The holidays are a downer for some

December 24, 2011
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I hate the holidays.

I literally cringe at the sound of Christmas carols and the frolicking of shoppers descending at the cash register increasing my wait in line. I can’t stand the flickering of Christmas lights and lawn decorations of snowmen and Santa Clauses.

I don’t buy Christmas trees.

I sometimes reply to people who wish me a Merry Christmas with a bah humbug!

I change my Facebook icon to a picture of The Grinch donning a sinister smile.

My whole attitude begins to shift in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving Day.

I start to withdraw from people and social situations. I tend to drink alcohol a little more to numb the mounting pain in the pit of my stomach.

And then I start to feel sad.

I sleep more.

I eat more.

I altogether withdraw wanting the season to quickly pass.

It is estimated that at least 5 percent of the population can relate to what I just described, and another 10 to 20 percent suffer from a milder version of the same symptoms.

It has been a rough journey of getting to the point of shamelessly talking about this. Most people tell me to “suck it up” or “stop throwing a pity party,” and even “stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

But according to the American Psychiatric Association DSM-IV criteria, these symptoms are a specifier to mood disorders like Bipolar I, Bipolar II or a Major Depressive Disorder.

The term Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was first described by Norman E. Rosenthal in 1984 at the National Institute of Mental Health. It is a form of depression that is linked to the decrease in sunlight and chemical levels of serotonin in the brain. It begins at the same time every year, starting late fall and leaving around April. People have may not have any other symptoms at any other time of the year.

I rarely hear folk in my neighborhood talk about depression or any mental illness unless they are referring to it in negative connotations. I rarely hear them discuss things like therapy; rather, they describe the semi-crisis state of living in the ghetto.

Consider the crackhead. Could it be that the stresses of life caused him or her to become addicted? Drugs became the main coping mechanism.

Consider the single mother that is the sole provider, protector, teacher and disciplinarian. Could she in fact be close to a nervous breakdown? She could be one paycheck away from homelessness.

There is no cure for depression, but there are steps to take to deal with the symptoms.

For me, I had to acknowledge that there was a problem. As I came to terms, I had to research and figure out what could be done to help my situation. I began to reconnect with my faith and collect spiritual support. I had to change my circle of friends. And finally, I had to admit to somebody that I have this issue.

SAD has become a lot easier to cope with, but I know I have to be careful and remain aware of the symptoms. Some of the best advice I have ever received came this summer from one of my teachers at Loyola University Chicago: “You have to know that you are going to have these issues. Don’t ignore them, just work through them. Know yourself.”

And I write this to let someone know that you aren’t crazy!

It isn’t easy going through it. You feel like no one really gets it. People tease you, and it causes you to further withdraw in shame. You may even cover the hurt with a bad attitude as a defense mechanism.

I know because I did it and still do it.

The best advice I could give you is that you have to believe that it will pass because it really does. Make the adjustments and don’t be afraid to seek out help.

You may still resent the holiday season and all of the rituals that come along with it, but at least you will able to recognize the symptoms leading up to your mood change.

Merry Christmas.

For more information about depression and SAD, contact the Austin Family Counseling Center, 4909 W. Division St., (773) 921-7805.

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