Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Vacation

I'm out of town this week visiting with family for several days. My husband stayed home for work. I'm glad to be here and we're having a good time. It feels strange, though, like I'm disconnected from my self. Traveling with the kids is an ambitious project, and I become hyper-vigilant. The excitement of being with relatives, sleeping in a different place, setting aside our everyday routine is wildly fun until.... until it isn't.

I think all parents of young children know what I mean. Everybody is delightful and happy and giggly and cooperative until you blink your eyes and they are screaming and exhausted and completely illogical.

I am on alert, staying above a veneer of calm capability. I suspect that when the week is over I will be exhausted from the effort of this, but I cannot find a way to avoid it.

On occasion, I am reminded of the sadness that lies beneath. The other day someone asked me about my husband's work, and I described very generally how difficult things are for us. The conversation was less than ten minutes long, but I felt agitated after. Later, when I couldn't find the hat one of the kids needed, I was so distressed that I wanted to go to my room and cry.

Episodes like that make me feel crazy. I know they happen because I am trying to control things that are beyond me and am ignoring the emotional limitations of depression. I might need to a control-freak support group.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Debrief

Christmas was, in some ways, much better than I expected. There was a very content day when all the kids were home, my husband was around quite a bit, and everyone was glad to be together. I enjoyed that very much and was particularly thankful for it because contentment has become rare.

Christmas morning was weepy for me. The kids were excited and happy and I realized that I did not feel any of the particular excitement or pleasure I associate with the holiday. Being sad when I specifically expect to be happy is more miserable than the everyday sadness to which I've become accustomed.

I also didn't make it to church on Christmas Eve or Day. I had expected to, but in each case it just seemed too overwhelming to rally the kids and deal with the hubbub of a holiday worship service. Do other clergy families feel that way? I find Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter the most difficult times to go to church. It seems like everyone else is there en route to some sort of family event, while my husband is working and I am alone in the pew with three kids. I don't generally resent that this is my life, but I feel out of place at church on those days.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who Is Running The Show?

Depression during Christmas is feeling remarkably like someone else is flipping the switches on my life. A catalog of the last week: sad day, sad day, sick child day, good day, good day, can-barely-stay-awake-day, weepy day, good day interrupted by sad Christmas card turns into sad afternoon.

I've had periodic episodes lately of short-term extreme fatigue. I've heard of people whose bodies respond to emotional overload with migraines, virus-susceptibility, or various kinds of skin ailments. I just screech to a halt and have to lie down.

One important strategy for living with depression is to focus on just one day at a time. That's been a little harder for me to do during the holidays because attention is universally focused forward to the 25th. Questions like, "Are you ready for Christmas?" consistently throw me off. I'm not ready for Christmas. I would like to skip Christmas. Some days I can only hunker down to avoid the low-flying airplane of seasonal expectations.

Jesus must know something about focusing on one day at a time. How could he possibly have sustained mental health knowing that his crucifixion lay directly ahead? Maybe someone could preach about that on Friday.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I often describe myself as skeptical. My husband is definitely an idealist, and my pragmatic realism makes us a good balance. This year is the first time Mary, the mother of Jesus, has looked like a kindred soul.

When the angel Gabriel first greeted Mary, he called her “highly favored” and proclaimed that the Lord was with her. Then Luke says that “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” That is, she was skeptical.

After Gabriel explained God’s plan for Mary, she was still in questioning mode: “How will this be since I am a virgin?” It is an excellent question. I appreciate that she was keeping an eye on the mechanics of this thing, and not just falling on her face and agreeing to any crazy prediction the angel made.

Mary trusted God and pledged herself as his servant in that conversation with the angel. But she didn’t sing the magnificat until after she’d seen her cousin Elizabeth. Reading it now, her visit with Elizabeth seems to have functioned largely as confirmation of the absurd promises delivered through Gabriel.

I want to be like Mary. I want to keep my brain turned on, to think hard about what is going on in my life and whether it is from God or from someplace else. I also want to be free to trust God. I doubt that Mary could have imagined that magnificent and horrible things that lay ahead of her. By God’s grace, she kept going.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sad at Christmas

Just before Thanksgiving I was talking to my brother and could hear the excitement of the upcoming weekend in his voice. It dawned on me that Thanksgiving and Christmas usually energize me and add a joyful shine to everyday life. Not this year. Everything feels heavy. I don’t care much for festivity or decor. There will be no tree in our house; I’ve told my family that I need the year off from gift-giving.

I think this is the clincher: there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I am sick. Of course, I was diagnosed with depression months ago, and I *know* that I am not well. But I have wished it away so often that every few weeks I think “You should be fine! Just work a little harder and pull yourself together.”

There have been other years when Christmas was shadowed by sadness. Life-altering news and the deaths of family members have come around in Decembers previous. Those times were like living in a house with a permanently darkened room: every day I passed through that cold darkness, but I also walked into other parts of the house where I felt content and entirely myself.

This Christmas I am living in a brown-out house and the furnace is on the fritz. I’ve called the power company, I’ve kicked the furnace, I’ve lit matches and gathered blankets. The whole place is still chilly and dim.

There is surely something to be said for carving away the accoutrements of the holiday and coming down to the bare bones of relying on Jesus, and the confidence that the sadness of this life will someday end and we will be with Him. It also sucks to be sad when everyone else seems to be having a great time.