Special Report: Holiday depression; ‘It’s like a homesickness that just settles on the inside’

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — As the holiday season approaches, it’s expected to be the happiest time of the year filled with family, friends and fun.

But, for so many, it’s far from happy.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.

For Patricia Middleton of Savannah, it’s hard to see the holidays as a time to celebrate.

“It’s just sadness.  You smile and you go about your daily business, but it’s like a homesickness that just settles on the inside.  It’s very subtle and it sneaks up on you,” Middleton told WSAV’s Ben Katko.

Her father died years ago just before Thanksgiving, and she lost her grandmother some years ago around Halloween.  She has a daughter who is married and pregnant that lives in Oregon.  On top of that, her mother and brother are also out-of-town.

For the most part, Middleton is alone in the Coastal Empire.

“It’s really hard.  You see families out and enjoying themselves and getting ready for the holidays, and it’s sad.  I feel lonely sometimes,” Middleton said.

The truth of the matter is that her feelings aren’t all that uncommon.

“Anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of the population experiences depression at some point in their life.  The question is, ‘Why?’” according to Dr. Edward Drohan.  He’s a licensed psychologist at Memorial Health Medical Center.

Around the holiday season, it has little to do with how much you do have in your life, but rather, what you don’t have.

“Situations act as cues.  It reminds us of times past.  People gone.  Relationships lost,” Drohan said.

That’s what happens to Middleton’s emotions this time each year.

“They were worse when my dad passed.  He made the best ham. Oh, he could cook!   It’s funny.  It’s such a small thing, but you just miss small things,” Middleton said.  “I miss being able to call him and talk to him about the holidays, or just talk to him about daily life. You just want him back.”

Over the years, she has figured out how to take hold of her feelings, to some degree.

She has sought professional help, but it’s something else that gets her through.  She spends her holidays with other people by giving back in her community.

“What I do is try to connect with other people.  There are so many places here in Savannah in the community that need volunteers,” Middleton told WSAV.

It may be easier than you think to find a way to overcome these strong holiday-driven feelings.

Reports and experts suggest:

  • Find somewhere to volunteer.
  • Start a new tradition.
  • Don’t give in to holiday pressures – it’s okay to refuse an invitation.
  • Don’t try to do too much – it’s okay if everything isn’t perfect.
  • It’s okay to seek professional help.

“It’s important to, number one, recognize what’s happening with you and then, the second is, to take an inventory of your emotions and what you’re feeling on a daily basis, and if you find yourself feeling more sad or depressed, or if you find yourself unable to shake off that anxiety, it is important to seek help,” said Michelle Aycock, a Savannah-based licensed psychotherapist.

For Patricia Middleton, she’s trying to help people understand that while you may feel lonely, you’re not really alone.

“A lot of people feel like you’re the only one.  I’m the only person that feels this way.  You’re not.  There are so many other people that feel the exact same way,” she said.

It’s those feelings that, year after year, she’s determined to overcome.

“Sometimes you’re sadder than other times.  If you need help, go get help.  There is no shame in that,” Middleton said.

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