It’s that time of year again, when the sun goes lazy and the darkness sinks in.
When the expectations of the season—glittery and unattainable—don’t quite meet our sagging energy levels. We go against nature, which slows down, and instead, do our best to ramp up.
Design and send holiday cards. Bake. Party. Buy presents. Eat. Buy. Eat. Wrap. Give. Decorate. Send. Buy. Eat.
And I look around me, and I see a lot of depression.
I saw a clerk at a store the other day, who I hadn’t seen for months but who has always been kind to me. I asked her how she was.
“Not that good,” she said. It showed on her face. Her eyes were dim and dark.
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said. She nodded sadly.
I paused. Part of me wanted to ask more. Part of me felt drug down by her answer.
“I hope things shift for you,” I said as I left.
I sat in my car for a moment and thought about her. I thought—how brave. How honest. She didn’t do what so many of us do—don a mask and lie.
Because sometimes, even at the holidays—maybe especially at the holidays—life is really hard.
Because our brains don’t make enough serotonin. Because somebody we loved breathlessly is gone forever and we miss them to the stars and back. Because we just don’t feel like celebrating. Because it’s the anniversary of something really shitty that happened and even if we’re not thinking about it, our bodies remember. Our cells soak in the memories.
My body is remembering.
My beautiful friend who died this time of year, who I can’t believe has been gone for thirteen years.
A terrible health scare with my daughter, which climaxed on the tenth anniversary of the same friend’s death.
Twenty Christmases spent with my brother, huddled beneath the tree, pinching presents to see if we could guess what’s in there. So many snapshots blurred together into a few smeared frames in my head.
I hit a low a few weeks ago. Two weeks of what felt like a simmering PMS rage downshifted into something more like depression. Something tearful and dim of hope. So I called my therapist and my doctor and a few friends.
I got my vitamin D levels checked and as it turns out, they were very low. Slowly I’m starting to feel better. But those feelings linger, threatening to nip at my heels if I’m not vigilant, if I don’t take good care of myself. If I don’t do yoga and run and get time to myself. If I don’t ask my parents to watch the kids so my husband and I can catch up, uninterrupted for what seems like the first time in months.
At the same time, I’m trying to be present. For my two beautiful kids who are so excited about presents and Santa and the bold lights glowing everywhere.
So I think—maybe it’s time for a reframe.
Maybe I don’t need to try and be happy or to try and meet all these sequined expectations.
Maybe this season isn’t so much about pretending we’re giddy and glowing, baking and buying. Maybe these are the darkest of days, and we can try and let a little light in where we can. Maybe that’s why we string lights and ignite candles and wrap packages beneath shimmering ribbons. Maybe it’s so we can let the glow slip off those strands of lights and into our heads and hearts.
Maybe we can make the season about warming ourselves and our loves because of the darkness, not in spite of it.
One of the lies depression tells us is this:
Nothing will ever change. Things will never be better than this.
But things change. They always change. Maybe we can hurry along those changes for the better if we stop fighting it.
Maybe it’s about—as the brave clerk at the store did—admitting that life is shitty sometimes. That we’re struggling right now. With the past. With our relationship. With our children or our jobs or our grief.
Maybe it’s about finding small solace, about knowing that things will change, that these dark days will shift, maybe as slowly as the daylight creeping back in, inch by inch. Maybe it’s about huddling with those you love who are still here while making space for those who aren’t.
Maybe it’s just about knowing that you’re not alone in these navy days.
Maybe it’s, like everything else, about being real.
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Author: Lynn Shattuck
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo:Todd Baker at Flickr
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