16 December 2007

Christmas depression: Look down and see the stars

It's that time of year again. Fresh in my mailbox this rainy grey morning:
. . . I fret over so many things, just one thing after another. I am scared of losing touch with my emotions, with my ability to feel the emotional effects of the experience of living. I fear the possibility that this is what's happening now. But surely these are only fears which are projected on the imagination only and which have no basis in the reality of how I actually feel. I know that these are typical symptoms of anxiety but I just want them to stop so that I can live without the mental blur of fear. I try and rouse myself into being the way I have been before, a person driven by passions with the utter conviction of abiding by them, like a machine equipped with a capacity for feeling. But it is hard to sustain the will to make this happen as a constant state . . .
"There's nothing like the festive season" says the BBC's Depression at Christmas site. There's do-gooders' advice here aplenty, including this delight:
Invite those who seem isolated to join in social events and keep inviting them even if they refuse, which they may well do - people with depression often don't feel like socialising, or feel their contribution won't be of value.
If there's one thing that's bound to take the stress out of the season for a depressed person (DP), it's that insistent invitation to come and have fun with a bunch of other people who are sure to keep asking how you're feeling while you're supposed to be having fun, so you have to pretend to have fun or feel guilty for not looking happy. There are probably many studies showing how drunken (or sober - which is worse?) parties with lots of relatives or work associates stopped a DP from doing that illegal deed of which we cannot speak. Speaking for myself, even when I'm not depressed, this type of invitation will cause me to be diagnosable. I'm sure that much better therapy for a DP, upon the third cheery insistence to come to some 'social event', would be to give the insister a nose like the famous reindeer.

Or, as the site says, take legal drugs. The BBC helpfully gives the link to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Psychiatrists!

There's other advice here, too, and while some of it can be very helpful, even the dubious linking of depressed people with each other, the main benefit of the site is the information that many people feel like crud stuck to the sole of a shoe now. It's natural, and pretty normal.

I wrote back to my friend with everything helpful that I could think of, and was just ending the letter when I thought to try to find an article that would be really helpful (by someone more professional than myself), and though the following is unsigned, it is better than I could ever have imagined, for in the punchline, it provided the best remedy of all.

From Carlsbad, New Mexico's Current Argus:

Christmas depression during the season to be jolly' can be difficult

"Tis the season to be jolly!" At least, that is what we are supposed to believe. For some people, however, Christmas is anything but merry. It is amazing how a time of such joy and blessing is so painfully difficult for so many people.

Spiritually, the time before Christmas is a time of preparation and anticipation. We are preparing for the glorious celebration of the birth and anticipating that triumphant day when Christ returns in full glory. Yet, it can also be a time of heightened stress, anxiety and pressure as we get ready for the secular side of Christmas.

One of the things we can do to make this a blessed Holiday Season is to be realistic with ourselves during this time of the year. When it really comes down to it, there is a lot of negative pressure associated with the season and dealing with it in a healthy manner can make the difference between Christmas joy and Christmas depression.

One of the big ones is expectations. At Christmas, we place a lot of incredibly burdensomeexpectations on ourselves and others. We want to purchase just the right gift. We want to attend and host so many social functions. We want to travel the miles to visit family. We want to be the perfect host when family comes to us. We want this Christmas to be perfect. We want to look right in that Christmas outfit. We want The list is endless. Yet the message remains the same. At Christmas we frequently want things that are not realistic. Failure to achieve those goals results in disgorgement, and potentially debilitating depression.

Wants and desires are also reflected in our purchasing patterns. We live in a culture that frequently equates love with giving. The mass-marketed message of the season is that the more you spend on a person the more that person is loved. Therefore, guilted into accepting this lie, people are prone to spend beyond their means so that special person will know they are loved. The anxiety and tension the resulting financial strain places on us is incredible.

We can also stress our bodies in terms of what we eat and drink. Diets tend to go out the window this time of the year (at least until New Year's and then guilt takes over and we resolve to but that's a different article). Increased consumption of food, candy, holiday treats and alcohol during the season can have disastrous affects on the immune system, body image, digestion and one's ability to handle stress.

Compounding all these issues is the fact that when one feels even the slightest bit stressed, depressed or discouraged this time of the year, there is a whole host of competing forces that scream out the message, "There is something wrong with you!" Unfortunately, it is not only the proverbial "straw that breaks the camel's back" but it is also a lie. It is normal to feel down at times and, considering the immense social, economic and emotional pressures the secular observances of Christmas entails such feelings may be normal.

There is no simple fix to these problems, but there are ways to help yourself and others. One of the best is to take a page from scripture to heart. Luke 10:38-42 compares two women — Mary and Martha.

Martha was stressed because she allowed herself to become distracted by too many little things. This Christmas, let us all be a bit more like Mary and focus our energy on Jesus. It is the first step toward avoiding the holiday blues!

I had to wipe my eyes after that. But apart from laughter, there is something else Dr Anna would prescribe. I call it:

Look down and see the stars

I have this game I play, from a day when I was in a really bad mood and happened to see while looking down and mumbling, an earth star. This one was lurid pink, and so unearthly in both looks and feel that it took me out of myself and into the wonders of what everything around us is, regardless of whether our species lives or dies, and certainly regardless of the state of this particular bag of cells writing to you now.

Since then, I've played this game at critical times, and it has never failed me. You don't have to look down. You can just reach out, and examine, and it doesn't have to be with your hands but any part of your body or senses. One day, it was another earth star that I happened to touch. Or you can look on a tree's trunk, and if you look closer,
there's always something that has a life that you can never know about, but you could spend the rest of your life studying, like Asher E. Treat did, with moth ear mites.

And it doesn't need to be a physical looking down or close, or touching something intimately. This rainy grey day is punctuated by birdsong. The light brings out natural colours better than any sunny day, and the very earth smells divine.

It's summer here now, a time of fruitfulness in the South – but for those in the North, the various smells and feels and looks of cold weather (including the clouds coming from mouths) are so romantic. So are the sounds of air when there are no songs or music. It doesn't need to be filled with something added any more than a life needs to be filled with social engagements to be happy in its own way. So it doesn't matter where you are. Whenever you bother to look down, you will see stars as soon as you stop looking at your own reflection.

Even if you look at a dirty window.

Another reason to be far from godliness.

So best wishes from me to you, you sorry sad-faced creeps. I felt the same as you a couple of hours ago, but it's a wonder what a little superiority will do!

No comments: