2016 has been a societal failure. In fact, the best way to sum up this year is a complete and utter sh*tshow. In the midst of the cops continuing to kill unarmed people of color, there were several cases in which the perpetrators of said crimes were found not guilty. And then the election happened.
I’ve been mostly silent on what’s happening in the world. I realized it was bad for my mental health. I tried to curate as much social media as much as I could in order to avoid triggers. I would purposely sidestep conversations regarding politics in my work environments. I wouldn’t engage in dialogue in which the onus was on me to address a “teaching moment” or try to educate white people who aren’t truly vested in understanding and empathy.
While I was doing all of this, it became apparent that some days I was kind of teetering. I was holding everything in. Without any place to release, it festered. Avoiding the things that upset you only makes their influence on you much stronger. It wasn’t until the week of Thanksgiving that I knew I was depressed.
Holiday and seasonal depression is prevalent enough on its own. But when you add in the extenuating circumstances of what’s happening around you, it’s crucial to know how to unpack your emotions and handle them with care.
Men, in general, handle depressive episodes in ways that can be harmful and counterproductive. With the expectation of “being a man”, we’re encouraged to stay silent about our pain. We settle into mood swings or become reclusive out of fear. We find comfort in dangerous behavior with hopes that it’ll distract us from the real problem. But what we really need to do is support each other.
One thing that has helped me through the holiday season is spending time with my friends. I’ve seen them more during the holiday season than I have all year. We set up various activities that allow for fun and pure relaxation. A few of us also went on vacation right before Thanksgiving. I don’t have family nearby and being away from home is difficult during the holidays. Depression thrives in isolation. It convinces you that being alone is the best thing as to not bother anyone with your “stuff”. Which is precisely why guys need to explore the power of bonding sessions. We all need a tribe. You’d be surprised how a game night or bowling or just playing tackle football for a few hours can improve your sullen mood.
This year, I worked very hard on communicating my feelings in a healthier way. For much of my life, I was angry—angry at the world, angry at people, angry at myself. The holidays intensified these feelings. How I handled my depressive episodes during the holidays alienated people from me. I couldn’t figure out the weight or source of my anger until I learned how to communicate effectively when everything in me didn’t want to.
Men are evolving to a place where they’re comfortable admitting when they’re not OK and why they’re not OK. Sometimes there’s an explicit reason, other times you can’t actually articulate it. We need to have people we trust, whether it’s friends, a partner, a therapist, who can handle us when we aren’t OK. The key is to not put pressure on trying to be fixed or trying to get over it. In order to become a mentally stronger man, you have to accept that it’s OK when you aren’t OK.
Lastly, sometimes being alone is the best thing for some men. That contradicts what I previously said however being alone isn’t really about the depression. The holidays can be overwhelming and jarring to your senses. For example, I hate going to the mall. I’ve gotten headaches from all the heightened activity of people crowding in small spaces and seeing stampedes of families. After a day of shopping, the last thing I want to do is fake-smile and act like nothing’s wrong in the midst of a group of people. I notice that my depression is a sign that I’m out of sync. And the only way to get back in line is to spend time with my own spirit. Men can understand when their friends need space. In that space, don’t forget to do check-ins and assure each other that support is available.
Although I hope that they aren’t legitimate Grinches who hate the holidays, it’s understandable that November-early January is a tough time for many. This time of year is a reminder that my family has shrunk over the years. It calls to memory better Christmases that we used to have. Experiencing holiday depression is normal for a lot of men and families. In order to sift through your emotions and make it through, men have to be deliberate in cultivating safe spaces when things get to be too much.
Photo: Getty Images