We'll have to muddle through somehow
It’s almost become a cliché, how many of us are in the dumps around the holidays. I’ve had my fair share of blue Christmases in years’ past. As a kid who struggled with depression, my holiday memories from the teenage years on are spotty. I’ve always loved the holidays to an obsessive degree. I decorate, sing carols, go into debt for my friends and family out of want to shower them with gifts. Always have. Yet the warm fuzzy feelings I nostalgically regard the season with seem forced each year. I’m guessing a part of that is the fact that Christmas is better when you’re a kid and regard the world with some mysticism. As an adult, you are jaded by real-life responsibilities and experience, unable to realistically live in a bubble throughout the so-called most wonderful time of the year.
This year, I don’t feel down necessarily, but I’m not where I want to be, and I think a part of that is my feeling of responsibility toward others. It’s hard for me to embrace the spirit of the season when the people closest to me are going through hard times—either in the form of the silent killer known as depression, or in the form of the less-silent killer known as cancer. Then there’s the world itself, torn apart by ugly rhetoric, usually spewed by the same people who claim to be God-fearing Christians espousing American values, when in fact they are the mirror image of everything they claim to hate. There’s the way Americans have loudly stated we don’t care about the suffering of others. There’s the perennial War on Christmas, people shouting at others on how to celebrate and why. And pretty much every time we turn on the television, there’s news of some new mass shooting.
There’s a lot of ugliness right now. And it just keeps coming.
The world is a depressing place at times, and when everyone is shouting around you, you feel small and helpless. I feel small and helpless in a number of ways now—whether it’s in the larger scale of trying to demonstrate empathy toward those people claim we should revile or fear, or, more personally, helping people I love as they wander through a forest I know well. At any given moment, we as people are placed in situations beyond our control. Sometimes, though, our lack of control is striking and obvious. This is one of those times.
People have a lot of metaphors for depression. I’ve taken to calling mine a forest. I’ve been lost in a forest of my own creation more times than I can count, though as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to find my way back out with more and more ease. On occasion, I’ll find myself in a corner I haven’t visited in a while, or even one I didn’t realize existed…but the forest can’t go on forever. And the thing about that forest is once you find the way out, it seems simple.
I’m not in a forest right now. Rather, I’m pacing the perimeters, occasionally wandering in but mostly staying on the border. I’m watching for what’s inside, and trying to pull others out.
And the waiting itself is its own special hell.
No matter how much you try, you can’t force anyone to get themselves out of their own forests. I want to, and I often find myself marching back in to make sure they’re with me. But my goal is to move forward, and that means staying on the path I know without getting distracted by every shady offshoot that comes my way. At some point, you have to accept that you are not responsible for someone else’s happiness, at least not to the degree where it threatens your own. Even if the person in question is someone you love—making yourself sick to make them better doesn’t do any good, especially if you can’t see that your efforts are having any sort of impact.
Depression is a disease, but it’s one unlike any other out there. It can be externally motivated, but there is always—always—an internal factor. You can’t ignore the internal factor and hope the external works out. That’s treating the symptom without paying any mind to the disease itself. Tending to symptoms might make the condition seem like it’s getting better, but without in depth exploration and, at times, painful rehabilitation, the disease will just return in one way or another.
But I can’t make others see that, or understand it. I can present my case, and I trust I’m understood, but there’s knowing and there’s Knowing.
That’s one person I love. I know she’s suffering right now and I want to help bring her out, but every time I venture back into the dark, it becomes harder to get back out. Because when you love someone who’s hurting, a part of you can’t help but assume that hurt too.
Then there’s my father. My father with whom I’ve had a complicated, at times painful relationship. This week we made peace. He said the things I needed to hear, and I replied with things he needed to hear. All it took for us to have the relationship I’ve wanted was the threat of him dying.
Neither of us knows if he’ll be here next year.
I keep trying to not think of that. Most of the time I can. When he pretends to be happy—or better, when he is—I can focus on other things. Things like getting him to his treatments, talking to his doctors, being levelheaded so I can relay information back to him. But when he’s morose, when he’s dying in his mind, that’s when I can’t handle it. Because there’s no cure for morbid thoughts—trust me, if there was, I’d have found it by now. I don’t know what to say then, and not knowing what to say or do—not being able to help…
Well, we’re back to where we started.
In the interim, my wonderful husband is doing everything he can to get me in the Christmas spirit. He’s playing Christmas songs every time we’re together, making sure our Christmas tree is lit when I get home, getting excited over all the things he’s shopped for, and taking me on tours of holiday lights around town. He’s even volunteered to watch the Christmas movies that hit me in the feels.
I saw some posts on Facebook earlier tonight about lacking the Christmas spirit. In one such post, the person I love who’s suffering through depression right now chimed in her agreement. And I felt a little sick. My mind goes to what can I do to make it better. How can I help. And I felt that along with the underlying fear I’m experiencing regarding my father’s health nudge me back toward the forest. But as much as it pains me to admit it, I can’t make others happy. I can’t force them to be better. Because depression isn’t a mood, it’s a sickness. Just like the cancer that’s eating away at my father. It’s easy to think a movie or an uplifting speech will help, it’s easy to think you can delve back into the woods and lead them out. All I can do is focus on the external contributing factors—of which there are several—and try to treat the symptoms so she can fight the disease, unencumbered.
With this comes the understanding, though, that I can’t assume the weight of others’ happiness. It’ll crush me, particularly when I fail.
So despite everything, I’m going to try. I’m going to look at the beautiful tree my husband and I decorated, enjoy what time I do have with my father, and apply my other focus on helping she who needs me in practical ways, but not at the expense of my own wellbeing.
And I’m going to write. Because the easiest way to get lost in my forest is to neglect the part of me that loves telling stories.