Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Depression
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. ” Psalms 34:18
Christmas is known for being the season of giving, good cheer and peace with all men. It’s where families come together for food, gifts, fellowship and celebration. It’s sparkling lights, Christmas plays and songs of “Silent Night.”
But for some, it’s not a season of giving, it’s a season of grieving. It’s a time of loneliness, sorrow and depression. The cheerful atmosphere, music and television commercials remind them just how alone they feel.
It may be people like:
•The unemployed man with a family having to break the news that they can’t afford groceries, let alone gifts.
•The middle aged woman who just went through a painful divorce after 25 years of marriage.
•The mother that lost her teen daughter a few years ago, but can still hear her laughter and feet running to her bedroom on Christmas morning.
•The army soldier on deployment in Afghanistan missing his wife and eight month old son. The last time he saw his child, he was inside of his mother’s womb. He longs to feel the embrace of his wife and laughter of his son.
•The wife going through hospice with her husband who she is losing from an eighteen month old battle with cancer, praying for strength with every breathe and heartbeat.
•The homeless couple living in a tent after aging out of the foster care system. The only empathy that they receive may be a jacket or cup of soup.
•The senior citizen living in a nursing home, whose children all live in different states, who rarely call her, let alone visit her.
•The boy that receives all of his favorite gifts, but his parents is are always away on business and when they are home, they are fighting. His only company is video games and social networking.
•The woman covered in bruises and a broken jaw with a baby on her side living in the local Domestic Violence shelter.
•The young mother in the midst of a nasty divorce, drinking away her guilt, shame and sorrow with vodka, while her child is hoping for better days.
Do you find the above hard to comprehend? All the listed circumstances are from people that I know personally. I withheld their names for privacy. Imagine how many broken spirits that you come in contact with on a daily basis.
I remember being disturbed about the single mother last year on the west coast that drove herself with her children into the ocean. It is hard to comprehend the mindset and desperation at that particular moment that led to that ultimate decision. You always hear accounts of neighbors, daycare workers and teachers saying, “She was a great mother.” Then they add that there was a few signs that she may have been dealing with stress such as, withdrawal, anxiety, appearance in disarray and odd messages stating that they are “tired” or that they are “sorry.” What pushes a person so far that she feels there is only one way out? Are they so deep in the darkness that there is not a flicker of light?
I remember being in that situation myself as a young mother of three. I was twenty three, three children, poor and uneducated. I was repeating the cycle of generations before me but what was done was done. The children were here and they needed to be loved and taken care of and I loved them more than the air in my lungs and the beat of my heart. We were living on a third story apartment in the middle of winter. I remember many nights after work, my youngest in a pumpkin seat in one hand, a diaper bag in the other, with a toddler on my side and my oldest trailing behind me. Walking up a long icy driveway and then up three flights of stairs was exhausting. But we did as we typically did, we adapted. The poverty, abandonment and loneliness wasn’t what was so hard, it was the whispers behind my back.
I had many thoughts; thoughts that I was a failure and a thorn in the side of society. I could’ve easily slipped off of that slope, just as that young mother did when she made that decision. What kept me from slipping? Somewhere, just when I would almost crack, someone would come in out of nowhere and give me words of encouragement, hope or share their testimony. Being raised by an atheist, I never really surrendered to God, but somehow still felt His hand in my life despite the years and years of being told that He didn’t exist. But even through the doubt, fear, sorrow and feelings of unworthiness, I would still whisper, “God, I know I’ve done this to myself, but please, if you are real, help us.” I would never say it aloud because I didn’t want my prayers picked apart or criticized. It was a private, sincere and personal plea. And God always came through…just in time. Right now as I type, there are so many lonely people. Many don’t know Jesus and have little hope. They may avoid prayer because someone made them feel unworthy a long time ago or they have been on a dangerous path of self-destruction, so they accept their misery as atonement for their sins. They do not realize that their sins have already have been atoned on the cross over two thousand years ago.
Pay attention to people you come in contact with.
Here are a few tips of someone who is silently crying for help:
• They withdraw by suddenly avoid talking to others and keep to themselves, not answering their phones
• They have trouble looking into your eyes when speaking
• They have a hard time accepting compliments
• They apologize a lot, even when it is not necessary
• They always appear exhausted, from feeling overwhelmed
• They sleep too little, or sleep too much
• They are always criticizing themselves.
• Feelings of guilt, shame and unworthiness
• Indecisive and loss of memory; lack of focus
If you know people that display these signs, intervene. It doesn’t require a lot. Pray with and for them. Offer words of encouragement and hope. Bring them dinner fully prepared. Pay for the person’s bill that is counting their pennies standing in front of you in line at the register. Visit a nursing home. Give an umbrella to the person standing in the rain at the bus stop while you are sitting at the stop light. Write a letter to the troops. Gather a group to show up with food, car repairs and lots of hugs and smiles. Invite them to church, even offering to pick them up and drop them off. Tell them that God has a plan for them. Remind them that the reason for the season is that the one sent to set all the captives free was born.
They say the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. We were created to connect with one another. That is why the hardest of criminals sob in a fetal position when placed in solitary confinement. We are not meant to go through this life alone. You cannot lead someone to Christ by telling them who they are not but by telling them who they are and who they belong to—a fearfully and wonderfully made, child of God. It just may be the tiny flicker of light that they need from slipping off of that slope.
Christmas is not just about the birth of Christ but the birth of the Gospel. The gospel illustrates that there is someone who has an eternal burning love for us so deep that He was born to die. He came down from Heaven to not only to take part in our suffering but to suffer on our behalf.
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6