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The Season

The Christmas season is a fraught season for those of us with mood disorders, particularly depression. We're supposed to be happy and joyful while being twice as busy, and sometimes, we just can't manage it. Last year, I was also dealing with being post-operative from my hysterectomy. It's been a while since I've had a truly festive Christmas season.

I have a couple of particular reasons for my mood to be down during this time of year. I've had friends die in late November and early December over the years, so while we're baking cookies and enjoying parties, I'm also mourning. There are a few other bad memories from this season. One of them is from a number of years ago when I was called into the Emergency Department to help work an accident a couple of days before Christmas. As a family physician, I was only called in for trauma when there were numerous victims. In this case, one child died at the scene, another child died at the referral hospital the next day, a third child died in the Emergency Department, and I took care of the mother, the only survivor. It was an awful experience. Several years ago, I reconnected with that mom when she joined the church we were attending. She continues to mourn her children, but God has given her a peace beyond understanding. She and I bonded over this horrible shared experience. December is a rough month.

This year, though, I seem to have dodged the depression bullet. I'd like to think that the low-carbohydrate diet might be helping, but I've been doing the low-carb thing for several years and I didn't notice a particular mood bump the first year.

One thing that is helping is that my migraines are doing better for the first time in several months. This fall has been rough in the headache department. About a month ago, my doctor did occipital nerve blocks along with a steroid taper. Five days later, I ended up in the Emergency Department with a severe migraine and intractable vomiting. I was able to go home after a few hours, but the migraine didn't go completely away and I continued to have some level of significant migraine for the next twelve days. My headache specialist then had my start a ten day course of olanzapine, an anti-psychotic medication. It was a rough ten days in terms of side effects - hunger, ankle swelling, insomnia, and more - but the migraine was broken. I haven't needed any acute migraine medications in six days! I haven't gone that long without acute meds in months! I still have some chronic headache, but I feel much better in general.

I am doing my usual "good health" kinds of things, too. I'm eating low carb with lots of veggies. I haven't done as much exercise as I usually do because of the migraines, but I'm gradually getting more active. I'm using my Cefaly for migraine prevention, but it seems to also help my mood.

Counseling is a necessary part of my depression treatment. I see my counselor about once a month, although migraines sometimes interrupt the schedule. On occasion we talk about managing my pain; other times, we talk about my mood and how to deal with its ups and downs. No matter what, I find the time well spent.

I've prepared for the holiday season this year a little differently. I expected the depression monster to rear its ugly head, so I planned for low energy and low motivation. To that end, I did my Christmas shopping early and online. I also did as much shopping as possible from "fair trade" sites so that I was not only buying for people I loved, but was also supporting people who were in need. Usually, I knit something for almost all family members, but this year, I couldn't find stuff I was passionate about, so I did only a few gifts.

For our extended family, we usually donate money to one or two charities. This year, the donation hits a little closer to home than usual. A friend of mine from my teen years has a two year old son with metopic craniosynostosis, a condition in which the sutures of his skull fuse prematurely. He has had one surgery, but needs a second one that insurance is declining to cover. We are making a donation to Landon's GoFundMe site as Christmas gifts for our family members this year.

If you're dealing with depression or other mental health issues this holiday season, know that you aren't alone! Depression is a fiendish illness. You never know when it is going to crop up or when you are going to feel really well. In any case, I am going to continue to take my meds and live a healthy lifestyle and encourage you to do the same.

God loves you, even if you have mental illness. Some years are good; some are not so good. You can only do your best. Let your friends and family know about your illness. Don't isolate yourself. Go to the parties, even if you sit in a corner with your plate of Christmas cookies - and, for Heaven's sake, eat some of the cookies, even if just a few. If you are religious, take part in your religious services. Hang out with your people. You may not feel like it, but they will be blessed by your company; think of it as your gift to them.

I hope your holiday season is joyful and beautiful. But, if it's not, that's OK. A Blue Christmas is still Christmas. God still broke into human history to send Jesus. And God still loves you. If you need someone to talk to, leave a comment or message. I'm so happy to email or message with you. (Apparently, when I'm not headache-y or depressed, I'm really chatty. And I can totally commiserate about depression. It sucks. But, you can get through this.)

You are loved.


P.S. A reminder: If you feel like you are going to hurt yourself or someone else, please call someone. If you don't feel like you have anyone to call, please call 911. You are worth it.

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