Depressed for the Holidays

The holidays can be a time of joy or a time of sorrow and depression. Believe me, I know. I’ve struggled through more than one holiday. But for me, Christmas is the holiday that can bring me the most joy or the most depression. And no matter how prepared I think I am, or how many strategies I use, being depressed for the holidays sucks. The common response is to count your blessings, but how do you do that when everything seems like it adds to your burdens?

Image of snowy tree on a gray day. Depressed for the holidays?

Acknowledge Your Feelings

For me, for a very long time, I was in denial because when you say you’re sad or you’re overwhelmed; we consider it whining or complaining. People say, ‘Count your blessings,’ and it’s like, ‘Yeah, I am, but I’m still sad…’

Karen Civil

It’s okay to be sad or overwhelmed or depressed at the holidays. If it’s your first holiday without a loved one, it’s particularly difficult.  

No matter the why of your depression or sadness or overwhelm, say it aloud. I’m sad. Say it when you’re alone at first. Other people often get uncomfortable when you tell them you’re sad. So until YOU are comfortable saying it aloud, say it in private. When you’re ready, say it to people you know and trust. It gets easier. And it helps to say it, to acknowledge it.

Do Something

All the well-meaning advice in the world can’t make it better. Only YOU can make it better. It’s not easy. It will not make this week’s holiday times joyful for you. But give yourself time and it will get better. Piece-by-piece you can pick yourself up. Each piece will get a little lighter. 

You may never feel the same holiday joy you once had again, but you CAN find a way back to joy. 

Years ago, I struggled to find a way through the holidays despite my grief over a bad family situation.  I could not face making Thanksgiving dinner. Finally, I told my ten-year-old-son we’d go out to eat on Thanksgiving. He could choose the place. (I assumed he’d want to go to a Thanksgiving buffet.) He wanted spaghetti. 

And you know what? We went to an Italian place and had spaghetti. It was okay. We had a nice dinner, and I didn’t feel like a terrible mom. And while I didn’t feel that special Thanksgiving feeling, it helped to be in a festive place doing something different. 

Count Your Blessings

Many people are uncomfortable with your feelings. They don’t want you to be depressed for the holidays as if that somehow ruins their holiday. Let them be uncomfortable. But also remember to count your blessings. 

There’s a woman I know who has cancer. They told her she’d be dead in months. You know what she does? Every morning she wakes up and puts a “take that, mortality” post on Twitter. 

You can adapt that. “Take that, depression. I’m still here. I’m still fighting.” What a blessing to do that. No, it doesn’t feel like a blessing to you right now, but it is. Say it until you can believe it. Say it until it brings you that fierce survivor joy to you.

Talk to Someone

Talk to a trusted friend (I’m fortunate enough to have several very good friends who listen well.) 

Call the suicide prevention lifeline. Don’t feel suicidal? It’s okay. Call them anyway. They will listen. If you want help, they can help you find it. 

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)
TTY: 1-800-799-4889

24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of more than 150 crisis centers.

If that’s not for you, find a clergyman or a doctor or a therapist to talk to. Heck, talk to your dog or cat—talk to whoever or whatever you can be honest with. Tell them, I hate this situation or this person for putting me into this situation. You can say I feel bad, I’m mad, I’m sad, I’m depressed. 


Pretend that your situation is temporary. Temporary isn’t just a twenty-four-hour period. Temporary may be longer than you want it to be. But it’s not forever. It’s not permanent. Pretend that you can get through the next 24 hours. That’s all you need to worry about right now. 

If that’s too much, bring it down to one hour. All you have to do is to survive the next hour. And then the next. At the end of that 24 hours, you’ve done something incredible. You’ve survived something you thought would kill you. You’ve bravely faced down and survived each of 24 hours. Good job. Keep up the good work. And it is work. But one day, you’ll discover you aren’t pretending anymore. 

Take a Deep Breath

Friends, I’m okay. I am depressed and sad and overwhelmed. But please don’t respond with sympathy or support for me. I know I have your support. 

I’m posting this for anyone else who is struggling with guilt and anger and sadness. Anyone who isn’t into the spirit this season. Those who have got things going on that are using up their energy, eating away at their joy, and feel like mountains they cannot climb right now. That pain, sorrow, or depression stretches on for months and months and feels as if it will never end. If that describes you, please stop a moment. Take a deep breath. I get it. I really do. 

