For many people, “happy holidays” aren’t happy at all, thanks to depression. I know because like some of you, I’ve lived it. Here is Part I of my depression and unhappy holidays story, and how I survived.
For those of you who suffer from severe depression, there may be times when you are less depressed than usual, and you’re dealing with it. Life isn’t all wine and roses, but it’s more or less okay.
But it seems like just about the time you get to the point where you’re on a fairly even keel – along come the holidays.
When You’re Dreading the Holidays
Those dreaded holidays. You know the ones – where everyone looks forward with great anticipation to getting home for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, sitting around and stuffing their faces with turkey and pumpkin pie, and at Thanksgiving dinner, maybe even each taking a turn espousing what they’re grateful for.
Just when you’ve finally gotten past Thanksgiving and breathed a huge sigh of relief, along come the Christmas and Hanukkah festivities. Greeting of merry Christmas, ho, ho, ho, happy Hanukkah, happy holidays, blah blah blah, are everywhere. The hustle. The bustle. The happy faces wherever you look.
The Hallmark and Lifetime movies, where the main characters always find love, families are reunited, strangers become fast friends, and everything always works out perfectly in the end, with everyone having the best holiday ever. Some of these movies even have ordinary American women marrying hot, young foreign kings!
Ah, but let us not forget the merry commercials on every channel. You know the ones – where, just like in the movies, virtually everyone is young, slim, strong, with an off-the-scale happiness level. Because, you know, more stuff is the cure for pretty much everything. That or drugs.
But of course. They got that snazzy new spin bike, Bowflex, elliptical machine or whatever, so it’s no surprise they’re skinny as beanpoles and have far more energy to burn than fat, because they were already underweight (and probably hyped-up on speed) before receiving these wonder machines.
Even the older folks are in great shape, healthy, and with energy to spare. No arthritis or back pain here, no sir! All courtesy of a plethora of drugs designed to shut down the pain receptors in their perfectly sharp brains, which these drugs will eventually turn to mush, but never mind that.
Even the seniors in these commercials who are unfortunate enough to have Alzheimer’s or dementia are blissfully happy with their wonder drugs and 24/7, $5000 per week in-home care. They haven’t a worry in the world, because they’re obviously extremely rich. And can’t remember anything. And are drugged.
But the ads that really confuse me as to whether I should laugh or cry, are the ones showing deliriously happy cancer patients and people with severe depression! Sure, the depressed folks always start out looking sad, but a quick visit to their devoted, benevolent doctor who thoughtfully provides a prescription for the latest, greatest drug to make it all go away does the trick.
In the meantime, as the happy music plays and young and old people who are seriously ill jump up and do happy dances, hike, ride bikes, shoot hoops and what have you, a voice-over ominously proclaims a long list of potentially deadly side effects related to the drug: “May cause hemorrhaging, brain aneurysm, stroke, cardiac arrest, liver tissue death, a life-threatening allergic reaction, panic disorder, paranoia, thoughts of suicide, aggression, or sudden death.”
And that was just the short list.
Oh yeah, gimme some of that good stuff! Not.
Do the drug companies and ad agencies really think we’ll miss the irony here?
Sometimes the drugs help, but so often they only make it worse, if they do anything at all.
And the lively, deliriously happy cancer patients – seriously? They’re taking their drugs and getting their chemo and enough radiation to power New York city. And by golly it’s working — they feel so good, that like the folks who are dangerously depressed and ill in the other commercials, they’re off on bike rides through the park, or playing football or hoops with friends or family.
And you sit there watching as the skies turn grey, and perhaps the snow falls, and wonder why everything and everyone but you is so damned merry. You feel disgusted, and maybe just a tad envious, even though you know none of what you’re seeing comes close to real life. You may even feel a little touch of guilt for feeling like you do.
Then you take another nap. Because you can’t. seem. to get. enough sleep.
Am I hitting close to the mark? And how do I know all this?
Because I’ve been there.
And no, I’ve never been a Scrooge or a Grinch when it comes to Christmas or even the birthdays that herald my ever-increasing age. I’ve always loved the holidays.
Except when I was depressed.
Depression Hits Like a Wrecking Ball
I was first diagnosed with depression in my twenties. Why did I end up with depression? I don’t know. I was a young, married mom of two awesome kids and life was good. At least, I thought it was good…pretty much one big party.
