We associate Christmas and the year-end with joy and cheer, but might forget it can also be a season of sadness for many people.
Paradoxically, it is the festive atmosphere of the season that can actually trigger the sadness, usually by bringing back memories of happier times.
I thought I’d run through some of the people who might be especially vulnerable — my way of reaching out and requesting everyone to be on the lookout for our own risk factors, and those of others, so that we might be able to give more of ourselves to those in greater need, materially and emotionally.
I’d start with people who struggle with clinical depression. The situations vary, and there are the few who at least have access to professional care and supportive families.
Others will need, now more than ever, friends and relatives who understand.
In countries with long winters — and we have Filipinos living in many of those countries — the long nights and short days can set off seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, marked by depression.
We’ve been having longer nights as well and I wonder if, for people already down and out, seeing the sun set before 6 p.m. might add to a feeling of desolation.
We should be concerned not just about clinical depression, but also about other physical and mental illnesses that are more prevalent in December and January, and which can be more challenging with the depression they cause, and the longer recovery time.
Visit the sick, especially those who are in the hospital. Remember that your visit is as much to cheer up the patient as it is for the people who handle much of the caregiving. Spare them the unsolicited advice and comments (e.g., “You should try this new supplement for your father” or “Oh, she’s so skinny — are you feeding her?”) and be comforting instead, simply with your presence. Don’t stay longer than necessary, and don’t visit at all if you are down with some infection that might be passed.
Respiratory problems are more difficult to handle during the holidays, in part because it’s colder but also because, again, of the holiday atmosphere contrasting with one’s own debilitation. Breathing defines our lives, so having even a simple cold or cough can seem much more difficult.
Add on a drastic change in life’s circumstances and the physical problems can seem so much more daunting — problems with a business venture, say, or losing a job. Let’s not forget, too, that the first Christmas after retirement can bring unexpected feelings of melancholy.
We do miss people much more during the holidays. Those of us who recently lost people (and, for some, pets) we loved will find it tougher during the holidays. We just have to be conscious about unexpected reminders from the recently deceased’s favorites — a Christmas carol, a dish, even something on the supermarket shelf that would have made a nice gift. Grief will pass, we must keep telling ourselves, and that our departed loved ones would not have wanted to see us deprived of holiday cheer.
For Filipinos, it’s especially important to provide support to friends whose spouse, partner or child might have left recently to work, study or live overseas. We Filipinos are very attached to our homes and to our loved ones, which makes our diaspora so much more painful.
I used “overseas,” but the diaspora applies as well to internal migration. Think of your own domestic help: Some of them may have left young children, or a spouse, in the province.
Today, Skype and Viber and other phone apps are Santa’s new helpers, allowing us to keep in touch, with video calls no less. Invest more time to connect during the season, especially with loved ones overseas. Alone and disconnected from friends and loved ones, they are more vulnerable when it comes to forgetting about the family left behind, or falling in love with someone whom they’re spending time with — a coworker, a dorm or housemate.
Organize the barkada, the gang, for a group call (or group caroling?). There will be tears, no doubt, and a bit of sadness, but that would be offset by so much more warmth and cheer, enough to bring us into the new year and beyond. The trick, really, is to find or bring cheer by being thankful for what we have by way of friendships and goodwill.
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