Depression and the Holidays: A Blue Christmas

Christmas tree

Depression is never fun, but depression and the holidays is a particularly un-fun combination.

Christmas was a very positive thing for most of my life. It was always a low-stress affair, and food was a very big part of it. Plus I always liked Christmas trees.

The last time I actually celebrated Christmas would have been in 2015, although I don’t recall if I was working that Christmas or if I spent it with my family. Then depression took up permanent residence in 2016, and I lost all interest in Christmas. Tree? Can’t be bothered. When I see other people’s trees and lights, I’m indifferent. Traditional yummy Christmas baking? Meh. Seeing Christmasy stuff in stores, on TV, etc. is just off-putting, in large part because it’s a reminder just how little I give a shit, and just how much that’s depression’s fault.

I spent Christmas 2017 with my family, but I was not well, and it was quite an unpleasant experience. Being around people is quite yucky when I’m depressed, and fake it ’til you make it doesn’t work very well when making it just isn’t going to happen.

This year, my parents are coming to town and my brother is hosting Christmas at his place. I don’t want to go, and most likely won’t. It’s not anxiety, and it’s not stress; it’s just aversion. It’s unpleasant being around anyone, and multiple someones increases the unpleasantness factor. I have very little interest in going simply for the sake of pleasing others, and I have no desire to go for my own sake.

My parents try to be supportive, but they have a tendency to be a pain in the ass. Earlier this year I had asked my mom for help trying to fight with my doctor to do some disability application paperwork, but then she was adding to the pain in the ass factor rather than decreasing it. I haven’t talked to her since. While depressed, I have a tendency to go for long periods of tie without communicating with my parents (a pattern since I first got sick years ago). I have a low tolerance for things that make my life more difficult.

Two years ago, I did a blue Christmas post, and wrote this:

I feel a sense of loss. Christmas as I knew and loved it doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t miss it in the sense that I wish I could do Christmas this year; I have zero interest, and I don’t care sufficiently to put up any decorations.

The loss is more all-encompassing than that, though. It’s a loss of who I was and what mattered to me. That loss is present at other times of the year as well, but Christmas is one of the times when it gets in my face a little more.

So it will be a blue Christmas, not because of what I choose not to have or do, but because of what is no longer available to me.

So yeah, that’s my depression and the holidays story. Are Christmas or other holidays a difficult time for you?

66 thoughts on “Depression and the Holidays: A Blue Christmas”

  1. I relate so much to this, too; every Christmas it’s like I’m mourning the younger version of me when I wasn’t extremely depressed and anxious during the Holidays. Especially since it’s “the most wonderful time of the year”, and I feel guilty for not being happy.

  2. We all know that I don’t do holidays – I suppose it basically goes back to my upbringing – my mother managed to make every holiday a nightmare – no happy memories, only painful ones, literally, but yes, there was always lotsa fabulous food…Sometimes I wish I could ‘do’ holidays – so many people seem to enjoy them…I just don’t have any positive connections to any of them….

    1. I wonder what the ratio is of people who actually enjoy holidays to people who feel like they should pretend to enjoy them. I would guess there are more people pretending than packing it in and giving up on holidays altogether.

  3. For years Christmas time was a time of depression and anxiety for me. We would get together with the family of my step-father and it always felt contrived somehow or that it was not my family situation. Now that my step-father is passed, we no longer get together with this large group. I hate to say it but smaller is better for me with just my sister’s family and my Mom. Fewer cross-currents and the like.

    Other anniversaries that are difficult — each May marking the anniversary that my Dad and step-mother died. There is something about experiencing that time of year each year that sets the clock back to that loss. I am not sure but I think that’s part of the Blue Christmas thing — setting the clock back to a time of loss – we experience the loss of the current year but also all of those past.

    Here’s to maybe purple this year?

  4. if I didn’t have C, I wouldn’t do much for Christmas at all. I’d be hiding in my basement as the world outside went on without me. It’s hard with kids and depression. I don’t want to ruin the holiday for him so we celebrate but keep it very low key–like stay in your pajamas and eat chicken fingers rather than a turkey–kind of low key. And it works for us.

  5. Thanksgiving can provoke anxiety because of how stressful things were for 20 years while I was married. It became too difficult to appease all the relatives, hosting it ourselves was a nightmare, so we generally took off for the zoo or something. But that’s stressful too with little kids and no dinner planned. Restaurants are mostly closed, etc. Then of course in 2016 I was famously dumped on Thanksgiving by a guy I really liked, which spiraled me into a depression. Luckily, my daughter saved me then and I now spend the holiday with a daughter, so it’s okay. But anxiety “remembers.”

    Christmas is a non-issue for me. I hope you get through this one with lots of piggie snuggles and whatever treats you enjoy 💖

  6. I don’t do Christmas, but festivals where there’s a major expectation of joy are hard with depression. As an outsider, people seem to put a lot of pressure on themselves to have “the best Christmas ever” (as stated in every Christmas film ever) which only makes things worse. A festival like Purim is hard enough as it is for me without the expectation to “have the best Purim ever!”

  7. I wondered what was happening for Christmas for you this year. I’m sorry, Ashley, that’s not fun at all. It’s exhausting trying to please others by simply being there and then putting on appearances. I like that your folks try to be supportive, but I get you with how yours can be a pain in the arse and make it worse. I always feel bad when that happens, which just makes the cycle of shit continue.

    I don’t think it even feels like December let alone Christmas. I’m just not feeling anything. Might be because I’m too busy (doing a lot, but I couldn’t really say what. It’s just that exciting…) but I think Covid has taken a lot of people out of the heart of Christmas where they’re not surrounded by Xmas songs on repeat, they’re not getting glammed up for parties or enjoying leisurely shopping like they used to. The Christmas a lot of the public used to know isn’t happening again this year. For me, I don’t know. I’ve dreaded Christmas for nearly the last two decades, predominantly because of my brother. Last year was the only year I enjoyed it a bit, because the fucker wasn’t here.

    I think the pressure of Christmas supposedly being fun just adds to how shit it can feel with depression. While you may feel nothing for it, I really do hope you can at least be comfortable during the festive holidays and do what you feel better about doing, whether that’s going to your brother’s place or staying home. xx

  8. Do not appreciate this time of year. We don’t like forced family gatherings. We don’t enjoy presents or food or decorations or chit-chat. We do still like playing games, like cards, because we laugh some. So this is our motivation if we go. This year we can’t eat much due to sudden severe food intolerances.

    Our mother used to say she’d do anything to support us in our illness. Then we’d ask for something (like information about infancy) and she wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. So we stopped asking.

    We don’t have religion and don’t want it so the premise of these gatherings is lost on us. We are anxious about family gatherings because we don’t like to be shamed. We don’t do small talk and don’t have much interest or info to share.

    1. Luckily my family never did big extended family gatherings. There was occasionally a grandparent present, but that was about it. Games are good. I was always happy if I could convince people to play Clue.

      I wish people would just not say they’d do anything when they have no intention of following through.

  9. It is very easy to feel down around the holidays. Shorter days and longer nights can also increase the chances of S.A.D. (seasonal affect disorder.) I think there is a lot of pressure to have huge family fun stuff going on with some sort of tradition. For me, I don’t have that at all. I come from a family where everyone is estranged and very removed from one another. I have 4 sisters and everyone does their own thing. None of my sisters even exchange Christmas card, save for maybe one other aside from me. I would be the one always giving, always sending Christmas cards and getting nothing in return and not expecting anything. Finally, this was the first year that I sent a Christmas card to 1 sister and not all of them.

    Also, I have a mother who doesn’t do anything or participate in anything holiday related either. She does celebrate Christmas, but doesn’t have a tradition where we are all over her house, etc. While I love my family – it is what it is. I’ve had to form my own connections, lean on people that are positive in my life. Those individuals sadly don’t include my relatives. Sometimes if you come from family dysfunction, you’re almost better off leaning on strangers, neighbors, and friends than blood relatives who can often worsen depression.

    If you can’t be around family cause they’re very activating to you, then go with your heart and what will make you most at peace this holiday season.

    Great post!

  10. Just glad if I can have a few days break and see my family – that is all I ask. It didn’t happen last year. On the 19th December 2020, London were placed in Tier 4 and we were told no household mixing. This year the government have not done that (and many people presume that they don’t have the nerve after the media coverage about parties at Downing Street). Whether or not there they had parties, I know that not travelling from London to the north was the right thing to do last year. This year, well, we are all vaccinated double or triple for all of us, and we are all testing, and we are all hoping it goes smoothly. Windows and doors will be open, we will wear facemasks apart from when eating and drinking (or running around the garden or the field behind my parent’s home) and we are all hoping that it will be ok.

    I find the dark of winter hard. I find the tacky commercialism hard to see. Work is also extremely tough at this time of year. But I am looking forward to December being out of the way…and then…I will be on the look out for the first signs of spring!!!

  11. Holidays in general are hard because of the raised expectations and the gap between expectations and reality. I feel like Christmas in particular has that “best time of year” expectation, which is even worse. I like Christmas, but only because I have the time off and I don’t have to do anything, hehe. If I actually had to celebrate it as a holiday, I would probably hate it. Hosting guests and gift-shopping for people I feel obligated to find perfect gifts are high on my list of activities I find stressful. I took a vacation day rather than attend my department’s Secret Santa gift-exchange. I am very fortunate that everyone in my family/circle is basically gift-agnostic so I don’t have to deal much with gift expectations

        1. I did a live tree for a few years, and the take-down with that was such a massive pain in the ass that I decided the nice smell of a real tree was not at all worth the pain in the ass factor.

  12. I think you mentioned games. I hate playing games. I am literally the only person at family functions that sits them out. That aspect alone makes holidays rough. But, I also am indifferent to them, leaning more towards not celebrating them (but, I do have a partner now, so I have to think about the situation as a whole). And, they’re not totally bad… like I said… I’m more indifferent. I hope you are content amid the celebrations. I get where you’re coming from. Take care.

  13. I’m so sorry things are so difficult for you. Depression is so serious and so detrimental to life.

    You’re right to step into your own and simply say no if you know it’s better this way for you.

    I actually lost much of the Christmas spirit myself, for a variety of reasons. This year I’m not depressed, but I know well what it feels like.

    Sending you a warm hug.

  14. Sorry you are having a difficult time, Ashley. Your post was so heartfelt and I could feel your pain coming through. I hope you will find a way to spend the time that is non-stressful and enjoyable.

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