The Reality of Depression at Christmas

I’ve recently gained a deeper appreciation for the reality of depression. Whether it was my own naivety or just an unwillingness to get honest about its reality, I refused to go there. But the truth is, many people will spend this Christmas and the coming year in a battle with this ugly condition, fighting chemical imbalances in their brains that predispose them to feel a certain way.

And I would never suggest that I have any answers, but I wanted to unpack a few thoughts and share a story that may provide some perspective to remind those of you who struggle that you’re not alone.

Depression Threatened Our Favorite Christmas Tradition

A number of years ago, my family began a tradition of singing Christmas carols to friends during the holidays. A small endeavor soon blossomed into an all-out enterprise. Before we knew it, we were renting a fifteen-passenger van to hold the entire raucous crowd. I’ll be the first to admit that the “eggnog” made our charade appear joyful and triumphant. In reality, it was an off-key comedy that included countless Christmas Vacation references and frequent bathroom breaks.

But in 2007, when we lost my Aunt Trish to Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, our efforts to continue the tradition faded. Then, when Grandma Ham passed away after her own battle with cancer, our tradition became a memory. With good reason, the Hams stopped caroling.

As time wore on, my brother and I wanted to rekindle the tradition and we made a decision to not allow our sadness to keep us from singing. Sometimes, that’s all it takes: a refusal to let sadness steal your song.

So my brother and I dressed in our tackiest Christmas attire—he in his elf shorts and I in a robe and loafers—and with our families in tow, we set out on a caroling adventure. One of our traditional stops has always been Krispy Kreme for hot, glazed doughnuts. Usually, our choir is welcomed and, if the spirit is right, other patrons will even join in our song.

That wasn’t the case this year.

As we stood in line, I couldn’t help but notice the grinchy frowns on everyone’s faces. Here we were, dressed in humiliating outfits, trying to make the season merry and bright, yet we were met with indifference. One lady even threatened to accuse us of cutting in line. But we didn’t let that stop us. We sang anyway.

Too often, we allow other’s sadness to rob us of joy. Our grumpy friends at Krispy Kreme obviously refused anything holly or jolly, but that was their problem, not ours. Previously, I would have given them to the authority to dictate how I felt, but I’m learning more and more that I’m the only one who can be responsible for me.

Don’t Be The Innkeeper

As we approach Christmas, I am reminded of an obscure character in the story: the innkeeper. I’m not suggesting that he was depressed, but his actions refused a precious gift. On that first Christmas, a weary Joseph and Mary were nothing but a nuisance to the innkeeper—knocking on the door late at night, begging for a room. By refusing them, the innkeeper refused to welcome true joy, true peace, and true hope.

And I guess that reminds me not to be like the innkeeper this year.

When our lives are full of worry, stress, sadness, or fear, we’re led to believe that there’s no room for anything else and we become captive to those emotions. We shrug off any suggestions that we could ever be joyful and we fall into a perpetual cycle that leads to indifference. We say, there’s no more room, and we turn everything else away. Curiously, when we prepare room for joy and peace and hope, we are always willing to welcome more.

For too many years, our family was like the innkeeper. Our circumstances caused us to turn away new experiences because we were full of old memories. We chose to hang on to the past rather than embrace the present. And our unfriendly friends at Krispy Kreme were no different. Their minds and their hearts were full of so many negative things that they had no room for anything joyful. And their depression had led them to become indifferent.

If you’re feeling indifferent or depressed this Christmas, I want you to know that is ok. Honestly, there shouldn’t be an ounce of shame associated with it. But I want you to know that this is my prayer for you:

“O come, o come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel.”

Jesus Christ came to ransom His people, Israel—to free them from the things that held them captive. Depression is a reality that holds so many captive. But don’t be like the innkeeper. Instead, prepare Him room. And that looks like not being ashamed. That looks like seeking help. That looks like fighting the good fight with the hope that, in His beautiful time, He will respond.

And He will bring with Him joy and peace and hope.

Merry Christmas, friends. Prepare Him room.

MH

 

If there’s anything that I can do for any of you, please don’t hesitate to let me know by emailing me at matt@mattham.com

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  • Merry Christmas, Matt!

    • Jon, this is way overdue, but Happy New Year 🙂

      I hope 2016 holds much favor for you, brother!

  • Vicky Lightner Cox

    I love this reminder Matt! Our whole family has experienced quite a few devastating losses all around the Christmas holidays. For a long time, Christmas was just a depressing season exacerbated by children battling attachment disorder, anxiety, and PTSD. We’ve been working our way back, realizing Who gives us joy has never been taken from us.

    • Amen, Vicky. I hope your 2016 is off to a fantastic start!