Keep the Holiday Support Going

Image: The Baths at Caracalla by Sir Lawrence Alma_Tadema
The Baths at Caracalla by Sir Lawrence Alma_Tadema

You may be breathing a sigh of relief now that the holidays are over. There’s no question that there are many aspects of the holiday season that are tough on someone with depression. Things that tax your energy like shopping and cooking, parties and gatherings that require you to attempt a smile and engage in chit-chat, and of course, spending time with friends and family when you’d rather curl up in bed by yourself. All in all, an experience to be endured, and the worst part is that you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself!

And since you’ve heard that the holidays see the highest rate of suicide all year, you may also be confident that you’ve passed the danger zone. Well, not exactly. The thing is, we’re heading into the danger zone for suicides, not away from it. Contrary to popular belief, the holidays are not the time of the year when we see the most suicides. The beginning of the year, after all the festivities and for many people, in the dead of a dark, endless winter, can be the time when they lose hope.

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Beating the Holiday Blues

Image: Joy Ride by Grandma Moses
Joy Ride by Grandmas Moses

During the holiday season, are you humming “Holly Jolly Christmas” or is “Blue Christmas” the song that keeps running through your head? Maybe it’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” with its wistful longing. Are you surprised that you don’t feel as joyous and celebratory as you usually do, or as you feel you should?

You could have the holiday blues. People who aren’t acquainted with depression are surprised when they feel melancholy or blue during the holiday season. (Those who are accustomed to depression are used to feeling that way any time of the year). But these emotions seem so wrong and out of place at this time of the year.

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Children

Young Mother Sewing by Mary Cassatt

Did you know that children can suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)? I’m embarrassed to admit that I just found this out recently, after years of writing about mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition that can cause depression, fatigue and overeating, among other things, and it is brought on by the change of seasons. According to Winter Blues by Normal Rosenthal, M.D., a survey done by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) showed that about three percent of children suffer from SAD, with a greater incidence occurring in the last three years of high school.

I’m surprised that it hadn’t occurred to me before. After all, if children could have clinical depression and other depressive disorders, why not SAD? Apparently even animals can suffer from SAD. Of course, it’s worth noting that all creatures on earth have a tendency toward SAD symptoms in the winter, but when normal functioning starts being impaired, it’s time to take a closer look.

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Should You Find a New Therapist?

Image: Bouquet Sur Fond Orange by Marc Chagall

The therapeutic process can be enormously helpful to someone with depression, but its success is largely dependent on a positive relationship with the therapist. If you are not happy with the progress you’re making, or uncomfortable with your therapist in general, it might be time to find someone else.

Here are three significant reasons to find a new therapist:

  • Your therapist does not respect therapeutic boundaries.
  • Your therapy isn’t going anywhere.
  • The chemistry just isn’t right.

Your therapist doesn’t respect the therapeutic boundaries

Boundaries are probably the most crucial element of the therapist/patient relationship. In therapy, boundaries exist to protect the therapeutic experience.

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Top 10 Depression Myths Debunked

It’s all in your head. Only women get depressed. If you have depression, you’re stuck with it for life.

Do any of these statements sound familiar? For all the misconceptions about clinical depression, it seems that there’s a depression myth for every truth – and this makes it difficult to get a real sense of the illness and its capacity to be treated.

Perhaps part of the problem stems from our vocabulary for moods and mental illness: We use “depression” to describe so many ranges of experience that the meaning of clinical depression can get lost in the mix. Furthermore, because simple bad moods are a universal experience, many people think if they’ve had the blues, they know all about depression.

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Is Your Job Making Your Depression Worse?

Siesta, 1890 by Van Gogh

Unless we’re independently wealthy, most of us spend a large part of our waking hours at work. Our “second homes” can contribute positively or negatively to our well-being. If you’re suffering from depression, it’s worth asking yourself if your job could be a factor, or even the sole cause.

Perhaps your job isn’t a good fit with your personality. I found over the years that, probably because of my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, I get bored doing jobs that keep me any less than extremely busy. One temporary job I held required me to do nothing but sit at my desk and read for four out of five days, as my boss was traveling all but one day of the week. While some people would probably find that type of job relaxing, I was so unhappy that I dragged myself reluctantly to work each day.

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Resistance to Antidepressant Treatment

It may come as a surprise to anyone who’s read my writing to hear that I was reluctant to start antidepressant treatment for my depression. While I would not call myself “pro” medication, my life has been changed by antidepressants, and I know quite a few other people who feel the same way.

However, my initial reaction to my psychiatrist’s suggestion that I start antidepressants was a firm “no.” Or, that is, as firm as I was about anything at that time. I was in the middle of the third, and worst, major depressive episode of my life. Most of the time I was either numb or crying. I had made an appointment for a mental health evaluation after reading William Styron’s Darkness Visible and realizing that in all likelihood I was suffering from clinical depression.

My psychiatrist’s confirmation that I did have clinical depression was a huge relief to me. I think he was somewhat surprised; I’m sure some of his patients were resistant to the diagnosis. I was just relieved that what I was going through had a name and that my symptoms were part of a medical condition. I wasn’t, however, ready to treat it with medication.

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Simplify the Holidays to Preserve Your Sanity

My parents do a beautiful job with decorating for Christmas – they always have. Every year they get a real live tree. They have a couple of hundred of beautiful ornaments, as well as garlands and other assorted decorations. The tree is always put up at least two weeks before Christmas. Granted, they’re retired, but it was always like this even when they both were working.

In contrast, my husband and I broke down a couple of years ago and got a fake tree (I love the smell of evergreens, but it’s not enough to counter the expense of a live tree and the cleanup). I feel virtuous if we get the tree up a week before Christmas, and it’s been done on Christmas Eve on more than one occasion. It took me a long time to let go of my parents’ standards and to stop feeling guilty if I didn’t live up to them.

And I love Christmas. I have some great memories of Christmas, especially sensory memories. The smell of evergreen and mulled cider, the sound of Christmas music and the dazzling display on the tree. They were such an essential part of my childhood that I’m ensuring that my son has some of the same experiences. One year we had his best friend over to decorate Christmas cookies,  another year we built a gingerbread house, and when he was younger, I read him a different book about Christmas every year (A Christmas Carol, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, etc.).

But, oh my gosh. It can be stressful. Let’s face it, those childhood memories generally don’t involve spending every weekend in crowded shopping malls finding the perfect present, opening the credit card bill in January, cooking and cleaning for fifteen people and basically running around like a chicken with your head cut off. We’re always struggling to live up to an ideal that is literally impossible to match, unless we’re Martha Stewart. And really, at least half of the people who read her magazine are trying to emulate an ideal, but usually just don’t have the time, right?

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Depression and the Holidays Survival Guide

Let’s be honest – even if you’re not suffering from clinical depression or the holiday blues, the holidays can be stressful and often disappointing. We run ourselves ragged buying gifts, cooking, decorating and entertaining. Tempers flare as we’re thrown together with relatives whom we see infrequently, and don’t necessarily enjoy spending time with. Expectations are high that this season will be magical and perfect as we try to recapture the anticipation we felt as children waiting for Santa, or wait for a rush of emotion as we ponder the religious significance of Christmas and Chanukah. When those feelings don’t automatically well up, we’re disappointed. And, of course, we’re ready to take the nearest heavy object to the tv or computer when we see the same holiday commercial for the 487th time.

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