I was born nine days before Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year. But it’s been far from wonderful for me the last eight years. My birthday has not been happy. Christmas has not been merry. And New Year’s has not been a celebratory “do-over.”
I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. When summer leaves and the season changes to autumn, I grow severely depressed. From about September to January, I tend to get terribly sick—my mind a dark, anxious mess.
I’ve dreaded the holidays for this reason because pretending to happy and merry when you can barely find the energy to leave your bed is utterly exhausting. I was supposed to feel this radiant light and joy, but instead, I was surrounded by a suffocating and bleak darkness. I was supposed to be celebrating another year of life, but I didn’t feel like living.
Merry and happy are the hope for these days but they also become the expectation. But it’s not something everyone is capable of meeting. I’m not implying that we should put a stop to wishing people happy and merry days—but rather that we should consider those lighthearted, and usually well-intended, wishes might be a crushing expectation.
Our loved ones might be fighting a war we can’t see. A war we might not be aware of because they’re trying so very hard for us to not notice. They’re trying to hide their illness to keep us from worrying about them on the days we’re told to be joyful. Because they want us to be happy even when they can’t be.
The holidays are hard. Those wishes and expectations for celebratory days filled with happiness and love don’t always translate to reality.
My most recent holidays have not been jolly, but they have been blessed. It was on my birthday last year that it was made abundantly clear that I was not alone. Right after eating, I retreated to the couch to sleep, unable to find the energy to have conversations where I pretended I was OK. But before I fell asleep, my grandfather came over. He said it broke his heart to see me sick again and he wished more than anything that he could do something to take away the pain. He told me he was there for me. He told me he loved me. That quiet exchange meant everything.
So to my fellow humans who go dark on the days where the world expects different: you are not alone. When you feel trapped in a house full of happy people, I promise you are not the only one feeling the pressure. The holidays do not need to be happy or merry to be beautiful and valuable and worthy of life. The people who love you don’t need you to fake a smile or a laugh, they just need you.