The holidays can be a difficult time for people struggling with invisible illness such as mental illness or chronic pain. During the holidays we are “supposed” to be happy. We “should” relax and have fun. We are “meant” to connect with friends and family. It’s happiest time of the year, right?
But what if you aren’t happy? What if you want to be happy and connected more than anything else, but you can’t be? What if depression is stealing the happy, the relaxing, the fun and the connection right out of your holidays?
People all around me have been cancelling plans due to the flu, a cold and other winter illnesses. This is acceptable and even expected in the winter time. It’s even considered polite and good manners to stay home and keep your germs to yourself. It’s understood that you aren’t feeling your best and that you have no energy when you have the flu. It’s okay to stay in bed and eat soup and sleep for hours. People are sympathetic and nobody expects you to just “cheer up.”
I can’t even tell people that I’m sick. I can’t cancel plans. I can’t stay in bed. I feel disapproving looks from people around me when I’m not smiling and when I sit quietly or lose my temper more easily that usual. I’m exhausted, and I won’t feel better after a few days in bed. Even if I could spend a few days there.
It’s Christmas time and I’m living with depression and anxiety.
Yes. I’m sick. I’m more severely depressed and anxious than I’ve been in a long time.
I want to call in sick to life. I’m not even suicidal, I don’t want to die. I just want to give up on “acting normal” and “keeping up appearances.” I can’t imagine going back to work next Monday, the thought makes me panicky almost to the point of tears. I have fantasies about developing some serious physical illness…nothing TOO serious, just enough to get me about a month off work with no questions ask, but not SO serious that I’d be in the hospital. I want someone to take care of everything and take all the stress away.
This is what happens when society doesn’t acknowledge mental illness in the same way it does physical illness. People who are depressed are lowered to the point of imagining horrible illness as a reason to be “justified” in taking sick leave, or even just taking the day off to rest.
Because when you are depressed you get treated like a misbehaving, whining child when you are not happy and not feeling connected. When you are depressed you feel like a shitty parent when you don’t want to play with your kids, or you can’t enjoy your time with them. When you are anxious and don’t want to leave the house you have to push yourself through it, even when you don’t enjoy a single minute of the activity you are doing.
When you are depressed, a “good night’s sleep” won’t fix it. When you are depressed, “just cheering” up won’t work.
When you are depressed, you can’t just “lighten up” or “just relax.”
Believe me. I WANT to relax. I WANT to lighten up. I want to laugh with my children. I WANT to have fun with you. I WANT to feel connected. I WANT to feel like more than an empty shell marching through the tasks of the day. I WANT to have energy. I’m fully aware that I’m not acting normally and I’m terribly self conscious about it. I feel guilty all the time about how depression impacts me and those around me.
I didn’t ask for this, any more than you asked for that cold, flu or stomach bug.
I didn’t ask for this, any more than anyone ever ASKS to be ill.
I don’t need to be fixed. I don’t need suggestions on how I can help myself. I don’t need to be told to look on the bright side. (by the way neither do people dealing with chronic physical illnesses!)
I need you to keep me company while I shuffle through this dark period. I need you to be there for me and to not judge me. I need you to remember that I’m sick and not malingering or misbehaving or ungrateful or lazy. I need you to remember that I’m trying my best and sometimes MORE than my best just to get through each day. I’m using every ounce of energy to hide the depression from you, from my kids, from everyone.
I’m in pain. I’m tired. I don’t feel hopeful. The world seems like a dark place and I can’t see the end of it because my thoughts aren’t clear. Just as a runny nose and cough are symptoms of a cold, depression makes me think that everyone hates me, that I’m worthless and that I don’t deserve basic things. Just as a flu causes a high fever and aches, anxiety causes me to imagine horrible things and obsessive irrational thoughts.
These are symptoms. It’s not a choice.
I’m depressed and anxious. I’m sick and that is not a choice.
I had the best holidays I could, while not feeling well or happy.