If Your Holidays Aren’t So Happy

by Tedra Osell on December 31, 2011

It wasn’t too many years ago that I was suicidally depressed. Because this is a public forum, I won’t go into what finally got me to a psychiatrist (I’d seen psychotherapists for years, but hadn’t been diagnosed with clinical depression) and onto medication, and I had to try several different pills before I found something that worked. Recently I’ve switched meds again, and I’m really having a great holiday season.

But for a lot of people the holidays suck. Sometimes that’s temporary, but often it’s not. Please take twelve minutes to watch the video below, and please take the time in real life to listen to the people you love. I think one of the profoundest difficulties we have as human beings, despite all our ways of communicating, is that ultimately it’s horribly easy to hear someone say they’re unhappy but not really understand that they are deeply in trouble, especially if the things they seem unhappy about seem small or temporary or like minor fillips in a pretty great life.

It’s impossible to know how someone with depression feels if you haven’t been there. And if you are there, it’s impossible to realize that it really doesn’t have to be that bad. If you think you need help, please ask for it. And if you think someone you know needs help, please listen–because when you’re way down that well, it can be almost impossible even to whisper.

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/pAE12hdQ9ok” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>



Dr. Hilarius 12.31.11 at 2:35 am

Thank you. A very brave posting giving good advice.


BenSix 12.31.11 at 3:26 am

Well said.


djw 12.31.11 at 5:31 am



Andreas Moser 12.31.11 at 9:25 am

But suicide might not be such a bad thing: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/world-suicide-prevention-day-on-10-september/ – It’s the ultimate way of taking control over your own life.


Substance McGravitas 12.31.11 at 10:12 am

It’s impossible to know how someone with depression feels if you haven’t been there. And if you are there, it’s impossible to realize that it really doesn’t have to be that bad. If you think you need help, please ask for it.

It’s as eye-opening as any psychedelic experience to understand that maybe some people are relatively cheerful through the course of a day. I don’t take the pills any more, but that was a powerful lesson that still lets me step back from the blackness and acknowledge it as a quirk of chemistry rather than a rational response to experience.


Mark J. Lovas 12.31.11 at 11:02 am

Several years ago I happened to be living in the Czech Republic. An article appeared in one of the local papers describing how sociologists had calculated the number of deaths due to unemployment–deaths from outright suicide as well as what you might call slow suicides, due to excessive consumption of alcohol. In Chapter Seven of his book, “Emotions: A Brief History”, the psychologist Keith Oatley briefly summarizes research which shows that anxiety and depression are much worse for those with lower incomes. While this time of year may be a rough one, we are also in a rough period of history.


Mark J. Lovas 12.31.11 at 11:05 am

Just to clarify a possible ambiguity: As I recall ( I read Oatley’s book a while ag0.) Oatley’s point is not that people with less money are more likely to be anxious or depressed, but that an anxious or depressed person with less money is less able to cope than one with a higher income.


Omega Centauri 12.31.11 at 6:48 pm

I think that recognition part is a big thing. Its kind of like someone who has a real back problem, is thought to be just a wimp over a tired muscle to those who haven’t suffered. So too, to the unititiated dperession looks to be some sort of self-con job, where the victim gets depressed and falls behind, and then gets so anxious about all the people they’ve let down, that they get even worse. And so the worst part, is that friends and family, simply don’t really have a conception of whats going on. In our case, I didn’t realize the reality of this, until he progressed to the opposite bipolar phase, and had to be hospitalized. Now, of neccessity, I’ve acquired a library on the disorder and become a lay psuedo-expert.

Please do pay attention to your moods, and meds, its too easy to let these sorts of disorders slip beyond control. Even given a medical diagnosis, its all too common to run into people who think its all just an issue of character and will. Our society still has a long way to go before it can be considered to be one that promotes the health and happiness of its citizens.

I wonder about how many people who got depressed, were fired for slothfullness, or flunked out of a promising school career, and simply fell into a worsening downward spiral. I can’t help but imagine a Roman slavemaster, trying to whip his depressed slave into working, only to make things worse until he ended up killing him.


TUM 12.31.11 at 6:57 pm

Thanks for this Tendra. This time last year I had just been diagnosed with depression and was, well, pretty much ‘knockin’ on’. There is something about this time of year – dark and cold, expectations running high, and the general introspection associated with new years – that can be particularly dangerous for the depressive.

For me, medication was a big help. I needed anything that would lead to a good nights sleep and help me to think more clearly. This has been a fantastic year though, for me everything has changed and I have never felt better.

For people suffering depression now, the worst part is the sense of hopelessness. But trust me, however bad it gets there is always hope, you just do not know what could happen in the next 5 minutes.


Tedra Osell 12.31.11 at 10:46 pm

Andreas, no. I don’t blame suicides and understand implicitly that suicide can be a rational response to cases of unbearable pain (mental or physical). Which is why I’d said I had been there myself. But we can, thank god, treat depression and other mental health disorders these days, and although it often takes a long time of trial-and-error I have seen way too many people stick it out and come out the other side glad they did.