The hardest thing in the world to do when you’re depressed, sad, or overwhelmed is to see any blessings to your situation. It sucks to be depressed for the holidays. I know. I’m right there with you. But I have been here before. I also know that I do have blessings. And I know you do too. Count your blessings. Even if you don’t feel them. Even if you can only think of one thing. Reach out for help. That’s a blessing. And one day you will know that you have blessings to count each and every day.

I Feel Defeated… But I’m Not

It’s been a rough year. A rough month. A rough past couple of days. I missed my writing goals this month. Missed my blogging deadline today. I feel defeated. 

I’m looking back at what I’ve accomplished (a lot!) and what I haven’t accomplished (more than a lot). And I’m feeling the press of time. The days aren’t long enough; the months are too short, and the years are flying past. The weight on my shoulders is crushing. Tears run down my face. I will not achieve my dreams. Fate is against me. Defeat looms.

image of word cloud with Failure disappointment and disillusionment in it. The words I think when I feel defeated

And yet…

I Don’t Want to Give Up

Yes, I have challenges in my life. But don’t we all? I’ve not accomplished all that I’ve intended to by this time. It’s disheartening. And if I focus on what I have not done, what I’ve yet to do—it’s overwhelming.

But I am a persistent optimist. When someone tells me you can’t do that, a little beast inside stirs. You can’t tell me what I can’t do, it screams. And yes, when I’m down, it screams that at me. 

So I wipe my tears away. I refocus. Yes. I have a lot I want to accomplish. Yes. My creative time is limited and hampered by the life challenges I face. But, damn it. I can do this. One step at a time. 

But rah-rah-rah won’t help me accomplish the next step. So I sit down and ask myself three questions. 

How Did I Get to This Point? 

Image from the head down of a female rock climber clinging to the rocks--how it feels when I feel defeated
Climbing the mountain sometime we forget how we got to the next peak.

This isn’t always easy to answer. This time, I can answer this one easily. Too little sleep. Not enough money to spend on the things I think I need to be successful. Not enough time. Too much focus on what I haven’t done yet. And the growing frustration that my time is not my own. Frustration that whatever I plan will suffer one disruption or another. Okay. So I can change my focus, but my frustration is born of a real situation. Like the mother of a newborn (this is a metaphor—no newborns in this house!), I have little control over how much sleep I get nor how I spend my time. Another’s needs trump my own. Repeatedly. Too many limitations. 

What Beliefs Support Defeat?

What beliefs do I hold that support my feeling defeated? Initially,I always answer this one: I don’t know. Aren’t all those things above truths? Yes, that’s the tricky part. There are truths there. But I’ve interpreted them in a way that creates at least one belief that supports defeat. I probably have more than one defeat supporting belief. So I dig a little deeper.

The first belief I have is that because of those limitations I will not be successful. Oh, and I believe that to be successful, I need more time than I have. And I believe that not having accomplished everything I had on my list makes me a failure. Yes, but what if I dig deeper?

I believe that somehow I deserve failure. That I’ve done something wrong somewhere and that if I were better somehow, I’d be successful.

Ouch. That’s what I needed to face. 

Intellectually, I know that these limitations exist regardless of whether I’ve always done the right things or the wrong things. Life isn’t fair. There aren’t perfect players who always win and despicable players who always lose. But when life wears me down, this idea that it’s my fault crops up over and over. And now it’s time to ask myself the next question.

What Can I Learn From This?

This is the point at which a mental health specialist would ask what positives are there in this situation? That’s not a helpful question. Sometimes there aren’t any positives about the situation. So, let’s look at what can I learn. 

Sleep is important. Everything suffers when I haven’t had enough sleep. So when an incident happens that disrupts my sleep, a change in the next day’s activities must follow. That change may not be a nap (I don’t have that skill) but a reduction in the day’s To Do List or a fifteen minute rest period may be in order. (The secondary lesson is that I must take care of me so I can take care of anyone or anything else.)

Success can happen without accomplishing ALL THE THINGS. And that’s okay. Success can happen even when things aren’t perfect. That may be hard to believe, but it’s true. 

