Sunday, December 31, 2017

You Can Choose to Not Be Depressed for the Holidays

Posing with the Brownie at Draper Park

I posted something on Facebook this past weekend that didn’t have the effect I wanted.

“My recent timeline is filled with baking cookies, reviewing children’s picture books, and now I’ve discovered I’m spending tonight & New Year’s Eve home alone reading a book. Something is terribly wrong with my life. 😜”

I had intended it to be snarky. That’s what the emoji was for. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. It’s nobody’s fault but my own that I don’t have a special somebody to spend New Year’s Eve together. I’m not logged into online dating sites desperately lining up a date—any date—to ring in the new year. I’m not writing angry screeds on Twitter or Tumblr about the tyranny of happy people. Yet several friends gave me a sad face in response to my post, as if what I wrote was terribly tragic.

The problem here is that we can’t control how people interpret what we write. I’ve written before about self-deprecating humor before, most recently in my book on fighting suicide. People tend to find self-deprecating jokes funny only if they think highly of you. If they pity you, then they’ll likely take your jokes seriously. (Side tip: Using self-deprecating humor can let you know in a flash who thinks highly of you and who doesn’t—a fun litmus test you can try out on your friends!) Although self-deprecating humor isn’t appreciated by everybody, it is also true that sometimes people don’t find certain topics funny. They care too deeply about them—or you—to jape and jest about subjects like loneliness during the holidays.

There is no more popular article to write at this time of year than one on the plight of lonely people during the holidays. It’s the time of year when depression is up. Suicide is up, too. Holidays centered around friends & family are hard on people who have neither. It’s simply not something people kid about, not that I let that stop me.

Since I use humor, even coffin humor, to poke fun of life in order to take the sting out of it, when 2017 careened to a stop with all the grace of a dump truck skidding through ice sculptures, I suddenly found myself with no plans for the weekend and a desperate need for some laughs. One friend’s kids were sick. Another friend took off for St. George to be with family (the nerve!). Even my kids wouldn’t be around. They are adults now and celebrate holidays with friends, and my youngest would be spending the night with her Mum. That left me with a TV and a sense of aching ennui. It doesn’t help that New Year’s Eve on a Sunday in Utah is a giddy thrill like a speeding ticket delivered with a kiss.

So I decided to make the most of it anyway. I could choose to let loneliness trigger a depressive episode, or I could decide not to be lonely. No buddies coming over on Saturday? That’s alright. I had an early movie night with my sixteen-year-old daughter. We bought exotic snacks, and enjoyed ourselves. Later, I organized my towering reading piles and mended my satchel’s zipper with a needle and thread. I’ve been meaning to get those things done. ✔! Tonight, I bought my youngest daughter some ebooks that the library didn’t have, then we went to see some seasonal lights in the biting cold, then came home for hot cocoa. At nine, I stared at the clock in a moment of panic, then got busy reading & writing. It’s not quite the same as spending time with friends while kicking their butts in Sega Saturn Bomberman, but the point is I didn’t spend the night depressed.

Just because we can’t have all the fun things doesn’t mean we have to slip helplessly into despair. If events can trigger sadness, then we can make events that trigger happiness. I won’t pretend an evening sewing a zipper onto a satchel was the same as spending a joyous time with friends, but I made the decision to avoid depression, and that’s a victory. The choice wasn’t between a consolation prize and an evening of gaiety. The choice was between finding satisfaction in the moment versus sinking into darkness. Wallowing is boring. I much prefer what I did instead. In the future, I hope you choose to beat the holiday blues, too.

If you find the holidays trigger suicidal feelings, you should read my book!