I’ve had this post percolating in my brain for weeks – really, since a little bit before Thanksgiving – but lost a week due to illness and have been playing catchup ever since. I’m counting my blessings that I got to write this before Christmas!
This time of year is not a happy one for many people. Many family members stress each other out, yet are expected to be together at least one day out of the season. Other people feel stress over the pressure to give the perfect gift – whether or not they’re inclined to find it. And the holidays can be downright miserable to those who are celebrating the first Christmas without a loved one.
For the last couple of years, I was one of those who felt more stress than joy about Christmas. Money was tight; family issues were a problem; the world seemed too negative. I was a lot like Charlie Brown trying to find the meaning of Christmas, but even reading the Gospel of Christ’s birth failed to move me. I just could not figure out what I was doing wrong.
This year I know my problem was that I was taking too much for granted. This year, and during the last few months especially, I’ve come face to face with what, exactly, life has to offer – for better or worse. I regained perspective, made peace for myself.
Still, I found myself not relishing spending the holidays with family members who have not had perspective for a very long time. I resented the idea of being thrown into social situations with people who feel no peace; in fact, I started feeling dragged down once more, and that scared me. Depression started to creep back into my outlook the way it hadn’t done for many years.
Although I was pretty sure it was situational, not biochemical, I had to consider how to overcome it. I thought about medication, even though I’d never needed it in the past. And I thought about how I’d overcome depression in the past: writing. Early on I wrote stories to stave off loneliness. In my first year of college, when the anonymity of being just another student got to be too much, I kept a journal of the little daily things that made me happy. Over time it became a habit, though I had to admit I hadn’t found much to be happy about recently.
I thought at least part of my problem was that I hadn’t been able to work much on my novel, and the extent to which I bring my personal life into my fiction. None of it is directly autobiographical, but I write about the things that affect me most. Especially since having my son, I’ve felt things much more acutely. In a lot of ways my son taught me how to feel instead of how to analyze feelings; I learned profound visceral reactions. I found my characters achieved a depth of emotion they hadn’t had before. And now I wondered whether medication might lift my mood to the extent I would lose touch with those emotions.
That question is probably not unlike the one other depressed, bipolar, and even schizophrenic creative people have asked themselves – and answered by going off their meds. Enough of us have become alcoholics or committed suicide that I knew I’d have to consult my doctor if writing and journaling didn’t work, but I at least wanted to try it my way first.
Happily, it’s been working. I started with faith as a cornerstone – meditating on that Gospel instead of just reading it – and working outward from there. What else makes me happy? The family members, my son most of all, who do not take life for granted. The perspective their joy gives me. Reaching out to friends, which has always been difficult for me, but has resulted in deeper friendships than I ever could have wished for. More material accomplishments: finishing my novel, earning more money than I ever have in my years of self-employment.
Sure I’ll have moments, even days, that will be ordeals more than memories to treasure – but having at last found peace, I can get to work on helping those I care about find it as well.
I hope to blog again before the new year, but in case I don’t get to it: I wish you all a blessed, joyous, and peaceful holiday, in whatever form you choose to find it.