It’s Christmas day and everywhere, people are smiling. Children are grinning from ear to ear as they tear open their long-awaited gifts, and parents look on with pride, feeling accomplished after a long year of working hard to provide for the family. Grandparents fall asleep on the sofa whilst the dog nibbles the leftover mince pie that has fallen onto the floor. Mum finally puts her feet up after feeding the entire family without stopping for a break.
To most people Christmas conjures up similar images of warm, familiar sights involving traditions that have gone on for years with family and friends who don’t often see each other. It’s a time to put work aside and focus on relationships, socialising and eating a little too much; all in aide of the festive season.
For anyone with depression, this scenario is unlikely to create a feeling of happiness. I know it’s not my favourite holiday, that’s for sure. If you have depression I want to tell you something.
You’re not a party-pooper.
You’re not The Grinch.
You don’t need to ‘grin and bear it’ for one day of the year because let’s be honest, it spans way longer that one day and you’re expected to be in the party mood for almost an entire month without showing a sign of unhappiness. This is unrealistic and it’s cruel to expect mental health sufferers to somehow put their illness ‘on hold’ for an extended period of time.
Can you just put your nut allergy, diabetes or heart murmur on hold for Christmas day?
Can you not have an epileptic fit or have a broken leg today?
That’s how it feels to be told to ‘cheer up’ when you have depression. We cannot simply choose not to suffer today because it’s inconvenient and makes others uncomfortable. It makes us feel guilty that we can’t, but we genuinely can’t. We want to pretend with every bone in our bodies that we’re ‘OK’ but we can’t.
This is to all the people who went back to bed after opening presents. To all the people who didn’t even want any presents because they feel unworthy. To all the people who would rather skip to December 26th and avoid the big day altogether. To all the people who are crying, screaming and hurting on the ‘happiest day of the year’… I understand.
To us, making it to the end of the day is the biggest achievement we can hope for. If we manage a smile, even a fake one, then today as been a success. If we go to bed without having shed a tear today then that is progress. But if today has been sad, lonely and scary then that’s OK too, because we experience that a lot and we’re learning to cope with it. Better days will come but they doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to live through today.