Why Not Everyone Enjoys The Holidays: The Truth About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
As you prepare for this week's Thanksgiving festivities and the upcoming holidays, as you get ready to cook those delicious secret recipes passed down from generations ago or as you spend this precious time making memories with your kids, please try and remember that this is not a joyful time for everyone. Some people spend these days alone, away from their families or may have bad memories from childhood. Some have lost loved ones around this time. Assuming that everyone should take part in a joyful celebration of the season is simply insensitive.
Holiday/seasonal "blues" is a real thing. I know from experience. Ever since I was very young, I get this cloud of sadness come over me around these dates. It starts at the beginning of fall, before the time officially changes but just as the air begins to feel crisp and the golden evening light shifts. From that moment on, I pretty much just hold my breath until after my birthday in early January. I don't turn on the radio in my car to avoid Christmas music at all cost, I don't do mall or in-store shopping and I just pretty much hibernate. It's always been like this. I get especially emotional and vulnerable and I just wait for it to pass on its own. To add insult to injury, my grandfather passed away the day after Thanksgiving a few years ago. After a month-long, emotional roller coaster at the hospital that began on Halloween and ending in his unexpected and (in my opinion) premature/unnecessary death, he passed. The last day I spoke to him was on Thanksgiving day. Then this year in January, a week after her birthday, I lost my grandmother. So it kind of just sinks the whole season deeper into a dark hole for me.
A few years ago, I tried explaining this to a relative. I had been getting a lot of pressure and guilt trips to spend the holidays with them and to be a "good" and "normal" family member. After making the effort for a couple of years, I was confronted one day with the fact that I always have a "long face" at holiday gatherings. Umm... ya think? I DON'T WANT TO BE HERE! #eyeroll. After attempting to explain my feelings for the second time, they responded with "I understand about your grandfather, but what about the rest of us that are still alive?" 🙈 It was clear at that moment that they did not, in fact, understand at all. Nor would they ever. And my efforts to at least show up were completely in vain. I now make it a point to leave the country for Thanksgiving every year. Since this is an American holiday, I don't have to deal with the fuss.
The truth is most people don't know about holiday blues unless they are directly affected by it. But it is real. It's called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and it's a type of depression that begins and ends with season changes. It affects approximately 5% of the U.S. population and is it's mostly known to affect women. It is unclear what causes it but has been loosely linked to limited daylight. SAD symptoms may include:
Increased desire to be alone
Greater need for sleep
Most people love and enjoy the holidays and I don't mean to imply there is nothing wrong with that. I write this simply to potentially help someone understand that one "sad" relative going through a hard time. The one that seems to be dragging their feet at gatherings, has a "long face" and doesn't like to participate. Aside from all the fun, goodies, treats and presents that come with this season, it's also a time to be compassionate and respectful, even if it's an inconvenience. Remember that it's not anyone's obligation to come to the holidays, or to enjoy them, or to want to to decorate a tree.
How to treat a guest/relative suffering from SAD during the holidays:
If someone makes the effort to show up in spite of how they may be feeling, feel special. Don't be pushy. Don't give them a guilt trip about what they're not doing or how they're not participating. Try to be sensitive and appreciative of the fact that the hardest thing for them to do that day was probably getting out of bed. Don't call them out, don't ask them to say grace or a speech, don't put them on the spot or embarrass them. Don't draw attention to them or try to "cheer them up". Let them be. Read the signs they're sending and try to be compassionate. Enjoy your night around them as you would normally. Realize that they are enjoying the evening in their own way as best as possible and just co-exist. Be kind and try again at Easter.
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Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad