I’m a very lucky man. I have a beautiful wife and three really great teen children — two daughters and a son. While I try to always carry out my responsibilities both at home and at work and take my role as father and husband very seriously, I sometimes fall in and out of depression.
Christmas is my favorite time of year with all its beauty, festivities and traditions. This season, though, I’ve been in a dark, sad mood and can’t seem to escape it. I’m having trouble getting into the holiday spirit and I know at times I’m miserable for my wife and children to be around.
My doctor prescribed an anti-depressant medication. For the first time I’ve also been seeing a professional therapist and experiencing many feelings — mostly fear, anger and grief. I have a childhood memory at Christmas time when my dad abandoned our family to be with another woman. Our mother went without in order to buy us kids Christmas presents, but instead of feeling happy I felt helpless, guilty and angry.
My family is really trying to be supportive, especially for the holiday. I came home last night and the tree was surrounded with beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts, mostly for me. When I was young, I vowed I’d grow up and make my life different. My childhood is history now and I want to keep it in the past. I no longer want to be a burden to my family. I want to move on and just enjoy loving them.
It’s heartwarming to witness your family’s wholehearted commitment to you. People suffering from depression often have an inner voice which is harsh and self-critical. Empathy, acceptance, respect and love from your loved ones will help counteract your negative thoughts and create a bond of closeness and intimacy that is much needed in times like these. Being with nurturing family members who give affection, attention and warmth will support you during this difficult time.
I understand that you want to protect your children from having a disappointing holiday like the one you had as a child. Take care, though, not to remove the opportunity of building personal character by not allowing them to be helpful and loving. More significant than your children experiencing an idyllic, traditional holiday is the lesson of learning how to embrace flexibility, pull together as a family during challenging times, and discover that a joyful time can be had as long as you all have each other. Accept them helping you to get through this stressful holiday juncture. Supportive loved ones are an essential key to recovery, and Christmas is also a wonderful opportunity to thank your family for standing by you. Let them know what they mean to you and how grateful you are.
Holidays often heighten sensitivity of feelings, both positive and negative. While it’s a season for joy, inspiration and appreciation, it can also generate stress when coping with the memories of past holidays which were less than they were meant to be. Many a person has felt sad or blue, unsure of the reason until something as simple as looking at a family photograph triggers remembrance of a painful trauma that occurred at this same time of year.
I don’t believe in arbitrarily opening up one’s old memories unless these repressed feelings are somehow interfering with the quality of your current life. These anniversary feelings—such as those you’ve related about your childhood—are emotions which were unsafe to experience at the time and yet, with their recurrence, they represent an opportunity to heal. Psychotherapy can be an opportunity for you to heal and become more whole. You’ve made a wonderful first step through counseling, which will provide you with a safe place to start repairing the hurt you experienced as a child. In doing so, this will likewise address your depression and mood swings. The good news is that your condition is treatable and you can eventually feel more optimistic, including looking forward to renewing and strengthening your relationships with your family.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.