Celebrations for the small successes are just as important, perhaps more important, than celebrations for the big ones. Those small successes build up to the larger ones and celebrating them helps me remember and honor what I have accomplished.

Perhaps the most important lesson to take from this is that sometimes I will feel like I’ve failed. AND THAT’S OKAY. I know how to pick myself up, dust off my knees, and start back to work. 

My theme song. Do these lyrics speak to you?

Where Do I Go From Here?

Right back where I was. I’ll continue my review of what I’ve accomplished over the past year and the past decade. And I’ll report on that before the month is over. Most importantly, I will continue reviewing the past so I can plan the future.

I know at least one of the next steps is to finish If I Should Die, the second book of the My Soul to Keep series.  I’m happy to report that while it’s not as far along as I had planned, the first draft has reached the end of the midpoint. I’m fairly happy with the first quarter and am taking a week’s break to look back at the second quarter with an eye to how those events play out in the third quarter. Writing will restart soon. 

Sometimes I feel defeated, but I’m not. I also know sometimes you feel defeated, too. And I hope that my sharing how I find my way back from that place of defeat will help you. Do you have a way to beat back the blues when you feel defeated? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

The Most Special Month

Welcome to December, the last month of the calendar year. As I thought about the posts for this month, my thoughts turned to December as the end of the year. But it’s not just an end. According to some, this is the most special month of the year.

The Most Special Month of Holidays

Image of a hand holding a Christmas tree of silver snowflakes and stars celebrating the Most Special Month

It’s a month of many holidays. See my posts from last year that gave you a little information about each holiday. 

I’ve established that Christmas is my favorite holiday in these posts. 

The Most Special Month of Birthdays

Image with pinned cards for each letter of the phrase Happy Birthday

December is THE birthday month. Why? 

For Christians (those who keep the spirit of Christianity), it’s the month we celebrate Christ’s birthday. That makes it an important birthday. 

The second reason it’s THE birthday month? It’s my son’s birthday. His birth was the very best give I ever got.

December also includes one of my best friends’ birthday. And it includes a beloved aunt’s birthday (though she passed away many years ago) . Plus, many of my internet friends have birthdays in December.

Finally, December is my birthday month. Yay!

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been. Madeleine L’Engle

It’s the End of the Year

Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.

Winston Churchill

It’s a time of year when we look back to see what we’ve accomplished and celebrated and lost. There are always some losses during a year. It’s the nature of things. 

There are always deaths and medical or emotional challenges during the year. These losses can cut to the quick.

There are always losses in things we didn’t do or accomplish or finish. Do you take those losses as signs of failures? I used to. But what if they aren’t failures? 

What if they were changes or new information? They may have been paths you tried and discovered didn’t work for you. Or they were an overly ambitious goal under the circumstances. Or they were something you thought you wanted and learned you really didn’t. Those aren’t failures. Those are steps on the path of life, on the path of learning.

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.

Oprah Winfrey

This year, try to see the losses as part of the balance of things, the circle of life (if you’ll excuse my use of that phrase). 

A Note for those who Find December Depressing

Don’t take this post as an admonishment if you suffer from depression. Depression is real. It can be more than “mental,” it can be a physical ailment. People who live with depression battle some of the most difficult demons in life and are some of the strongest people I know. 

I hope reading my post, Alone for the Holidays, will help. If depression is making your daily activities difficult, reach out for help. Visit the national mental health help site. If you don’t have a therapist or counselor, call SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-726-4727. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 or Live Online Chat.

The Most Special Month

Make your December the most special month. Celebrate your learning, your growth, your achievements, your “losses,” and YOUR favorite holiday. Won’t you help me celebrate by sharing your end of year or holiday reflections?

Don’t Underestimate the Pain

Sadly suicide is in the public discourse right now. The suicides of public personalities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have shocked many. Don’t underestimate the pain. They probably didn’t want to die. What they probably wanted was to escape the pain they felt inside. Sadder still is that they aren’t the only ones who thought about or committed suicide recently.

Nerver underestimate the pain, people are good at hiding how much they suffer. What to do or say to someone who's depressed.

