I smile at the cashier and say “Happy Holidays” as I check out of the grocery store line with a cart full of food for Christmas dinner. “It’s not going to be a happy one for me this year hon” is her response. I mumble sorry and quickly head for the door. Maybe I should have asked her why? I was taken off guard by her response and the pain in her eyes. I know the holidays are not happy for everyone. Decorations and holiday music do not ease suffering or loss and often makes them worse.
I have a secret I have been hiding.
I also find the holidays painful. They remind me of a time when I was at the lowest point of my life just a few years ago. And while I try to be grateful for how far I have come, I can’t help feeling a pang of sadness thinking what might have been. Sometimes I forget, letting the Christmas spirit take over as I admire my beautifully decorated tree. My heart is filled with warmth and love. And as quickly as I have forgotten I remember and realize the holidays will never be the same. They have forever been tainted. Tainted because a few years back I was prescribed a drug that would eventually throw me into a maniac state. I have since learned that I am not alone in my experience and many people have also had similar reactions to the same drug.
I didn’t want to take an antidepressant, but I was still processing a cancer diagnosis and recovering from an invasive surgery. Struggling with my own mortality I sought help. The help came in the form of a little white pill. I was warned that a small percent of patients who took this antidepressant reported experiencing manic episodes. But if I paid attention to every warning label, I would never give my kids vaccinations or drink a diet coke again. Plus, half of my friends took antidepressants and they were fine.
Unfortunately, I was part of the small percent. My depression subsided but was replaced by a state of reckless behavior that had painful consequences. I was living a double life. During the day, I was a Mom packing lunches and helping with homework. No one knew at night I was slipping out of the house, going to bars and meeting strangers. That is until I hit rock bottom. It was only a few Christmases ago that I almost lost my family. Although I can’t erase the past, I can try to move on. I shop, wrap, bake and laugh with a heavy heart. I smile on the outside but am still torn apart on the inside.
I know I am not alone in my grief. I know that behind many smiles this holiday season there is heartache. Friends mourning the loss of loved ones who will no longer be at Christmas dinner, loneliness and families estranged while the entire world seems to be celebrating.
Despite my pain, I try to find hope. Hope that each year will get a little easier. Hope that starting new traditions will allow me to look forward instead of backward. I allow myself time for grieving and forgiving. I cherish the people who love me and have stood by my side.
If you are grieving this holiday season, know that you are not alone. Remember you are strong, you are loved, and you will get through the pain. My wish for the New Year is that the broken-hearted find peace and strength amidst their sorrow.
This author has chosen to publish her story anonymously.