This time of year is one of the most difficult for anyone living with depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders.
Expectations, along with reminders for what makes a wonderful holiday season surround us around the clock.
- Have you baked your cookies?
- Did you mail out your holiday cards?
- Is the house decorated?
- Shopping finished? How about gifts wrapped?
- Have you invited the neighbors over?
And the biggest gut punch: the constant radio, television, magazine, and newspaper articles showing loving, happy families that get along like the Waltons.
What happens when reality interrupts and shows up? When we have no energy for the high volumes of it that this season requires? What if the thought of spending time with our families makes us burrow even deeper into our depression and anxiety?
We come out feeling not good enough, that’s what. We can begin to spiral with the demands and the stress that this time of year threatens to slap down on us. We become consumed with what we think everyone else around us is capable of, while we are not.
But how do we know that what we see in everyone’s Facebook updates and Instagram feeds is the whole story? We don’t, but we believe that it is. We believe the commercials and the media frenzy, and our chastising negative self-talk grows a voice of its own. We hear it in our head all day, You don’t do enough for your family, you need to do more for your family, why can’t you be the mom that your family deserves? We begin to crack, withdraw, isolate ourselves in shame.
Our nerves become more exposed and we feel like we need to explain to everyone why we can’t do what we believe we are supposed to be doing. We push ourselves to do holiday projects with our kids that are supposed to be fun and instead end up in a screaming tantrum from both parent and child. What’s worse, is that our hearts want so much to give our family a holiday season that they will remember and we just about fall apart trying.
Short of a Christmas miracle, what way is there to do more than just survive the holidays, but to actually enjoy them with the ones we love?
Sometimes, it takes a bold step, one of breaking with tradition. I know how difficult this may be, especially with challenging personalities and family dynamics, but deciding that what works for you and your family this year, is the only way to make it. And this may change every year.
Maybe this year, you won’t be able to drive six hours to spend the holidays with the grandparents.
Maybe this year, you’re not able to shop for all the nieces and cousins and in-laws.
Maybe your household growing up was one filled with, “No store bought cookies in my house!” but that doesn’t have to be your motto. Step 1.) Buy the store bought.
Maybe your mother began decorating the house for the holidays as soon as the turkey wishbone was cracked, and didn’t stop for the next 20 days, that doesn’t mean that you have to. Step 2.) A red tablecloth and a wreath at the front door are just fine.
The point is that we worry about making sure everything is just the way the world tells us it has to be for this month of December, and we risk becoming lost in the frantic pace. That’s not a realistic or safe place to live, especially for someone in the start, middle, or just beginning their recovery from postpartum depression or anxiety.
Deciding to breathe and do what is right for you is a balance. It can mean asking for help; it can mean limiting social activities, perhaps not seeing certain people. It can mean confiding in family and close friends, your children if they’re old enough, and explaining to them that this year is hard for you.
I have more than once been surprised at how the spirit of the season is embraced by even my youngest child, along with the hearts of my closest family members and friends, opening wide to offer grace and help.
The depth and warmth of what this month means is found in being generous, gracious, and forgiving.
And that, more than anything, means to ourselves.