I loved Christmas when I was growing up in the Midwest and didn’t know any better. The holidays meant snow and cold and presents and special food and extra church services.
I liked Christmas as an adult until I was 30 in 1987. I had recently left my husband and was feeling healthy and in control of my life, but I didn’t know I was just weeks away from my first psychotic break.
The Christmas of 1988 was my worst. I was taking enough Trilafon that I wasn’t psychotic. But those old antipsychotics tended to suppress dopamine, so I was depressed — not so much that I couldn’t function, like in the previous spring, but enough that I couldn’t muster up any happiness about anything.
Except for voting in the Presidential election. I walked down to my polling place and proudly cast my vote for Michael Dukakis. I remember feeling that day like I was equal with everyone else. I had a vote, just like they did. For one moment, I forgot that I was depressed.
I was working part-time in a newspaper circulation phoneroom while I tried to get my freelance writing career going. I’d had that same job in college, a reality that added to my depression. On Christmas Eve, I went to church with some friends who would be going home to family and warmth and Christmas cheer. I returned to my tiny apartment in its unsafe neighborhood. Turned on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and quickly turned it off. Thought briefly about what that night must have been like for my college love, who was married with three children. Then I went to sleep as fast as I possibly could.
Did it occur to me that future Christmas Eves would be better? No. Depression doesn’t let you imagine a happy future. You’re trapped in your own sadness and hopelessness.
So if you’re struggling with depression during the 2018 holidays, try to be smarter than I was that awful night in 1988. Get through Christmas and New Year’s, holding tight to any happy moments you experience. And know that you may well be in a completely different place a year from now.