By: Raul J. Rodriguez M.D., DABPN, DABAM, MRO Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
As joyful a time the holidays can be for so many people, they can be equally as depressing for many others. This is something you have probably heard many times over the years. Most people underestimate just how bad this could possibly get unless they experience it themselves. Things go from bad to worse if alcohol or drugs get involved, as an ill-fated attempt to numb emotions. The first step in dealing with this situation is to first understand the reasons why it happens.
Any season or period of time that offers the prospect of greater happiness for a large group of people also has the potential to accentuate sadness if you are not part of that group. By “that group” I am referring to people who like the holidays. If you are not part of that group, you are by default a part of the “other group,” which is the one that dislikes the holiday season. A persistent state of sadness is accentuated when most of the people around you are happier than usual. Some of this is from merely wishing you could be like them. Some of this is from perceived or actual social pressure to be as happy as everyone else. Happiness is not something that can be just “turned on” for most people, especially if there are emotional burdens that are being carried. The “it’s Christmas, what’s wrong with you?”questions can actually be rather invalidating and deepen the negative emotion.
A universal source of negative emotion is grief and loss. Loss is a natural part of the cycle of life. Knowing this does not automatically make anyone feel a whole lot better, but it does start to give some perspective. The longer we are alive, the more loss of loved ones we shall unfortunately experience. The sheer magic of Christmas morning is as much due to the belief in Santa Claus as it is due to having most or all of the cherished loved ones from your childhood still alive. What would you be willing to give now to be able to open a Christmas gift with your grandfather just one more time? The immeasurable worth of those moments is something a child is incapable of realizing at the time, naturally assuming it was just normal and would happen forever. As we grow up we start to experience the loss of loved ones, which again is an unavoidable reality of life. We experience grief at the time when a loved one dies. We also experience a lesser but still present resurgence of grief during a period of time or situation that we would normally associate with the lost loved one. This may happen consciously or subconsciously. There can also be layers of resurgent grief as the number of lost loved ones grows as we get older. We may be consciously aware of only some of them, but we actually feel all of them. If we were on the brink of depression or emotionally exhausted from the grind of adult life, this could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. So how do we fix the camel?
Living with Major Depression, or even a lower grade borderline depressive syndrome, is a common predisposing factor to a negative emotional experience over the holiday season. The real issue here is not the season, but rather the depression. Depression is a very treatable condition and should be assertively addressed when present. Depression not onl y erodes quality of life but can also rob us of precious moments that we could have otherwise enjoyed with our family. Major Depression is a disease state that actually greatly worsens our physical health as well, with significantly increased risk of cardiovascular problems, among others. Whether our negative emotion is from grief and loss, or from outright Major Depression, professional help can make a big difference. Therapy cannot bring our loved ones back, but it can help us more effectively process our grief. It is possible to miss the deceased and yet not fall into a depressive state when Christmas causes you to long for them. Medical treatment may also be indicated when treating a state of clinical depression. With proper treatment, a depressive state can be fully lifted and quality of life can greatly improve. With depression gone, we can finally be free again to enjoy time with our loved ones.
To be continued in part 2 in January
Dr. Rodriguez is the founder, CEO and Medical Director of the Delray Center For Healing, which specializes in comprehensive outpatient treatment of Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorders, & Substance Abuse. The Delray Center proudly offers the Trauma Bloc program for individuals who suffer from PTSD.