After my mother died, every supposedly joyous occasion had a pall thrown over it.
Without her, it was hard to celebrate.
Without her, everything felt empty.
When my father-in-law lost his mother (my husband’s grandmother) just a month before the holidays last year, I understood, in my own way, a bit of what he and his siblings would endure. Each time I witness someone losing a parent, it takes me back to the loss of my own.
Some people will struggle this holiday season. Having a happy holiday or a merry Christmas will not come easily to everyone.
There are those who are suffering more than celebrating. While some shop for gifts, others mourn. While some receive presents, others will get divorced. Some of us will be full of joy and love this Christmas. Others will be managing disappointments or weighed down by grievances. Not everyone is attending holiday parties. Some are visiting hospitals or cemeteries.
So as you offer holiday greetings this season, don’t forget that some are grieving. And if you’re part of that group, you’re not alone. Here are four things to remember as you work to better address your depression this holiday season.
1. It’s okay to have an unhappy holiday.
Just because all is merry and bright around you doesn’t mean your feelings have to match. If you’re depressed, be depressed. You can be blue when everyone else has donned green and red — or silver and gold.
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2. Your emotions matter.
They’re relevant. Just because what you’re feeling isn’t pretty doesn’t mean your feelings don’t belong in this season.
Don’t feel compelled to cover up your feelings with tinsel and bows. Don’t smile if you want to cry. Don’t sing along if you’d rather mourn. Don’t let the happy hype of the holidays prevent you from being true to what you’re feeling.
It’s not easy to go against the dominant emotional current, but it’s potentially damaging to lose yourself in false feelings.
3. It’s okay to be confused by your emotions.
Especially when you’re mourning, all feelings can prove challenging — the whole emotional spectrum.
After my mother died, I struggled with how I felt during holidays and special occasions. It was difficult to feel sad while everyone else was celebrating.
And on those days when I found a modicum of happiness, it seemed too soon, and I felt guilty. Either way, I told myself that my feelings were wrong. I was out of place among revelers when I wanted to mourn. And if I joined in the merriment, I worried it was a betrayal of my bereavement and sorrow — an erosion of my reverence and love for her.
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Don’t judge your feelings—or those of anyone else (which is easier said then done). There is no right or wrong way on the road of emotions. It’s as valid to have a cheerful holiday as it is to have an unhappy one.
Just as we can share in each other’s bliss, we can also empathize with one another’s sorrow, pain, or sickness. We can make room for the doleful, the ambivalent, the ecstatic, and the confused.
As someone who knows what it is to be depressed, this holiday season I am grateful to be happy. But as I celebrate Christmas this year (and in the future), I want to be empathetically present to those for whom happiness proves elusive.
I hope you have a merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and/or solstice and a joyful New Year. But more than that, I hope you have a safe space full of loving companions — and that you can express all of your emotions there.
[Headline image: Photo of a white woman with long brown hair and bangs laying her head on a couch in front of a Christmas tree. She has her hand up against her cheek as she rests on the couch pillow. On her face is a look of sorrow, and there is a faraway gaze in her eyes.]