“So, do I bring the stockings or not?” I asked again.
It was a few years ago and I was packing for a Christmas trip to the east coast with my dad and sister. During the packing process, they continued to overlook one essential detail: Was I bringing our Christmas stockings with us?
If I did bring the stockings, that meant we were buying stocking stuffers. Logic follows that If I did not bring the stockings, we would not have stocking stuffers that year. I could not stop fixating on this one crucial detail because if we didn’t have stockings, then our Christmas wouldn’t be as magical, and I would ruin everything, and it would be all my fault for not being better.
They forgot to answer me, and I didn’t bring the stockings.
I was throat-punched pretty hard by a depressive episode in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I cried several times a day. I slept for at least 10 hours a night. I didn’t go outside. Then I had to pretend to be happy and functioning for my family. It was exhausting, hence why I slept so much. Depression makes the act of just being awake and going through the day so hard. Sleeping becomes the only reprieve from the heaviness of life.
At one point, I was in the guest room I shared with my sister, crying over something stupid. I was probably upset that the third Star Wars movie wasn’t good because it doesn’t take much to set off a depressed person.
My sister Bean walked into the room and asked if I was alright, and I told her the truth. I was depressed, and it wasn’t going away. She asked me how she could help, and I wanted a distraction, so we talked about Christmas, one of my favorite subjects. That led to Bean dropping this bomb on me: she had bought me stocking stuffers. And I had stupidly left the stockings at home.
I shrieked. We’re talking full-body shaking and sobbing over stockings. Think “Trojan Woman Whose Husband Was Slain in Battle” levels of dramatic shrieking. It was like my worst nightmare had come to life: I ruined Christmas because I was too incompetent to bring the stockings with me. So my poor little stocking with the ice-skating snowman was left to his lonely devices at my home in the Bay Area. I had betrayed him, and I had betrayed my family.
“Oh NO,” I wailed, throwing myself dramatically on the guest bed like a weeping Disney princess. “I left the stockings at home!”
Bean stared at me for a moment and then said, “Who gives a shit?”
That stopped my crying.
She continued, “Oh no, I guess we’ll have to buy some other stockings at the Dollar Store. It’s not a big deal.”
The truth hit me like a bucket of cold water. No, of course, it was not a big deal that I did not bring the Christmas stockings with us. The “big deal” was that my depression was crushing my spirit, and I didn’t know what to do. Add in the fact that it was Christmas, my favorite time of year, and I felt guilty for being depressed when I should be merry.
My depression didn’t magically disappear after that conversation, nor did it disappear when we found replacement stockings, but it helped to have an ally in my sister. Being able to be your true self with someone takes a lot of the weight away. I did try to reach out to other family members about my depression, which went about as well as the time I tried to cook mushrooms and refried beans together. Both experiences have left a bad taste in my mouth. Sadly, not everyone will be sympathetic to your struggles with depression.
It was a weird Christmas. The funny thing about Christmas that I forget every year is that it’s a day unlike any other, except for what you do personally to make it special. For some reason, I have fallen prey to the Hallmarkian narrative that something magical and romantic is supposed to happen on that day, like the prince of Christmas was going to stop by our house to whisk me off to some made-up European country (the kind with government-subsidized healthcare and beautiful architecture). Obviously, that didn’t happen, nor did I fall in love with the local lumberjack at the Christmas tree farm, nor did I decide to open a tiny cafe with my one true love. Instead, I had a quiet Christmas with my family and our dollar-store stockings. It was fine.
Although I did not fall in love with the Prince of Christmas, I did receive several kind gifts from family. The best gift was the care and acceptance my sister showed me when I needed it most.
I also read a spectacularly shitty science fiction romance novel that was just Reylo fanfiction in disguise. It was called “Black Moon Rising” by Frankie Rose and I read it all in a day. It was not good and I highly recommend it (Jenny Nicholson covers the whole thing in a video in you’re interested).
For those wondering, I did seek out help. I spoke to a therapist, and after several months of deliberating, I increased my antidepressant prescription. Admitting you need additional psychiatric help doesn’t always feel nice, but for me, it was the only way to continue forward. Sadly, reading crap Reylo fanfiction is not the best treatment for depression, but if it works for you then have at it, Queen. Drop me some recommendations. In a hilarious (or pathetic) twist of fate, I went on the same brand of antidepressants that my veterinarian had once prescribed my dog. Luckily, I responded much better to my medication than my dog did to hers.
I debated sharing this story. Sometimes, telling people you have depression is like telling someone you still wet the bed. It’s not your fault, but it’s also not like you want the whole world to know your business. Talking about on a blog that I usually use to talk about science fiction feels a bit weird, but I’m cautiously optimistic that by sharing this story, I may make someone feel better about their own circumstances.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I could have done differently to help myself. I’m not the kind of person to tell someone with depression to “put down the cake and pick up some running shoes,” but I do think that a few walks outside would have done me some good. I probably should have also tried to reach out to friends, or pick up a craft, or take a few more sojourns into the city. I say all of this knowing that these are the things that help me know when I’m feeling the blues.
I’ve also recently read “The Finnish Way” by Katja Pantzar, which has been illuminating. I’ll paraphrase a little, but it seems like a natural way to fight depression is by jumping into the frozen Baltic sea for a minute, then racing to the sauna to warm up. I don’t know if subjecting yourself to nearly frozen water is the key to a happy mood, but there is a study that suggests it improves your mood and energy levels. Although I live pretty close to the Pacific Ocean, I’d rather not destroy my car with dirty beach sand, so I’ve resorted to a different method: jumping into a cold shower. My results so far? It sucks and I hate it, but I haven’t been depressed this Christmas, so I’ll take it.