And as the Grinch watched, it became perfectly clear, that this was the single worst time of the year. -The Grinch
I read an article years ago that was entitled, ‘I Wish Baby Jesus Had Never Been Born.” It was a typical bait and switch, but with a different purpose: to discuss depression around the holidays. I didn’t save the article, though I wish I had; but I remember the author speaking about how some people don’t look forward to this time of year because of all the negative emotions that it evokes. Yes, it is a joyous time for many, but for some, it’s nothing by triggers, depression, failed expectations and low feelings. As someone with bipolar depression, I am well acquainted with all of this, and understand how easy it is to get lost in it, to view the present through the lens of the past, or through the lens of previous experiences and wish beyond wishing, hope beyond hoping that we could skip past Christmas.
Despite of the positive strides I’ve made in my mental health over the past two years, whenever I think of Christmas, it is the not-so-good memories I have that stand out and define the holiday for me. I have learned to not allow my emotions to control me, but the closer we got to Christmas this year, the more I felt myself sink back into the depression I was familiar with. The clincher came when we got ready to record the holiday show for Authors Up. I was asked what my favorite Christmas memory or tradition was and I had to defer to the next person, not wanting to discuss the memories that drag me down each year.
What was I supposed to do with these bad memories? I asked myself. I didn’t want to keep going through this, but I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. My memories were thirty years old, but in my mind, they were as recent as yesterday, keeping me stuck in the one time, and one place that I had outgrown and surpassed. I was a failure then as a child and I was a failure now as a woman and mother. Mind you, none of this was true, but when depression hits, you can’t see beyond what’s in front of you.
Then, on a whim, I asked my oldest daughter what her favorite memory was. She proceeded to remind me of the one Christmas memory she cherished the most–when we, as a family, shopped for another family who had nothing. I had forgotten about that. And as I listened to her talk, I realized this simple truth: Christmas isn’t about the bad memories we experienced, it’s about the good ones we create. I had invested so much time thinking about the negative stuff, that’s what Christmas became to me. What if, I wondered to myself, I filed the bad memories away and just focused on the good parts instead of the bad ones? Seems like a no-brainer, but when you’re conditioned to focus on the bad, something this simple doesn’t come so easy.
So, here I am, three days before Christmas and I find myself not despising the season so much. Okay, not so much at all. This really is a wondrous time of year, when we can love and give and reflect the nature of the one whose birthday we celebrate. I know it’s going to take work to refocus my attention, but maybe, as I give it more time, by this time next year, I’ll actually enjoy the holiday. That’s something to look forward to.
In the meantime, I wish you a Merry Christmas! And I hope you enjoy this magical season.