[OPINION] Christmas isn't necessarily merry for people with depression and anxiety

Christmas is about happiness. Our holiday lexicon brims over with positivity: merry and mirth and joy and rejoice and cheer and glee. And while this rings true for many, especially in a culture that puts a premium on making merry, there are some who find the season tedious at best, and painful at worst. I happen to be one of them, and I figure I can lend a little perspective from the viewpoint of someone with Major Depressive Disorder. (READ: Why do Filipinos love to celebrate Christmas?)

It’s not just because of the punishing traffic jams, or the physical and financial hassle of having to buy way too many gewgaws and trinkets. The burdens of consumerism during the holidays is another issue altogether. The problem brought up less often is the emotional toll family gatherings have on people with mood disorders. (READ: [OPINION] What a mood disorder episode feels like

As nice as it would be to take part in the image of a happy clan celebrating together, major social situations with relatives are a trigger for some people's conditions. Paranoia, bad memories, the crippling fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, overthinking others' comments, feelings of shame and inadequacy – these are just some of the things people with these conditions have to endure at certain gatherings, and these stressors can have serious effects on their well-being. Add to that the fear that said relatives would be disappointed or even angry at their inability to socialize, and it makes for a multi-layered nightmare. (READ: How to survive a Christmas party if you're single and lonely)

This is not to put blame on these relatives, mind you, but to clear up that when someone flakes on a Christmas family get-together, it may not be a pointed act of insulting the family, but a means for that person to be kind to themselves and protect themselves (and, in effect, their loved ones) from psychological episodes or attacks. It is a call for understanding – which is admittedly difficult to achieve, given that mental health is still dismissed or deemed taboo by many Filipinos. 

The family unit – more so the Filipino family – is a complicated creature, and whether or not we want to admit it, not all issues can be wrapped in sparkly paper and topped with a festive bow. So the next time you wonder why one of your relatives decided to stay home or go elsewhere, avoid making hasty conclusions. If you want to reach out to them, do it from a place of patience and openness. Listen to what they have to say instead of placing pressure on them. (PODCAST: Battling depression and anxiety)

Some traditions, however joyful and bright their reputation, may be practiced too simplistically or dogmatically. You can't force someone to be happy, and making them put on a happy face doesn't help anybody in the long run. And this isn't to say that people with depression or anxiety will never show up for holiday gatherings. Rather, you have to let them decide on their own, to gauge their own comfort and state of mind, because it is possible for them to be okay at such events given the right circumstances – which vary from person to person. (READ: Polite replies to 'Ang taba mo!' and other Christmas party remarks)

Christmas is not necessary to indulge in happiness and to be kind to one another. More to the point, the ability to uphold traditions is not a true measure of a family's success. A family's success relies far more on each member's willingness to embrace each other's idiosyncracies, and to know the difference between mere tolerance and genuine empathy. – Rappler.com

Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Opinion section, and is (happily) wrangled into voice over and hosting work. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for 6 years. She is also a fictionist.