Does a white Christmas make you blue? Many people, for a variety of reasons, battle depression By David Lias
Plain Talk For weeks now – actually for months – we've been bombarded by constant reminders that one of the most celebrated days in the Christian faith would eventually arrive. Did you find Dec. 25 to be less than a joyful occasion, however? Was it a time that, instead of bring happiness, reminded you of loved ones who have passed away and are no longer seated at the Christmas dinner table? Is the very meaning of the holiday seem to grow less and less significant in a society that seems to celebrate its commercial rather than its spiritual aspects? Does that have you feeling a bit depressed right now? Guess what. It's perfectly normal, in a time when we're reminded time and time again, to feel a bit down. "We've done a worship service called 'The Blue Christmas.' This time of year, people try to paint the light of Christ, but when you are going through dark times, I guess the darkness shines a little harder," said the Rev. Brook McBride of the First United Methodist Church in Vermillion. McBride said the Christmas holiday can be especially difficult for shut-ins and for people who experiencing family difficulties. He said it's perfectly proper to feel depressed this time of year, especially if the circumstances of one's life have been less than ideal. "You don't have to pretend that everything is fine if you're not feeling good," McBride said. "It's not an abnormal feeling. It would be not natural to feel okay under circumstances like that." He also offers another bit of advice that he said is important to keep from being overwhelmed by the Christmas blues. "Try to do the normal things that you always do," McBride said. "Go to church if you're used to going to church. Keep some of the normal patterns if you can, even if you don't necessarily feel like it. I also encourage people to try to find something new to do. People don't necessarily have to float in the misery of it all. If they are trying to cope with sadness, one way to battle that is to try something different." Nancy Schimelpfening, a a well-published writer who has authored hundreds of articles on depression for About.com, and who is president of Depression Haven, a non-profit organization which provides free chat rooms and a forum for those suffering from depression and mental illness, believes unrealistic expectations are a likely cause of the holiday blues. She offers these tips to keep your holiday expectations reasonable: • Share with someone less fortunate, for example, by volunteering at a homeless shelter for a day. If you have kids, this is a great way to show them the true meaning of Christmas. • Remember, your family is a real family, not a TV family. There will be arguments and rivalries among siblings. If Mom has always criticized you, she still will. These things don't have to ruin your holiday. You may not be in control of other people's actions, but you can certainly control your reaction to them. Take this year as an opportunity to learn forgiveness and acceptance. If all else fails, take a time out with a spouse or other sympathetic listener and vent your frustrations. • Remember that things will occasionally go wrong. Your kids will get dirty and make noise. You will forget to buy batteries, thaw the turkey, or take the cookies out of the oven. Planes will be delayed, relatives will get tied up with other responsibilities, and dogs will jump on your favorite party dress with muddy paws. If you can learn to face these little setbacks with style and grace you'll find yourself having a better holiday than if everything had turned out perfect because now you're more relaxed. • Can't be with someone you love because of a divorce, military commitments or finances? Find a creative way to make the holiday special. For example, send cookies, gifts, and a special videotaped greeting to a far away relative. Or arrange to spend another day together as "Christmas." Be creative. The feelings of sharing and caring that Christmas engenders can be had any day of the year. Don't limit yourself to what it says on a calendar. In fact, if you think about what's really important like love, sharing, and togetherness, you begin to realize Dec. 25 is only one day out 365 that you have to spread peace and good will. "People need to know that there is an awareness that it's very natural for people who are in the grieving process, for a number of different reasons," said the Rev. Steve Miller of the United Church of Christ, Congregational, in Vermillion, "to come to what other people perceive as joyous occasions and it's natural for people to feel grief during the holiday season." It's important for all of us, as a culture, to be aware of this, he said. "We also must help people to locate that pain and recognize this may be a difficult time for some people. Everybody grieves in their own way, and especially around holiday time, it's difficult for people who have suffered loss – whether it's a divorce or the loss by death or the loss of a job – all of that is grief and it has to be dealt with." Miller added it is important to remember the spiritual aspect of the Christmas season – that it is, in the Christian faith, a season of hope. "If we can help people get not caught up in the commercial side of the holiday – the story of Christmas is one of a surprising hope – that's what the whole birth story teaches us, of the idea of the light that can shine in darkness, and the child that's born in the most unexpected way – the way God surprises us even in our most darkest moments." McBride said it's not uncommon for some people to experience a faith test during the time surrounding the Christmas holiday. "We tend to look for God in the warm and fuzzy places and what I think we need to do," he said, "is begin to look for God in the dark places. "Instead of a God who is always about the good news, maybe we need to remember that God who is there in the darkness helping us through it," McBride said. He also encourages people to always think others during the holiday season. "One of the best ways, I think, people get healthy again is by helping others," McBride said. "If they are down and not feeling very good, if there is any way they can reach out and help them, I think that's a good way to begin getting on the right track."
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