I have always been addicted to Christmas music, specifically the songs filled with sorrow and regret. I still remember the first sad Christmas song I fell in love with. I was five and it was “Hard Candy Christmas” by Dolly Parton.
There was a mystery in the sorrow that I couldn’t solve: how can Christmas be so sad? At the age of five, with dreams of opening a playmobile doll house from Santa, and eating mom’s homemade sticky buns, sorrow just didn’t make sense to me. Fortunately for me, I wouldn’t understand the beauty of a sad Christmas until the age of 27.
I was meeting with my therapist the other day and confessing that I was having anxiety about Christmas. I wanted to enjoy it, I wanted to feel that warm and fuzzy feeling I had as a kid. I wanted to be present with my family, but these days I am constantly fighting a battle with anxiety and depression. These struggles produce symptoms that shut me off from the present world and have me reeling through fears of the future and regrets from the past. I become distant and trapped in my own thoughts. I feel like I can’t really engage with others when this happens. But it’s Christmas! A time to be with others and have happy thoughts and feelings, there is no place for fear, regret, and sorrow.
In situations such as this, I do this thing: I know what I want and I try to make it happen. If my thoughts and feelings aren’t in line with what I want then I think, “I must be living incorrectly. I need to figure out how to fix it, so I can live the right way and enjoy life.” This Christmas situation was no different.
I want: A Christmas filled with love, joy, and peace
What is keeping me from what I want? Anxiety/depression
How do I get rid of these things? Try to fix everything that is stirring up these feelings
As you might imagine, trying to fix everything that causes my anxiety and depression is an overwhelming task. A task that I would have completed by now, if I knew how to do it. But sometimes I forget this simple little fact and I push forward, full speed ahead, into my pile of issues with the hopes of magically making them disappear. This might not seem completely out of line, but what messes me up is the responsibility of the whole situation. This thinking makes every decision seem detrimental to my happiness. If I make the wrong choice I could be miserable on Christmas and it will be all my fault! I start to analyze every little feeling I have: Is this stomache the beginnings of an anxiety attack or did I eat something weird? Is my jaw tensing up more because I am stressed or did I have too much coffee? Are my new meds making me more or less depressed? I don’t know!! AAAAAAHHHHHHHhhhhh! And then I am hit with anxiety despite my greatest efforts to prevent it.
In these moments I have taken God out of the equation. I have placed all the outcomes in my own hands. I have bought into this false sense of control and I want instant gratification and no discomfort.
But here is the cool part. I went back and looked at what I wanted “love, joy, and peace”. Isn’t the gift of love, joy, and peace the whole reason for the season? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Not that we feel these things because we want to, but because God sent his son to earth to give us these things. Feeling the discomfort of my struggles has allowed me to truly desire the gifts that Jesus brings to this earth. Feeling the pain and fear of my mental disorders reminds me of why I need a savior in the first place and why Christmas is such an awesome celebration: A SAVIOR IS BORN!!!
When Jesus was born the earth did not feel instant joy, love, and peace. Jesus’ birth marks the beginning of our atonement. The birth of the spotless lamb that will one day be sacrificed so we may be made perfect and spotless in God’s eyes. It is in this hope that I find peace. It is in this sacrifice (a sacrifice made for me!) that I feel a love so deep I can barely handle it. The knowledge that I will spend eternity with my savior in heaven brings me a joy that cannot be overshadowed by my feelings of anxiety or depression. My discomfort from my struggle is still very much present, but its presence is a constant reminder of my need for Jesus. And the reminder that I need Jesus once again brings me to the thought of Christmas, I have received the best gift in the whole world: Jesus. Alleluia! A Child is born! Let us Rejoice! My fate has been sealed, God has provided.
For those of you that also love depressing Christmas songs, here are some of my favorites: