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 an unwillingness to be honest, I refused to go there. But the truth is, many people will spend this Christmas and the coming year in a battle with depression.

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. For those of you who struggle, know that you’re not alone.

Sing Anyway

A number of years ago, my family began a tradition of singing Christmas carols to friends during the holidays. A small endeavor 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, the “eggnog” made our charade appear joyful and triumphant, but in reality, it was an off-key comedy that included countless Christmas Vacation references and frequent bathroom breaks.

However, in 2007, we lost my Aunt Trish to Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That was a sad and difficult time for our family. As you can imagine, our efforts to continue the caroling 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. Now that we had families of our own, we wanted to make new memories. We refused to allow the sadness of the past to prevent us from singing.  Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

If you find yourself in a difficult season, refuse to let sadness steal your song.

Don’t Listen to the Crowd

In order to spark our caroling adventure, my brother and I dressed in our tackiest Christmas attire and loaded in my SUV. He wore elf underwear and a Santa hat while I put on a robe and loafers. One of our traditional stops had always been Krispy Kreme for hot, glazed doughnuts. Usually, our unruly choir was welcomed and, if the spirit was right, other patrons would even join our song.

That wasn’t the case this time around.

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 accused us of cutting in line. But we didn’t listen to the crowd.

Our grumpy friends at Krispy Kreme obviously refused anything jolly, but that was their problem, not ours. In years past, 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.

It’s really easy to let other’s sadness rob you of joy. And sometimes, the opinion of the crowd keeps you silent. But this year, don’t give them authority over your emotions.

Don’t Be The Innkeeper

Finally, I am reminded of an obscure character in the Christmas story: the innkeeper. The story doesn’t say much about this man, 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.

When our lives seem full we’re led to believe that there’s no room for anything else. And with depression, it feels like an emotional overflow. 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 until we begin to believe that it’s actually true. But curiously, if we’re willing to prepare room, joy and hope will always make their home.

So don’t be like the innkeeper this year. You never know what might show up.

Prepare Him Room

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. The seeds of depression had caused them to become indifferent.

If you’re feeling indifferent or depressed this Christmas, I want you to know that it’s ok. There’s no shame in honesty. But I also 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—to free them from the things that held them captive. And depression is a reality that holds so many captive. But wherever you are, you still have a choice.

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. The promise of Christmas is that God is with us and the hope that He will bring with Him joy and peace.

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!