Recent studies indicate that “holiday depression” is largely a made-up condition. But how is that supposed to help you get through the office Christmas party?
A story today on National Public Radio cited various studies asserting, contrary to popular belief, that depression does not increase in the winter months. NPR’s social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam reported that, in fact, depression tends to go up in the spring, summer, and fall, and that the narrative of wintertime depression is largely a creation of journalists writing columns on wintertime depression.
One study Vedantam cited focused on parents who viewed their teenagers as more depressed in the winter. But it turned out that the parents were only interpreting their teenagers’ behavior as more depressed, when in fact the teenagers didn’t feel more depressed at all.
Of course, many people suffer from real clinical maladies that may increase in wintertime. But most of the people responsible for the increase of Google searches on the word “depression” during the winter months aren’t, it seems, really depressed at all.
But what good is all this social science to you? You’re still feeling bummed-out. In a blue funk. Woebegone and wretched. You’ve got finicky people still to shop for, Christmas concerts to attend, lines to stand in at the post office, traffic to fight through, Uncle Cy and Aunt Hazel to manage, an office party that you can only hope will get you time off in Purgatory, 501(c)(3)’s who want what’s left of your money, a family Christmas letter to compose…
Look, you’ve got good reasons to feel depressed. (I mean, “depressed.”)
But listen to what Walker Percy wrote in his hilarious send-up of the self-help genre, Lost in the Cosmos:
“Now, call into question the unspoken assumption: something is wrong with you. Like Copernicus and Einstein, turn the universe upside down and begin with a new assumption.
“Assume that you are quite right. You are depressed because you have every reason to be depressed. No member of the other two million species which inhabit the earth–and who are luckily exempt from depression–would fail to be depressed if it lived the life you lead. You live in a deranged age–more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”
Now, doesn’t that make you feel better? Fie on those social scientists! Let their studies be better employed as kindling for the Yule log! You have excellent reasons for your depression, or “depression,” or whatever it is.
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The tough part of this news, however, is that your condition is not a medical one. It’s rather a philosophical one. And in a way, your malady is not really a malady at all. It’s a sign of health.
The thing is, you’ve lost sight of the idea–perhaps because you never had it, or because you lost it somewhere in the hardware store where you were shopping for replacement Christmas lights–of the old Quo vadam et ad quid?Where am I going, and why?
It would be easier if I could just tell you to get more sleep and exercise, to lay off the carbs and sugars, and to practice the ancient art of interior emotional dislocation whenever Aunt Hazel makes pointed remarks about the way you discipline the kids. Not that these kind of hints aren’t helpful, in their own way.
But your remedy is an even more challenging one.
It comes down to being quiet for a few moments, each and every day. Closing the door of your room. Taking a deep breath, and thanking God that you’re not feeling too comfortable in this mized-up world of ours.
Then, you have to ask him in prayer: who am I really and where am I going?
I can’t guarantee you’ll feel better right away. The world, after all, is pretty deranged. But then, that’s the whole point of this event called “Christ’s Mass,” isn’t it?