Give the gift that truly matters this year
Article originally featured in the Hometown Focus
It’s finally arrived: Christmas season in the Northland. For many, the mere mention brings to mind cheery images of twinkling lights on big fir trees, fresh-baked cookies, and presents near a crackling fire. For others, it’s a looming deadline of expense and expectation; while for others still, it’s the hardest day of the year, one wrought with loneliness and forced smiles.
The “most wonderful time of the year” has an ironic way of magnifying sadness. Even if life appears to be going along as usual, people with depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) tend to experience heightened symptoms when the days are short and months are dark. Anxiety, guilt, despair, hopelessness, and feelings of isolation and self-loathing don’t take time off for old Saint Nick.
I’ve been there—laughing on cue, carrying on as if I weren’t warring with a profound sense of emptiness only to curl at the bottom of the shower and cry as soon as I was alone. Something just felt terribly wrong, as if I were broken in some inexplicable way others weren’t. Thankfully, I was always able to come out the other side a stronger person. I’ve found pain acts like a magician; first, it brings you to your knees, then, when you least expect it, it transforms blindness into clarity, emptiness into gratitude… But it’s a long, hard road to get there, and not everyone arrives.
It can be just as difficult to watch someone else battle depression. I know all too well the tidal wave of helplessness that hits when someone quietly confesses they don’t want to live anymore. Your heart breaks in ways you never imagined. You wish, in that instant, you could gather all the love and admiration you feel for that person and transfer it directly from your heart into theirs. As you hold them, you scour for ways to ease their pain. That’s when the hard questions come: What could you have done to prevent this? How did you miss the signs? Where were you?
Often, we’re right in front them, completely unaware.
With holiday music humming through radios and red and green displays painting every storefront, distractions make the warning signs easy to miss. We get swept up in the intoxication of Christmas spirit and forget to look closer at the people hurting around us.
So many days, I read cloaked cries for help on social media or witness people struggling in silence, and I long to wrap them in a blanket of reassurance. But since there’s no such blanket, we have to rely on words and actions. If someone you love says they’re feeling hopeless, or if they’re exhibiting other signs of depression—such as withdrawal or a lack of interest in normal activities— take time to talk with them. Listen and remember that words are powerful; use yours to lift them up. Ask direct questions and let them know you’re there for them. Always.
This is also the perfect opportunity to express how much you care. Trust me, I know how hard this can be. Everyday life doesn’t normally require us to wear our hearts on our sleeves, but this isn’t an everyday situation. People in pain need to know how you feel, and the most healing words are often the simplest ones: “You’re important to me, and I love you. How can I help?”
Lastly, we need to show up for them. Our words mean nothing without action, and sometimes, all a person needs is another soul to sit beside them and just be present.
Unfortunately, there’s no cookie-cutter solution. You may find some loved ones require space and time to work through their troubles, but that doesn’t mean your efforts go unseen or don’t have an impact. We can love people from a distance and still reach out to show we care. “Whenever you’re ready, I’ll be here.”
Let’s make a pact this holiday season to focus less on finding the perfect wrapping and instead, lend strength where we witness need. Let’s shut off the Hallmark channel and make sure no one spends the holidays alone. Life goes by so quickly. There are many I’ve lost over the years that I wish I’d made more of an effort with or told them how I really felt. There were supposed to be more chances—more hugs and Christmases ahead. I was going to get around to it, going to find the courage to express myself. Except those moments slipped by without tapping me on the shoulder to say, “This is your last chance.”
We always think we’ll have more time—a better opportunity some other day. Only the truth is, we never know when we’re doing something for the last time.
Most people have no idea how much they mean to us. Tell them this Christmas. After the baked goods are eaten, and the shiny new gadgets gather dust, the gifts we treasure most are the kind words spoken by those we love and the warm feelings of significance they inspired. Hearts, unlike wallets, never run out of funds. Give that gift this year, and have a Merry Christmas.