This year, I entered the holiday season in a funk. At work and at home, I felt pulled in too many directions. I received some health news that weighed on me. I'd given a lot of personal time and energy into an election season where most of my candidates got whooped. Everything taking place on the news -- from Ferguson to the hostage situation in Australia -- made me feel helpless. The thought of the holidays seemed overwhelming, and if I'm being completely honest, I really just wanted it to come and go without having to participate at all.
I didn't want to admit this to anyone, even to myself. For starters, I didn't consider my situation to be a case of full-blown depression, but rather, the Holiday Blues, or my own little personal version of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It wasn't like I was confined to the bed or anything. Then again, getting out of bed was becoming quite a chore, but it just didn't seem like actual depression.
I say "actual depression" because I experienced actual depression after the birth of my daughter 11 years ago. Man, that was a hard time. Thanks to family support and an excellent, practical doctor who diagnosed me early on, I received the help I needed, and thankfully, a combination of therapy, exercise, medication, and rest helped me survive the hardest year of my life.
But this year, I didn't have a baby. Without an excuse, how could I admit to myself that I was struggling with depression once again? So I gave it a name: the Holiday Blues.
If you've not had the blues, it's hard to describe. Remember the cartoon Wonder Twins? The twins who could morph themselves into all kinds of weird shapes to solve problems? My Holiday Blues takes the shape of a thick, gluey cloud that follows me from room to room. For such a sloth, he sure can be relentless. Sometimes, I can shove him in a closet with the unfolded laundry and he will stay there for a nap, but as soon as I think he's gone for good, he pops up again, humming the blues on my shoulder as I load the dishwasher.
In an effort to fight the cloud, I vowed to try taking some simple steps to feel better. I avoided sugar. I started walking to work again (I'd slacked on that for several months). Exercise definitely helped. I downloaded an app called Omvana that offers up quick, guided meditations. It's a very basic app, easy to play at bedtime and when you first wake up. I highly recommend it. Within just two days, I was already feeling better and more positive. Yet, the cloud didn't go away altogether.
Last weekend, we took one of our holiday road trips to my home town to visit my parents. While packing, I laughed at myself for thinking about how I was going to get in the car and leave the cloud at home to watch the pets. But he's a persistent one, and he managed to sneak in the back seat.
Here's what the cloud doesn't realize. I'm persistent, too.
I devised a plan of attack. When we arrived at my parent's house I challenged myself to slow down and focus on the things that matter most. I hugged my mom so tight that she nearly popped. I felt her soft, silver hair. I soaked up her wisdom and her open view of the world. I sat with my 83-year-old stepfather as he told me about the things he saw on his morning walk. I savored the smell of bacon cooking in the kitchen, and crawled in bed with my daughter to hold her warm hand as she slept, studying her face. I captured her freckles in a mental photo, knowing that in an instant, her face will change again. Overwhelmed with love and gratitude, the cloud was nowhere to be found.
We ventured out to do some last-minute shopping. If you're struggling with the holiday blues, let me suggest that you avoid malls altogether. To me, there is nothing more depressing than watching people climb all over each other for a deal, all in the name of Christmas. I tried to savor the moment, but about halfway through the trip, the cloud had found its way onto my shoulders for a ride through the packed stores. Carrying him made me cranky.
Back at my parent's house, I told the cloud to wait outside. I went back to focusing on positive things. I stood on the balcony drinking coffee and watched my husband cheerfully helping my stepfather work on his car, and was thankful for his natural inclination to help others. I watched my sister and mother cooking in the kitchen, laughing at silly family jokes. We went on a walk, and when my sister and I decided to run a lap around my old middle school, I thought about how middle school felt like yesterday, but my lungs felt very 42. We kept running even though it hurt. I felt the power of the endorphins I know that I need to handle what life throws in my direction. I felt the love my sister and I have for each other even when we fight like family. I knew that once again, family and friends would make everything okay.
When I looked behind me, the cloud was gone.