Although… we were in two auto accidents two years in a row – the first we were hit head-on (at a low rate of speed, thank God) and the small car we were in was rear-ended in the second. Both times, I sustained back and neck injuries. It took almost a year to heal from the first one, and then it happened again, injuring me worse the second time. I’ve been told that any type of trauma, even physical, can cause depression. But, who knows?
I began to get tired. And more tired. More than the normal fatigue of motherhood and running a household, this was a can’t-keep-my-eyes-open-another-second kind of tired. Always a girl with an excellent memory, I grew forgetful. It wasn’t long before the sleepiness and forgetfulness began to include a deep sadness, with apathy and that dreadful feeling of hopelessness snapping at its heels.
That year as my family’s annual huge and much-anticipated Thanksgiving dinner approached, I looked forward to it – but only because I was hoping it would dispel the gloom. And it pretty much did, until the next day.
And Christmas? Bah, humbug. Sure, I enjoyed the Christmas Eve celebrations at my parent’s house (it was my Dad’s birthday as well), and then at home, watching my little ones open their presents on Christmas morning. But it just wasn’t the same. Something was missing. Something was very wrong.
Eventually, thanks to a random conversation with someone about depression, I realized I was one of those depressed people. The person I was talking to referred me to a psychologist and urged me to call.
It was perhaps, the toughest call I’d ever made.
But I booked an appointment, saw the doctor, and was diagnosed with clinical depression. Big shocker there. I was given Prozac, which at that time was the greatest thing on the prescription drug scene.
And it worked. For several days after starting it, nothing happened, and then all of a sudden, my energy returned. The apathy and hopelessness dispersed like the fog in my mind it had become, and life was good again.
And I lived happily ever after, right?
Nada. About a year later, my husband and I separated, eventually divorced, and I remarried. My new husband convinced me that now that he had swept into my life, I no longer needed Prozac, as if he was some kind of knight-in-shining-armor savior (actually he was an abusive drunk, but that’s a whole ‘nother story).
Regardless of his misguided notions and my gullibility, I did slowly and carefully wean myself off Prozac, and despite a hellish marriage until I booted him out two years later, the depression didn’t return.
Not for five more years, at any rate, when return it did, walloping me upside the head in the middle of my workday, where I proceeded to have a mini breakdown in my boss’s office. She was very understanding, as her ex-husband, whom she was still on very good terms with, suffered from depression. She called a psychologist for me, getting me an emergency appointment, and off I went.
Once again I was given Prozac, since it had worked so well before.
Only this time it didn’t. My doctor had me double, then triple the dosage. It helped somewhat, but then I had side effects. I was given Celexa instead. It helped, but then I began to get symptoms of IBS. The Celexa was blamed for this (antidepressants have since been found to cause IBS; plus there was other stuff related to the Lyme disease I didn’t know I had), and once again, I eventually weaned myself off anti-depressants.
That was 17 years ago, and I haven’t taken anti-depressants since.
Lest you think I lived happily ever after this time, with no more depression ever, allow me to correct that notion. Since then, I have had several depressive episodes, but those times when it happened, I understood why.
When a new doctor put me on a 1300 calorie per day diet, my body freaked out and I was thrown into a depression so horrible, I couldn’t even bring myself to eat 500 calories per day, let alone 1300. The weight gain was caused by hypothyroidism, severe inflammation and a host of other nasties, all related to (again) the Lyme disease I didn’t know I had. Plus an MTHFR genetic mutation I was ignorant of.
I already worked out on a regular basis, and while it was a healthy habit, it did nothing to dispel the weight – but neither did drastically cutting calories, either. I was never hungry on the diet, even before the depression hit, as I was eating very healthy food. But the thing that was missing was healthy fats. As soon as I raised my fat intake, the depression went away.
A year or two later the depression returned, only this time it was seasonal affective disorder – SAD. I nipped that in the bud with light therapy, and a couple of years ago I eliminated SAD completely, with no light therapy. And no drugs, either! I’ll tell you how in the next post, but if you can’t wait, you can read the two-part series I wrote on SAD, and how I got rid of it once and for all.
The most recent bout with depression I’ve had was six years ago when, to be blunt, life really sucked. It was a hellish time, and I wrote about that as well, in this post. Eventually, things began to get better, and I joined the local YMCA and started swimming regularly, which was a huge help.
Since then, I haven’t had any major depressive episodes…really nothing more than an attack of the normal old blues now and then, which everyone gets on occasion and is usually nothing to worry about. It only lasts for a few days at the most, because now I know what to do about it, so it doesn’t balloon into depression with a capital “D”.
Stay tuned, and we’ll get into that next week!