Distractions from Depression During the Holidays – Do They Work?

Xmas stockings


It may seem odd that I’m writing about my holiday “blues” this late in the game, but for me, Christmas day is the darkest. It brings inexplicable depression and despair, so I call it D-Day. All the hoopla in the weeks preceding Christmas doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, that’s when I have fun getting my holiday cards and ornaments together to hand deliver or send. I enjoy making them because it distracts and calms me, but giving them to people is the most rewarding. This year I was even more distracted by the unexpected success of my brand new Etsy page, where anyone can buy my goofy ornaments. Check it out at https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BenevolentBuddies. I know the immediate hubbub was due to the holidays, and it will die down, but I was pleasantly surprised shocked.

Siamese cat

In addition to the distraction of my budding toy-making business, I was offered two cat care jobs in the week before D-Day. One was from a dear, elderly neighbor, whom I’ll call Gloria, since that’s her name. Gloria is very attached to a stray cat who comes to her house twice a day for meals. The cat, Meming, has no idea he’s a stray because Gloria takes such good care of him. She lives with her daughter, and together they occasionally go to their beach house, but Gloria refuses to go if I can’t feed Meming while they’re away. I always say “yes,” because I never go anywhere,  and feeding Meming is a pleasure. I know it gives Gloria peace of mind, and it’s a good distraction for me from D-Day.

But toy-making and feeding Gloria’s cat were not my only distractions this year. I was also asked by a friend of  a friend to cat sit for four days this past week. This gig was totally new for me, but it seemed like an amazing way to battle my coming depression. If I take on a new task and get totally immersed, I’ll forget about depression, right? I’ve never cat sat or house sat before, but I was so flattered that my friend recommended me, I said “Yes! I’d love to!” The once young and healthy me had total faith in myself. I momentarily forgot that I have few health challenges, and that I would now be taking care of not only two cats, but also a home. And when was I supposed to take care of my dogs, quails and turtles?

Early Thursday morning  I arrived at the home of the couple for whom I would be cat/house sitting, and one of them, whom I’ll call Kit, showed me his routine with the feeding and cleaning of the cats. The two cats are beautiful Bengals, one female, one male, and the home is a luxurious, palace-like place, filled with amazing modern sculptures and paintings.  It’s also equipped with high-tech modern appliances, my favorite being the heated toilet seat. Not a bad place to spend four days, right?

Kit walked me through every detail of washing the cats’ dishes and filling their special fountain of filtered water. Then he showed me how to carefully clean the litter box,  sanitize the scoop, broom and dust pan with special formulas in spray bottles he has created, and bleach the floor. This may sound excessive as I describe it, but I was comforted by his eccentric, meticulous cleaning, and I knew I’d found  a kindred spirit. I also knew I could do it the way he wanted me to because that’s how I clean! I have always referred to this aspect of myself in a self-deprecating way, saying I was neurotic and had OCD tendencies,  but when I saw Kit cleaning things the way I did, bleaching everything when it was already clean, for example, or picking up the tiniest crumb or pebble that no one else could even see, I felt right at home. I also knew I’d do a good job.

But later in the day, after I worked on some special-order ornaments, then neurotically cleaned my own home and fed Gloria’s cat,  I was overcome by fear, and my head filled with doubt about being able to perform my duties in the cat mansion. Would I have the strength to follow through on all my cat-care promises? My fatigue triggered a queasy anxiety, and I felt completely incompetent. When this anxiety takes over, I get dizzy and weak and have a hard time seeing things that are right in front of me, literally and figuratively. Is it emotional or physiological? Is there anything I can do to prevent it? Who knows? I usually just wait for it to pass.

I used to be comforted by taking on new commitments, and expected all this recent activity to nip my nasty depression/anxiety in the bud, but alas, it is rearing it’s ugly mug. Does being disabled mean I have to stop trying new things?  Keeping busy, even if it’s a sedentary activity, like sewing my ornaments, is critical to my mental health. Was it a mistake to take the cat-sitting job? Had I bitten off more than I could chew?

Today was my final day in the cat mansion, and I survived. The cats were  well fed, and the plates, floors, litter box, scoops and brooms are bleachy clean. I thought the modern gizmos and quietness of the home would be the source of my comfort during this endeavor, but no,  it was the gratification I got from being able to neuroticuically clean up after the cats. Is that weird? It got my mind off D-Day for awhile. That’s something.

I don’t know why Christmas day is so hard for me. As a kid,  growing up in Wisconsin, we always had white, magical Christmases, and December 25 was the best day. Every year we had a festive, fragrant tree, and traditional decorations, my favorite being the knitted stockings, made by my great grandmother. I always enjoyed buying presents for my three siblings, and Santa(Mom) never failed to surprise us with gifts we’d only dreamed of. No trauma there to make me afraid of St. Nick’s day. So, what gives?

About fifteen years ago, for no apparent reason, I started getting spooked on Christmas day. Seeing shops closed for the day, less traffic on the streets and fewer people out and about made me sad. It was as if everyone had left town and forgot about me. To be clear, this whole time I have had a very happy home life with my husband Don and all our animal children, and  I feel cared for and loved. But for some mysterious reason, on Christmas day I worry that everyone is gone, or worse yet, dead, and that I’m going to be all by myself for the rest of my life. It sounds extreme, I know, but that’s how my mind works sometimes.

Just one more day…The good news is that once December 25 is over, the darkenss magically lifts, normal life resumes, and I’m okay. I’ve never taken taken time to sit down and write about this because I don’t know why I sink so low on D-Day, and trying to explain it makes me sound nuts, but it has helped. And in the end, all my delightful distractions have helped.

I hope each of you have a peaceful holiday and a healthy new year!


4 thoughts on “Distractions from Depression During the Holidays – Do They Work?

  1. Oh, Marty! Everything will be fine. Please don’t allow yourself to panic or get so low. No one is leaving you. I love you and wish you a peaceful holiday. ♡♡♡♡♡

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