Christmas is over, we’ve waved goodbye to 2016 and 2017 is upon us.
How are you feeling?
I was walking the dog just before Christmas and I came across two houses, each with an inflatable Santa Clause by the front door.
The first stood tall and impressive; he was big and round and jolly in his red suit and enormous beard. He carried a bright green sack and waved joyfully at passers-by.
The second was a deflated pile of plastic by the front door.
It was such a contrast, I couldn’t help having a chuckle!
The end of the year is a busy time. We frantically try to get those projects completed, stock up on festive goodies, last-minute Christmas shopping and holiday planning. If you’re in Australia, it’s the end of the academic year as well, with children and teenagers pouring out of school and into the shops, cinemas, restaurants and onto the playgrounds and beaches. It’s a fun, energetic and exciting time of year.
But if you’re depressed, it can be miserable.
You may be finding it hard to get the energy to go to all the social occasions of the Silly Season and be longing for the invitations (and expectations of your presence) to stop. Or you may be wondering why you never seem to get invited to anything…
You may find it hard facing your family on Christmas Day because you have this illness which sucks all the fun out of life. It’s hard to keep that ‘happy face’ in place when you’d rather just sneak away somewhere and hide.
You may find it even harder facing your family if they have little understanding of your feelings and just want you to ‘snap out of it’ and ‘don’t bring the mood down’.
Are you a deflated Santa this Christmas?
I remember Christmasses when I felt really miserable and couldn’t see that changing…ever…
I always gave meaningless gifts I picked up last minute because I could never make decisions about what to buy for people. I wanted to give nice things, useful and pretty things, but ended up with cheap hand lotion or a box of chocolates. Nobody ever, ever said anything, but I was always ashamed. I had little money and absolutely no energy to make anything.
I used to weep on and off throughout the day and found myself hiding my tears in the bathroom behind face powder and eye drops.
I cried often when depressed and usually there was no reason (hey, when you’ve experienced low mood for years do you need a reason?) but on Christmas Day I’d think irrational thoughts like ‘What if all my family died and I had to have Christmas Day on my own?’ or ‘What if this is the last Christmas with Mum?’
Then I’d weep with shame at having such a lovely supportive family that I never saw. I never had the energy to catch up with them during the year. I became angry at myself for not keeping in contact.
I’d cry in church at the fact that Jesus was born in a stable. I’d cry because millions of other people around the world have no homes either. I’d cry because I didn’t think I deserved all the goodness that was in my life.
I’d cry for young me, when the emotional dysregulation hadn’t surfaced. The young me who looked forward with happy anticipation to the bulging stocking at the end of my bed, carols and the Christmas Story, the parcels under the tree, the silly jokes in the crackers, Mum’s wonderful roast turkey with all the trimmings, playing games with my brother and cousins.
What happened to all those happy feelings?
Yes, Christmas with low mood was a weepy, deflating time for me.
You see, it doesn’t matter about what you have…low mood isn’t about not having family, food or gifts around Christmas. I had all those things in abundance and yet I felt unworthy, guilty, ashamed and pathetic.
And then I’d feel unworthy, guilty, ashamed and pathetic about feeling unworthy, guilty, ashamed and pathetic!
The thing about emotional dysregulation is that it hijacks your sense of reason, logic and sound judgement.
These are functions of the prefrontal cortex, that ‘thinking’ part of the brain which is typically less active in depression.
Instead, our emotional circuits – thalamus, amygdala and hippocampus (among others) – work overtime to exaggerate our feelings and disable our ability to think clearly.
Hence my Christmas bouts of weepiness over situations which were entirely improbable and entirely of my own imagination. Hence my focus on the troubles of the world and my lack of ability to do anything about it.
If this was you during Christmas just gone, you’ll be feeling a bit deflated too.
A new year brings new opportunities. A new year can fill you with hope, that maybe next Christmas you’ll be able to stand above your depression and fill your sack with great gifts and greet your family joyfully.
For now, if you’re feeling frazzled and deflated, give yourself a break.
What gifts can you give yourself to make yourself feel a little better?
Here are some of my favourite instant mood-lifters:
- A cup of tea or coffee in the morning sunshine. Relax and notice what’s around you. Can you hear birds, cars, people talking? What does the air feel like? Is there a slight breeze? What can you smell? Just notice what’s around you and how your body reacts.
- A walk in dog park. Watching dogs happily run about – chasing balls, playing, rolling in the grass – never fails to make me smile.
- A bath or shower. Use some delicious-smelling soap or body lotion to pamper yourself.
- Put on some classical music (slow but not mournful) and do some stretches. Follow this with some upbeat music and dance about the living room for a while.
- Grab a favourite book and go to a nearby café. Greet the staff with a friendly smile and ‘Happy New Year!’ and order your favourite coffee. Even better, leave the book and take a friend!
Listen, your past is not your future. Yes, not very original but still very true. Last Christmas might have been a nightmare, next Christmas need not be.
This year, take baby steps to lift your mood.
Make 2017 your year for moving away from feeling deflated, hopeless and exhausted to resilient, optimistic and energetic.
If you’re not sure where to start, I can help.
Let’s do this thing. You deserve it. Life is precious.
Let’s make 2017 your depression-free year!