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Unexpected Help for Grief and Holiday Depression

Photograph by Getty Images

It’s odd to think how a long-dead president could be your guide to modern holiday depression, but this year, Teddy Roosevelt is mine. Like many of us, I watched that super cool PBS documentary about the Roosevelts a few months back, learning more about one of America’s First Families in a few hours than 18 years of formal education ever taught me.

When I learn about historical figures that have experienced great loss, I almost always feel an instant kinship and draw inspiration from them. When you live with grief, as I do after the loss of my daughter, I think it is common to seek out others like yourself. There is a shorthand to grief that is hard to describe.

Long story short, I thought of old Teddy again this past week as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed. It was chock full of smiling, happy families, brightly lit trees, updates about holiday shopping, Christmas-card addressing and cookie decorating.

My heart sank.

Dammit. It was that time of year again. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t ready, it didn’t matter that I had barely washed and folded the Thanksgiving linens, it didn’t matter that I was sick in bed with the flu. The holidays were here. Again. Ugh.

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Every year, I work hard and promise that this will be the year that matches the ideal that exists in my head — the ideal that I see staring back at me, that my friends and family seem to enjoy, if you are to believe their photos. The ideal that, sure enough, every year sends me into a bit of a holiday funk. Solidly, into the second week of December now, I’m still waiting for some glimmer of holiday spirit that matches what I am seeing on Facebook.

Nope, I got nothing.

Why would I want to make my life harder this time of year?

Instead, I have questions. How is everyone so healthy to be out in the world looking at lights and trees when our family hasn’t been out of the house together in eight days because of the flu and croup? Where are people finding the time to sit for classic family photos, design a card that is somehow both warm and cool and address all those suckers — let alone get them to the post office? Why does everyone jump to decorate trees and home before the Thanksgiving turkey is cold when all those decorations feel so damn oppressive to me?

I could go on, but I won’t.

Instead, I am going to remember the words of one esteemed Theodore Roosevelt:

Image via Sheila Quirke

Thank you, dear Teddy. I needed that.

For me, holiday comparison is the thief of what little holiday joy I work hard to muster for my two sons. Facebook seems to be just another obstacle I have to muddle through to do that. By paying too much damn attention to all the things I am assuming my friends and acquaintances are doing with ease, I am making it that much harder to do what I need to do for my own family.

Why would I want to make my life harder this time of year?

For that reason, I think the best and healthiest thing I can do for myself and my family this holiday season is log off of the old Facebook for a few weeks. When I stop to think about it, why am I allowing myself to feel badly in response to my friends’ joy? Because I don’t share in it? Well, that’s understandable. But it’s also kind of crummy.

So that’s my new strategy, thanks to a dead president. You never know where you will find inspiration. This year, I found it in an unlikely spot.

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Wisdom is wisdom, and it would be silly to ignore. This time of year is hard for many of us. If seeing other’s joy compounds your sorrow, well, then, stop comparing, stop assuming and stop obsessing. Turn off the Facebook and do what you need to do to stop feeling so badly: Step 1, stop comparing. Step 2, focus on yourself.

Thanks, Mr. Roosevelt. I needed that.

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