That said, the thought that depressive suicide might be the right answer is itself a symptom. And if you yourself are not suicidal, imho it is deeply irresponsible, not to say cruel, to treat suicide as some kind of cheery, rational decision. Suicidal impulses come from deep unhappiness, and ignoring that fact is inhumane.


Barry Freed 12.31.11 at 11:44 pm

I wonder about how many people who got depressed… or flunked out of a promising school career…

BTDT. It damn near killed me. Depression cost me a PhD (at an Ivy in a then soon to be in great demand field) and a + 10 years marriage and then about ten years of my life. All of it sucked down a great deep dark pit never to be seen again. I’ve only fairly recently recovered and gotten back on track and am now well on my way to a second stab at a career albeit now in my mid-forties. Depression sucks.


Bruce McCulley 01.01.12 at 12:19 am

Thanks for shedding light on a too-often-hidden topic. I think it may be helpful for people to know that, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, about half of all cases of clinical depression are associated with histories of childhood trauma. For information about the ACE Study, see http://www.cdc.gov/NCCDPHP/ACE/.


more anonymous for this occasion 01.01.12 at 12:27 am

Thanks, Tedra—for the post and also for your clear and firm answer to Andreas. I’m glad it’s going well for you now.

I only recently was able to acknowledge that I’ve been severely depressed for more than a year. Every time I’d have an OK week, I’d try to forget about all the weeks I’d spent imagining different suicide scenarios; surely I couldn’t really be feeling that way, with all the good things in my life. On the “good” days, I made such an effort to avoid anything that might make me more depressed—such as being in any kind of social situation, or going anywhere by myself, or talking to a friend who might ask how I was doing, or enjoying any kind of art or writing that might remind me of my own total creative shutdown—that my behavior was indistinguishable from the “bad” days. I was already in therapy before it got bad, but somehow I managed to deflect questions about my obviously worsening mood and insist on “working on” something else. My significant other was harder to deflect, but I mostly said I was just upset about this or that event of the week, or I hadn’t slept well or I was coming down with something or whatever. I felt sort of like I had secretly died, but that as long as other people thought I was still alive, it was my responsibility to keep shuffling along until I fell apart.

What finally got me to admit it: I had to see my primary MD for something else, and after several minutes of hearing me list various real and imaginary health complaints in a tone of doomed resignation, she had me fill out one of those annoying depression questionnaires: do you feel like this nearly every day, more than half the time, etc. And I realized that if I answered honestly, my answers looked pretty horrible; so just as an exercise, I let myself imagine that maybe the doctor wasn’t being overly concerned but was perceiving me correctly. I got a little angry and embarrassed, and then realized that feeling a little angry and embarrassed was awesome compared to the dull achey non-feeling I usually had.

Now I’m in a funny in-between place which I’m sure you’re familiar with: trying medication, trying to be honest with people and kind to myself, knowing things will get better, but not really feeling a whole lot better yet. Maybe winter is a good time to be in that state, because everyone’s there a little bit, waiting for spring which we know will arrive.


hix 01.01.12 at 2:42 am

My depression started so early that it did already cost me my Abitur. Does that count too )-:. Im still depressive, albeit better than anytime the last 9 years. I was never diagnosed up until 6 month ago. Sort of knew i had depression for a very long time. With the irrationality of depression and a family that just doesnt accept the existence of mental ilness that never lead to any step to get help. At this point, i really dont understand why it wasnt obvious a long time ago without me asking explicitly for mental help at so many points for so many people.


David 01.01.12 at 2:51 am

I’ll echo Dr. Hiarius. Thank you, very brave post. Just talking about it, even when you’ve begun to get a handle on it, is very difficult.

Been there.


B 01.01.12 at 4:50 pm

Yes, thanks for the sharp response to Andreas Moser. Suicide is NOT always caused by mental illness, it just nearly always is. In a good number of the other cases, especially among teens, it is a copycat practice; hence the occasional local epidemics; this is a good reason for maintaining a taboo against it. Suicides may, as he says in the post he links to, believe that what they are doing is best for the friends and families, but that is usually a symptom of their illness, and involves a lack of understanding or appreciation of the effects suicide actually has on other people. In almost all cases this lack of understanding is not culpable, precisely because it reflects a disturbed state of mind. I can’t help wondering if you (Andreas) have ever seen up close the damage a suicide has wrought, or been close to someone who is seriously depressed enough to have taken that step seriously as an option. Both are recent and ongoing for me; and I have, myself, during the time I have known the two people referred to there, experienced a depression in which, although I never contemplated suicide, I did for the first time understand why people do it, and had the thought that, if I had not been able to seek help, I may well have contemplated or even done it. The person whom I knew had come close to it, helped me enormously (more than she knows).

The taboo against depression, unlike that against suicide, needs to be broken.

So, if you are feeling even mildly depressed, get help. There are lots of people who will help, there is no shame in being depressed, and once you start talking about it what you’ll find is that what you’re experiencing is very common.


