The calendar set us up for failure this year, smooshing Thanksgiving and Hanukkah together like this. We hadn’t even finished the Thanksgiving leftovers before I sensed the impending doom.
Depression is a disease that is both obnoxiously bespoke and shockingly universal. For so many of us, changes in routine — and especially the addition of extra responsibilities and expectations — are major risk factors for a depressive episode.
For me, in a normal year, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is perilous. There are meals to host, gifts to choose, candles to buy (usually right before locating a leftover full box from last year), preschool class parties to shop for, grade school class parties to plan because eff me if I didn’t sign up to be room parent again, winter break camps to register for, grandparents to placate (yes, I’m sure the kids will love whatever you choose) and 2020’s wax to pry out of the menorah. But at least in a normal year, I can build in some space to decompress between holidays.
This year? Not so much.
Sometimes I can function through a depressive episode. Other times the clouds gather too quickly, my shadow starts to scare me and my body demands to be still. I find myself typing this from bed, where I’ve been for the better part of the day, barely able to keep my eyes open but also desperate to share a bit of truth with you: You are not alone.
Hanukkah is not an easy-breezy celebration of light and love and laughter for everyone. Some of us feel crushed by our desire to make eight consecutive nights special for our children, to fry latkes like our mothers did, to try out a homemade sufganiyot recipe, to squeeze some magic out of this second round of pandemic holidays. Some of us are quite convinced we’ve failed our families and disappointed our children. Some of us have dabbled in terrible and terrifying thoughts of the worst variety.
In years like this, when the holidays pile up, when I’m sure the worst is inevitable, I must constantly remind myself of one of my therapist’s favorite questions: What if everything works out? And her follow up: And while we’re here, let’s redefine “everything.”
If the latkes are actually frozen hash browns, you are a creative genius. If you order pizza every night of Hanukkah, then look at you! Feeding your family! (Besides, cheese is a traditional Hanukkah food…) If your children receive wrapped-up promises to shop online together for the gifts they’d really like, maybe you’ve created a fun new tradition. If you skip every single party, if you leave the menorahs in their boxes, if you don’t taste a single donut, but you do, somehow, against all odds, manage to find and light one candle, then you have witnessed a miracle of light. And if that’s not a pretty darn meaningful Hanukkah, then I don’t know what is.
So listen to me: You are not alone. You are doing great. Remember to take your meds.