Why I’m relieved to be back at work after the holidays

I have a love-hate relationship with holidays.

On the one hand, time off! Something that in the past year as I’ve come to be working full time (for the first time in my life), I’ve started to really appreciate. It’s incredibly important to be able to take a step back from the neverending rush of normal life to have some time to do whatever you want. Even if that whatever you want is cleaning the whole house!

There’s just one problem: my depression doesn’t agree. It thinks holidays are time for it to flourish.

The December holidays, for those of us who celebrate Christmas – and I imagine for everyone else, but in different ways! – are weird. It’s a holiday, but it’s a holiday where you’re doing a ton of things. Especially with how Christmas fell last year, and the fact that I was doing a huge project at my volunteer job the week before.

In the end I worked Monday-Saturday the week before Christmas, spent a lot of Sunday doing baking for Christmas Day, travelled up to family on Christmas Eve and then spent that day and one and a half days after with them. On that half day – Boxing Day – we came home and then got the house ready for having people over in the evening.

So when it got to the 27th, I was knackered. I let myself have a bit of a lie in, but not much, then got up and was excited about having a day where I didn’t have to do anything. The house was empty, too, so I was able to just go about in this blissful, quiet space.

Except that I wasn’t alone with my holiday – I was alone with my depression.

Here’s what my depression would have been saying at that point, if it had a voice:

HA, PUNY MORTAL WHO THINKS THAT THEY HAVE ESCAPED ME BECAUSE THEY HAVE NOT SEEN ME FOR SEVERAL DAYS. DO YOU NOT REMEMBER THAT MY SIBLING, ANXIETY, HAS BEEN WITH YOU ALL THIS TIME? DO YOU REMEMBER HOW YOU HAD TO RUN AND HIDE FROM PEOPLE WHEN IT BECAME TOO MUCH THIS WEEK?

I REMEMBER. I REMEMBER ALL OF IT. ANXIETY HAS TOLD ME EVERYTHING. AND LOOK! YOU HAVE LEFT YOUR BRAIN EMPTY. EMPTY FOR ME TO APPEAR WITHIN. HELLO, PUNY MORTAL. I AM HERE TO REMIND YOU THAT I EXIST. LET US BEGIN BY STRIPPING YOU OF YOUR ABILITY TO DO ANYTHING. INCLUDING RELAX. YES, I THINK THAT IS WHERE WE WILL BEGIN.

No, I’m not sure why my depression is a Pratchett divinity either.

Either way, it did indeed manage to render me incapable of deciding what I wanted to do with myself, and into that empty space it fed me a litany of everything I had ever done wrong. Its usual tactic, but because I was so tired and in such an open space – the thing I had longed for in the holidays – it worked incredibly well. Horribly well.

In the end, of the four days I had remaining in my Christmas holidays, about 50% of it was taken up by trying to fight and survive my depression. I suppose the question is – then why didn’t I fill the time with doing things, instead? It’s a pretty reasonable question. Doing things had kept it at bay, so surely I just needed to do more.

Sort of. The thing is that you can only do the distraction technique for so long. Eventually it gets exhausting, and at this point I was fully exhausted. I’d gone from an incredibly busy month of working and volunteering to several days of non-stop social interaction. I desperately, achingly needed the break that my depression was taking advantage of. I had no spoons left to do with.

And I know I’m not the only person who experiences this during the holidays.

It’s common, so common, but we don’t talk about it because how awful does it sound? I got some time off and it got wasted because of my mental health. When you are depressed, this thing – which I should point out does not make you a bad person – seems so petty, seems that awful. You can admit it about as easily as you can admit that depression stops you from brushing your teeth regularly.

So here you are – this is me talking about it. It sucked, and part of me is still so angry that so much of my holiday got wasted. But I also know that if I hadn’t had it, I’d be much worse off now. And maybe the important thing when this happens isn’t to try to push down those feelings of guilt and anger and anything else that arises. When you resist, you just strain more.

Want to know how I got through those awful days? I just accepted it. Nothing fancy. I didn’t do anything in particular. I just accepted that my depression was here and it was bad and that was what it was. That I was angry, and felt guilty, and that that was just how things were.

I’m pretty sure I’m only able to do that because I’ve reached a point where I am well enough to do so. But you might be, too. You might just not know it. So if you also struggled this holiday with feeling awful about feeling awful – it’s okay. Say that out loud, to yourself. It is what it is. And you are not alone in feeling it.

If you’re struggling with depression and you haven’t reached out to someone for help already, please think about doing so. For the UK, Mind has a great resource of information and contacts.