SusanC 01.02.12 at 8:34 pm

There seem to be several very different things that cause depression, but as it’s midwinter I’ll mention that daylight deprivation is one of them. People who are susceptible can be severely, dangerously affected just by the shortage of light. (And I mean really dangerously).

Students (for example) who have spent most of their life nearer the equator but are spending their first winter at a northerly University may be experiencing severe problems round about now. Daylight deprivation is really easy to cure (but bear in mind that depression has other causes, too).


Daragh McDowell 01.03.12 at 9:50 am

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU Tendra. I cannot tell you how many people I know (including myself) who suffered needlessly for a long while due to an inability to acknowledge that their depression was just as much caused by neurochemical imbalances as external factors (if not more so.) Unfortunately I’ve often noticed a tendency in what might be loosely defined as the ‘progressive’ media (The Guardian, HuffPo, etc.) to feed prejudices against anti-depressants as somehow ‘unnatural’ and ‘bad’ and to encourage notions that emotional suffering is somehow healthy, and its nice to see a strong push back against that on CT.

Additionally I’d like to echo the congratulations on your bravery in making this post, and Omega Centauri’s comparison of depression to a back problem. It cannot be over emphasised how essential it is that we reconfigure our perception of depression and other mental health issues as being basically in the same category as other physical ailments rather than something taboo. Amnesty International Ireland (full disclosure – my employer) has had a fantastic campaign to this effect, and its really heartening to see others rallying to that flag.


BigHank53 01.04.12 at 2:41 pm

Congratulations on finding an antidepressant that works for you. Fluoxtenine damn near cost me my job, and didn’t do much for the depression. I’ve had better luck with just exercising more.

Depression is damn insidious: the cause can be chemical, psychological, environmental, emotional, or just habitual. Which means one is probably going to have to do a bunch of hunting about to locate a management strategy…at a point when one barely has the energy to get dressed.

Thank you for the reminder, and the courage to talk about your own depression.


groo 01.04.12 at 5:21 pm

Daragh McDowel:
…how essential it is that we reconfigure our perception of depression and other mental health issues as being basically in the same category as other physical ailments…

which it is, which is not.

I’m a bit surprised that group of supposedly insightful people pose such a thesis.

1) I suppose, that most health issues have a societal and environmental context. Cf Northern Europeans relationship to alcohol, which is with good probability linked to winter-melatonin production.
So this is debatable.

2) In comparable climates there must be other causes at work.
Which could they be?

A woman friend of mine, who lived for 20 years in the US, was astonished about the high intake of her US-women friends (mostly academic or presumably saturated middle class types).

We discussed this quite some time and developed theories.

There must be something in the American social environment, which possibly has something to do with the more intense status-competition/preservation.
This generates a certain surplus of (unconscious) fear. Right?

The US devolved into a fear society, at least from a European perspective for some 40 years.
Medicate US-soldiers in combat or airplanes.
Throw them under the bus when they come back with PTSD and such.

Simply relying on to a pill to cure the disorder, is a bit well…
It atomizes the problem into action-reaction.

Good if it works for the individual.
Question is: Why is medication for mental disturbances in the US on average double that in the rest of the comparable western world?

The self-professed ‘beacon unto the world’, relying heavily on medication worries me a bit, I must say.

I myself also suffered from depression some ten years ago, albeit not of the most serious kind.

Looking back, I see the societal ones as some of the dominant ones.
Being self-employed, having debts, see the business not flourishing, having to take care of a family.

Being at that:
I recently learned that Afghans 20-30% suffer from serious mental disorders because of so many years of permanent wars.

You Americans probably do see that even less than the rest of the world.

So please restrain from displays of self-suffering and punctual, physical cures by expensive medication.

Look at the bigger context.

Maybe it is exactly this contradiction, which produces the illness in the first place in a reasonably intelligent person, living in the city upon the hill, which is full of crazies Washington/ Wallstreet /Silicon valley kind.

Sorry for the rant.


groo 01.04.12 at 5:59 pm

addition to my rant.

I have a theory.
(good, heh?)

SA lot of afghans and Iraqis and others are so traumatized that they blow themselves up in the craziest of circumstances.
Being a medium-format self educated psychologist of the human condition, I would say:
Those people have been driven out of their mind, by an existential suffering, which has been inflicted on them by an assortment of the outright most despicable sort of sociopaths the world has ever seen, who sit where?
Right. In the ‘war-rooms’, watching e.g. Osama being killed, feeling happiness and satisfaction, suppressing the Manning video and criminalizing him.

This indeed must be depressing for a sensible being , who has to watch this from a close distance.

Know the cause of Your depression, if You mentally can afford to.
Hint: This is not primarily caused by a disequlibrium of Your brain chemicals.

Not everybody in this damned world can afford to recognize this.

You can!

(Disclaimer: I only occasionally read CT. Must be some mighty good people here, but did not yet make a profound impression on me. So. My apologies. Maybe I did not get up yet into the heights of irrelevance.)

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