Being depressed is never fun, but being depressed during the holiday season is like being underwater. You know the feelings you’re supposed to feel and you see others around you experiencing them, but by the time those feelings reach you, they’re distorted and cold and soggy.
By the end of every semester, I just want to get away from Vassar’s frozen campus. Every muscle in my body tenses toward my home in California, and I rush through my finals as fast as I can, completely preoccupied with the false hope of my depression evaporating as soon as I’m back relaxing in the sunshine and surrounded by my loving family. On-campus depression is bad. This semester was particularly isolating as my closest friends were abroad, and living in the off-sited TownHouses created a physical separation between me and campus social life that was hard to overcome. I was going to the Deece maybe twice a week, spending full days in my room alone, and feeling like a burden to the friends I did see.
This year I was especially looking forward to coming home for Christmas. Home is where my mom rubs my back when I am struggling to get out of bed. Home is where I can see my brothers and cousins and grandparents. Home is where my best friend in the world comes over when she’s on break from college, too. At home I won’t have the obligations and stresses of school. At home I can talk with my old therapist. Coming home will be like being enveloped in a warm hug of nostalgia. I thought.
And a lot of that is true. I am so lucky to have a family that always accepts me and welcomes me home. I love spending time with them. But depression doesn’t have an immediate cure. After one or two days at home, it’s impossible for me to ignore all the things I should be feeling that I am just not feeling. Add into the mix the obligation of Christmas joy. Nobody wants to be a Grinch. So why am I not happy? It’s Christmas. I’m so ungrateful. I should be happy. I should be thankful. It’s not that I’d rather be back at school. It’s not that I don’t want to be home. I love being home. I love the holidays. Why isn’t this working? If this doesn’t work, what will? If I don’t want to be at school, and I don’t want to be home, then I guess I just don’t want to be.
When the extended family gathers for the holidays, I can’t escape other people being happy and thankful. I want to feel those warm fuzzy feelings, but from my underwater vantage point I just can’t connect. I’m still isolated. But instead of being able to hole up in my room alone, I have to smile and field questions like “How was your sCemester?” or “What are you plans after graduation?” which is just as soul-killing and twice as exhausting. Returning home is, on the outside, the complete opposite of my school solitude, since I’m surrounded by loved ones who never make me feel burdensome. But inside, I feel just as detached, and I don’t even have an excuse anymore (weather, solitude, stress, etc.), which turns the holidays into a frustrating and mystifying experience.
I have so much love for so many things in my life. Imagine my absolute despair upon finding that this love cannot, in fact, cure me or sustain me or give me the necessary motivation to actually keep living. I so badly want to emerge from the water and come back to life. Unfortunately, even Christmas wasn’t enough to pull me up, and in fact presented new concerns regarding the “obligation of joy” that I just wasn’t feeling.
Depression is all-consuming, and even as I share my experience now, I feel I am burdening readers with my personal issues and revealing shameful weaknesses. But maybe, if you identify with the feelings I’m describing, it will help to know that you’re not alone. We have to remind each other that we’re not alone, or we will drown.