Remember the Manger: A Guide to Surviving the Christmas Season with Depression


by Liz Schleicher

Merry Christmas! As Catholics, we are approaching the completion of a season devoted to pure joy. We’ve been feasting and gifting, caroling and visiting for almost twelve days now. Decorations continue to sparkle in our homes and churches, presents are barely out of the boxes, and bits of leftover wrapping paper and glitter float around the house like festive tumbleweeds.

But what if you’re still searching in vain for the peace and joy Christmas is supposed to bring to people of goodwill? For me and millions of other American women suffering from depression and mood disorders, the holidays can be rife with stress, illness, pain, guilt and sadness. Every unwritten Christmas card or unwanted gift can make us feel like failures. Travel and social gatherings are taxing. Festive decorations and piles of presents seem like reminders of our own lack of cheer. Each day closer to Ordinary Time is an opportunity lost to catch that “Christmas Spirit” everyone else seems to possess.

Fight mightily against these temptations to despair or be alienated from the Christian experience this Christmastide. Instead, focus your heart and mind on four things you can do to live in solidarity with the Holy Family, whose first Christmas season was the most difficult one of all.

Remember the Manger

Depression has a sly way of convincing us the painful Christmas experiences we have are the worst ever, and no one exists who can feel what we feel. This is a lie. Blessedly, there is no pain that Emmanuel, God With Us, hasn’t felt Himself. Hang on to your God-given sense of perspective by meditating daily throughout the season on the hardships of the Holy Family during the first Christmas. There is much material. Mary endured painful travel while heavily pregnant only to give birth to God’s son in dangerous, unsanitary conditions. Joseph’s first experience as a father was rejection in his own hometown and the inability to provide for his family. The King of Kings’ first throne was a pile of straw. Tell Jesus, Mary and Joseph about the difficulties of your own holidays. They know exactly what you’re going through.

Forget the Inn

When we are depressed or suffering, we perceive that there is no room for our pain in the lives of others, especially during a happy holiday. We feel left out when our friends plan a Christmas party we can’t attend or unwanted when our family giggles in glee at their 32nd rerun of Christmas Vacation and we just can’t share the laughs. Whether our perceptions are right or wrong, take a cue from Mary and Joseph. When you think you’re not wanted, ask again to make sure. You could be pleasantly surprised to find that your loved ones want you near you even when you’re not at your cheeriest. And if the answer is that there’s truly “no room in the inn,” proceed to the stable–anywhere quiet and simple you can encounter Jesus. Visit an Adoration chapel, stop off at your church for a quick rosary, or curl up in bed and lose yourself in a Scripture that comforts you. My favorite is from Isaiah. “Though the mountains fall away and the hills be shaken, my love shall never fall away from you.”

Receive the Kings

Feeling bad is not a sin, but for many of us, mood disorders come with a degree of sinful pride and a denial of our own limitations we’re simply not willing to fess up to. This tendency becomes even more marked over Christmas, when we tend to think thoughts like:

“If that girl on Facebook can do two peg doll exchanges, three themed Christmas trees, and an ugly sweater party all before the 27th, so can I!”

“I’ll be darned if I don’t bake six dozen Christmas cookies like I always do!”

“Of course I can stay up until the champagne toast! What’s one sleepless night going to hurt?”

And my personal prideful sin,

“I’m too strong to need antidepressants to manage my condition. This year, medication is off the table.”

Let go of any foolish pride you have this holiday. Receive your “kings”, or wise men bearing gifts, just as humbly and graciously as Mary and Joseph did. These kings may come in the guise of a mother-in-law who insists on roasting the turkey, a friend who offers free babysitting while you rest, or a relative who gently presses you to take your medication. You may think you don’t need the help or concern of others, but God knows better. Treat every offer from others to lighten your burdens as a precious gift of gold, frankincense or myrrh.

Adore Him

At its worst, depression makes us feel like there is nothing worth living for. That nothing is right or good or adequate this Christmas season, including us. Spiritually, however, we know better. So hang on for dear life to the One who is truly Good. Focus on Him alone. Praise Him each day of Christmastide using the praises in Isaiah 9:6:

Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Finally, stop yourself in your tracks each time you have a negative thought or feeling about Christmas. Pause, and say a Glory Be. Why? The King of the Universe, whose birthday you are honoring, could care less about the trimmings and trappings of the holiday, how much you achieved, or whether you celebrated with the proper amount of cheer. He came to save you and all the world, and all He wants in return is Love.


DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}


MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}



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