Christmas always felt like a welcome respite from the storms raging around me, even when I was clinically depressed and practicing self-harm. The worries and pain of life have always felt just a little bit easier to bear when the lights are twinkling and the tree is trimmed.
That is, until Christmas 2009. It was the first time in my life that the holiday season actually made everything worse.
My husband and I moved far away from our families for work not long after we got married. At first it was a fun and exciting adventure, but after a few months I was desperately homesick. Then it gradually became something more troubling: it was a discontentment, a dark cloud hanging over my head that would never leave. I felt lonely, useless, and that nothing I did mattered. I began to isolate myself from friends and social activities. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what was wrong- circumstantially, nothing was going that badly- but I couldn’t snap out of the depression.
When November turned to December, the holiday cheer that would normally have lifted my spirits was nowhere to be found. I came to realize how much comfort I derived from my family. Without them it didn’t seem like Christmas at all, and the wishing for what wasn’t to be only made everything worse. My husband tried to comfort me and I became frustrated with my seemingly stubborn resolve to stay sad. I simultaneously dreaded Christmas Day and wished it would hurry up and come, so it could sooner pass.
Eventually, of course, Christmas Day came. I woke up feeling sorry for myself, but couldn’t help but be won over before long. My husband and I made hot chocolate and exchanged a few presents, and I felt sincerely thankful that I have him as a companion. We Skyped with both of our families, and I gave thanks for the technology that allowed us to do it. We made cookies, listened to carols, and read books for hours, and I recognized how the simple things in life are some of the things I’m most grateful for.
From that day on, my perspective began to change. Suddenly I didn’t feel quite so lonely or sad anymore. I still struggled with depression for several more months, but that Christmas Day was definitely the turning point. Once I began to see the beautiful relationships and opportunities in my life for what they were, and recognize my freedom to determine for myself that they were enough, I slowly began to replace despair with gratitude.