Holiday Blues (Part I)–a Thanksgiving message for us all

And so . . . the holiday season is upon us.  The Christmas decorations have been in the stores for weeks, the music is on the radio . . . and what if you just . . . don’t . . . feel it.   A visitor to the blog writes in . . .

 I never understood how anyone could be depressed during the holidays. There’s so much going on. But alas I now understand. All of a sudden I am very alone. The silence in this house is deafening. There’s only me and my adult disabled daughter. She’s autistic /aspergers so she stays to herself. Next February, I will be a widow for 3 yrs after watching him die over a 5 yr period in long term care following a auto accident. I just had to put my mother in long term care this past February. she doesn’t know me. She doesn’t even recall my name when I tell her. My oldest girl is going through a divorce. She’s trying to find a new emotional happiness after a horrible betrayal in what she and everyone else thought was a storybook marriage. She and the kids are spending Thanksgiving with a new friend. I took off Thanksgiving thinking we’d all be together but now I realize I’m actually caught up in empty nest syndrome. I am so tearful and I don’t know what to do.
The job I have now is not all it’s cracked up to be. I love being a nurse but the facility is not me and I’m too old to start over yet again. It was tough enough having to start over last April when my old hospital closed. I just can’t keep up with the young nurses that are out there now. My brain is filled to capacity. I was taking classes to complete my BSN but I just can’t focus. I get good grades but I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything.
I’m 55 yrs old. I’m not feeling this 50 is the new 30 business. My body hurts. I feel I must go on so I can take care of my two girls and the kids, especially the autistic one. I’m not suicidal. I would never do that to my girls and besides I am a christian and I’d like to be with my family again in the afterlife.
The more I think about the holidays the sadder I get. I’m tearful just writing this. But at the same time I feel like my purpose has been served. I need a support group. Can you help me?

At first glance, this writer’s story seems so very sad, and her situation seems so . . . empty.  But what it seems like as I read it over and over and over trying to come up with some words of wisdom is NOT that your life is too empty, but that your life is too full . . . too full of people who you take care of and seemingly devoid of people who take care of YOU.  You have spent the last decades of you life taking care of others . . . you are so good at it they PAY you for it at work, right.  You are a nurse.  You take care of people for a living.  When your husband was alive, you took care of him.  When he was injured in the accident, you took care of him and supervised his care in the nursing home.  You are supervising the care of your mother who is a mental invalid.  You have to take care of your autistic daughter.  You have to take care of your emotionally injured daughter.  WHO IS TAKING CARE OF YOU?!?!?!?!?  Taking classes for your BSN is a good distraction from the crap in your life but it is about as cozy and nurturing as a dental visit . . . no a dental visit is better–at least at a dental visit, you get the feeling that someone is caring for you.

I’m going to be blunt because the holiday season is upon us. 

DO THIS:  Get out a piece of paper and write down a list of everyone you know that you have talked to over the last month or two.  Include folks from church, from work, old acquaintances, neighbors . . . everyone you can remember.  Review the list and identify the people that you would like to spend time with.  Then (and here is the hard part that requires putting your pride on the back shelf for a minute) pick up the phone and start going down your list and CALL A FELLOW HUMAN AND ASK TO SPEND THANKSGIVING DINNER WITH THEM.  Tell them what is going on.  You took the day off to be with family but your daughter can’t make it.  You feel very alone because your husband is dead and your mother is in a nursing home.  Ask them for your help.  I’m sure that your you will find that a few of them might be going away.  It is inevitable that some will not be able to accommodate you.  BUT, it is equally inevitable that you WILL find someone to break bread with.  There are many many people who would jump at the opportunity to be filled with the warm feelings that come with helping others (that is why you became a nurse in the first place so you know the feeling).

Once that is taken care of, you need to start setting yourself up to be cared for by people.  I would certainly recommend that you get yourself in with a therapist that will work with you on this in a systematic fashion.  A group would be helpful.  Connecting with groups at church or the community would be helpful.  You have been so strong for so many people for so long . . . I think you may have forgotten what it is like to let your guard down.  To let others really in.  To let others take care of you for a change.  Your aching body is telling you that you are too tense too often.  A symbol (so to speak) of your guard being up all the time. 

I want to hear back from you.  I want to hear what happened when you made your calls.  I’m sure that others would be interested as well.  Because your situation is not that unique.  So many people spend so much of this holiday season feeling disconnected from others when we feel like we “should” be feeling connected.  But being connected is a very active process and requires work on your part–get to work and let me know how it goes.

–Dan Hartman, MD

1 comment to Holiday Blues (Part I)–a Thanksgiving message for us all

  • One more thing . . .
    Make a list of all the reasons why you cannot or should not do this . . . then cruple up the list and throw it out. Then, make a list of all the reasons why you SHOULD do it and post it where you will see it frequently.

    –DH MD