This is the time of the year that people become nicer, kinder. Everyone begins to think of others, and how they can help them. They look forward to seeing family they may not have seen since last year, looking up long lost friends. It’s the time of year that we all want peace and joy.
For me, and many others, this is a time of year that we want to hide and shut out the world. It’s the time of year that, for some, can trigger depression, worsen its symptoms, or drive you to thoughts of suicide. For some, it’s hard to find the joy the season offers.
This is the time of year I begin to think of lost loved ones, friends, promises to catch-up that were never fulfilled. This is the time of year I recall my grandmother (z”l), or many others whose loss still haunts me today. There are times that real battle rages within me. “Do I go on? Can I go on? Why should I go on?” These are very real questions for me and others.
Growing up we didn’t so much look forward to Christmas. Sure, we would receive gifts from family and friends, and it was fun opening those presents. We also loved to discover what Santa had left for us. In the back of our mind, was the reality of our family, and our father’s mental health issues. We knew that we wouldn’t have many of those presents for long.
Dad had anger issues. He would lash out at us for the slightest thing. He also needed to buy his way into peoples lives and good graces. In the end, almost every gift received would be destroyed in a fit of rage or given away. That weighs on a kid. It’s something that can and will scare you for life.
Growing up, Christmas would just become another day. As a defense mechanism, I saw it as just another day. Not special at all.
As an adult, I’ve found that I have avoided Christmas parties at work. If a friend invited me to a party, I would find an excuse not to go. It was hard. Come to the start of Thanksgiving, as others are becoming jolly, happy, and filled with holiday cheer, my mind would harken back to my childhood. It made the holidays hard and depressing.
Then, a few years ago, things became worse.
I had a daughter, Kristin (z”l). One of her favorite things was finding new ways that one could cook Thanksgiving dinner. Then, just after dinner, she would begin formulating her battle plans for Christmas.
Another of her favorite things was watching the Christmas lights blink on and off. She would love to catch a glimpse of a Christmas tree in the front windows of homes, taking in all the decorations, as we drove through Eastridge.
For her, I would put on a brave face, smile and pretend everything was well. I wanted her to have a normal childhood. I wanted each Christmas experience to be more amazing than the last. For her, Christmas became her favorite holiday.
Then, without warning, I lost my daughter. A parent should never outlive their children. It goes against the order of things. Suddenly, the holiday season was darker. It became a place I didn’t want to be anymore.
This is the time of year that if I’m not careful, I will shut out the world around me. My mind thinks of my daughter. I can see her smile, hear her laugh. I also hear my father as well. His anger, his rage. This is the time of year that all the sadness comes rushing back into my life.
It was also the holiday season, a few years back, that I attempted to end my life. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. What made it worse was how others would just tell me to get over it.
Thousands upon thousands of people cannot handle the holiday season. However, this is not the season that we see a spike in suicides. More people commit suicide in the Spring. This is the time of year that most people become depressed.
Depression can be caused by, or the symptoms can worsen, for any number of things. In my case, it is memories of my childhood and the loss of my daughter. For others, it may be the fact that they are spending the holidays alone, either for the first time or the tenth year in a row. (Elderly people in nursing homes have it the worst. I once befriended a man who had spent fifteen years alone. His family never came to visit him).
Others began to feel down and depressed because they may not be able to adequately provide for their families. Parents may not be able to afford even one gift for their children, much less a special holiday meal.
Military spouses may become depressed, or have their depression worsen if they are separated from their partner for the first time, or again.
For others, their depression may be caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD mainly starts in the fall and continues through the winter months.
Depression is very real and can be hard to deal with if you are going through it. In my case, when things go from slightly depressed to very dark, telling me that it’s going to be okay, or that in the end, it doesn’t matter, doesn’t help. Being told to fake it till you make it doesn’t work either. Saying things such as this just show as lack of understanding.
So how do you know if a loved one or a friend is depressed? My doctor provided me the following list of what someone who is depressed might experience:
Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest, loss of pleasure in activities, mood swings, or sadness.
Sleep: early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep.
Whole body: excessive hunger, fatigue, loss of appetite, or restlessness.
Behavioral: agitation, excessive crying, irritability, or social isolation.
Cognitive: lack of concentration, slowness in any activity, or thoughts of suicide.
Weight: weight gain or weight loss.
Also common: poor appetite or repeatedly going over thoughts.
Let’s go back to when I attempted to end my life. I began to exhibit many of the listed symptoms to a greater degree. Not a single friend took an interest in how I was feeling, or what I was dealing with. No one attempted to intervene or see that I was under some treatment. In my case, it was a stranger.
My favorite place anywhere in the world is a bookstore. I spend a lot of time browsing the shelves looking for my next read. That holiday season, when I took all those pills, the last place I wanted to see was a bookstore.
As I was leaving the store and heading to my car one of the girls that worked there came up to me. She had seen me in the store rather frequently and had no problem coming up to me and asking if I was alright. I remember she told me that I look like I was knocking on death’s door. That’s when I lost it, and that’s when I told her what I had done.
The holidays, for some of us, are hard. They can be the start of someone’s depression or the trigger that worsens it. But you, and I mean you, the person reading this article, can be the one to save a life.
If you see a family member or friend suddenly change, talk to them. If they begin to exhibit the symptoms on the above list, talk to them. If they begin to give things away, as I did so many years ago, TALK TO THEM.
There are resources out there. There is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org) that they can call. The number is 1-800-273-8255. You can call, as well, if you see someone who needs help.
You can even text. There is the Crisis Text Line (https://www.crisistextline.org). All you need to do is text HOME to 741741 and someone will text you back.
It’s hard for me to write this, much less share it with anyone. Most people who have some level of depression are ashamed to admit it or talk about it. Despite my embarrassment I’m doing this because I don’t want to see someone suffer or lose their life when all it takes is for a friend, family member, minister, priest, or rabbi to show genuine interest and get involved.
I’ll leave you with this; it is my favorite part of the Talmud: And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Yerushalmi Talmud 4:9, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.