If one has never suffered from depression or suicidal thoughts, it can be an incomprehensible foreign concept. It’s easy to underestimate the pain. Depression so great that your life is not worth living is worse than a dark cloud, it’s a thick, suffocating blanket of anguish with no end in sight.


The phrase ‘it’s lying to you’ is going around right now as a way to reassure someone who’s depressed. It’s too simple. Depression is insidious. It’s full of shaming, denigrating, harmful self-talk that is often cloaked in the truth. A chronic illness can be so painful you’d do anything to stop the pain. An addiction can be so overwhelming that it destroys the choices, the life he or she wanted to live. Don’t underestimate the pain that person feels inside. Telling a depressed person that depression lies to them, may devalue their pain. It may reinforce negative feelings. Their feelings that no one understands, that no one will ever understand and that there will never be any relief are real.

Depression, especially when there are thoughts of suicide, is an expression of severe pain. Don’t tell them that life isn’t that bad, you have no idea how deep their pain is. Don’t make their depression or thoughts of suicide about how you or anyone else will feel. Don’t try to guilt trip them. Don’t dismiss their pain with the ‘this is temporary’ line.


So what do you say to someone who is depressed or suicidal? First, don’t panic. Don’t call 911 unless the person has taken an overdose or is in imminent danger. Think. What would you tell someone who disclosed they have cancer? It’s okay to say you’re scared by the possibility of them dying. But set those feelings aside for the moment. Don’t ask them what they need. They may not know. Say “I am here for you and I’m not going away.” And mean it.

Listen to what he or she says. Listening is hard when someone is in pain. Don’t guess at or underestimate their pain. Let them tell you their story. Be realistic and supportive when you respond. “I don’t know when you’ll feel better.” “I don’t know how to help you but that doesn’t mean I’m going away.” If they ask for help, offer to dial the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number for them. Then stay with them while they talk.

By listening, by staying with the depressed or suicidal person, you are showing them that they are worthwhile. Every person matters. Listening makes a difference. Being present matters.

If you are depressed, don’t underestimate the pain. Don’t wait until you’re suicidal. Please pick up the phone. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-8255. Or tweet The Lifeline @800273TALK. Reach out to someone.

Suicide and depression are scary. Sharing painful feelings and thoughts is scary. Take it one step at a time. Don’t underestimate the pain. Reach out to your friends and family. Tell them they matter. Know that YOU matter.

Alone for the Holidays

It’s Thanksgiving Day. There are many, many things for which I am grateful beyond words, but this isn’t a post about gratitude. Instead, it’s about being alone for the holidays.

The holidays can be particularly stressful for those people who believe the holiday is about what should be done, for people who can not be with family, for people who have had recent personal challenges or tragedies, and for people who feel alone.

This holiday season people I know and love are struggling with a variety of issues. As I prepared to write this week’s post, I thought of them and of past holidays where I have had struggles to overcome.

I have spent holidays mourning and struggling. I have spent holidays alone. It took years before I felt comfortable doing what I needed at those times. I know I would have appreciated a few tips during that time, so I’m offering these few to you.

If you are among those who are struggling with personal challenges or losses, remember it’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling at this time. I think Karen Mcfarland says it best: sometimes Reality Bites.

If you are alone for the first time this holiday, it’s time to be kind to yourself. Sheila Weinstein reinvented her life after the death of her husband of 50 years. While her blog is about the holidays after the loss of a loved one, it applies to anyone who needs suggestions on how to be kind to yourself at this time of year. Here she shares ten tips on how to Make Your Holiday a Good One.

Perhaps, you simply do not celebrate Thanksgiving or you have chosen to be alone. August Mclaughlin gives us some hints on learning to enjoy time alone. While her post is about writing, it can apply to anyone who needs a little Sweet Solitude.

Holidays have a lot of emotional baggage attached to them. Family traditions, co-workers, television shows, even commercials pound us with expectations for the holiday. Remember, there are no rules about this or any other holiday. You don’t have to give the holiday the power to make you feel worse in any way. The holiday is what YOU make it. Take charge of the holidays. Make it what you need it to be.

Whatever is going on in your life, my wish for you this Thanksgiving and holiday season is a moment of peace, a moment of gratitude, and a bounty of blessings.