand the sight of my own face?

I just do. I move (sometimes slowly) through the motions, making the the most of it. I do only what I can, only how I can, and that is enough. I wrap in the light because it is happier and safer there. I bake the cookies when I feel ready. I dance, I sing, I sparkle only when I feel able to. The holiday season is all about giving, and this is what I have to give. For me, it is enough.

Images: Matt Gromes, Shelia C./Flickr; Pixabay