Jennifer Dishman has experienced several Christmases in a hospital after spiraling uncontrollably into depression.
"I just couldn't deal with the stress," she said. "I think there is so much pressure on us to be happy and of good cheer.
"We want to go spend all this money for all the people on our list, and cook this grand meal. We are expected to do X, Y and Z, but it all adds stress.
"Thanksgiving is one day, and then it is over. But Christmas goes on the entire month of December," Dishman said.
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A blown budget, a lack of rest, and loneliness are common triggers for depression this time of year.
Dishman, 43, who now manages her diagnosed major depression with medication and therapy, recognizes the signals and stops herself before things spiral out of hand.
"Now I stay active and take time for me if I need to so I don't stress myself out," Dishman said.
She stays involved with activities at the National Association on Mental Illness in Lexington and at her church. NAMI is her touchstone, her support, her validation. "It helps because the group tells me that I'm OK," she said. "My illness is just like any other illness like diabetes or high blood pressure. It is treatable."
We might have family members diagnosed with depression or we ourselves might experience being "down in the dumps" from time to time.
Either way, we should become aware of what leads us to those valleys and how we can help ourselves or others get back.
The perfect Currier & Ives Christmas scene, complete with smiling relatives and gift recipients, great food and even a little snow, doesn't happen many times in our lives if at all.
But we push ourselves to create it even though we have schedules that are filled on normal days let alone on special occasions.
Add to that the winter blues, a greater expenditure of money, and relatives no one should see more than once a year, and you have the formula for trouble.
Dishman and others in the mental health field have learned a few tips that help her maintain her illness during these stressful times, and those tips will work for those of us battling a mental illness, those of us with an undiagnosed mental illness and those of us who appear normal.
"First," she said, "have a budget. Don't overspend. If you run out of money, then that's it.
"Also, get involved with something that is positive in your life," she said, such as NAMI.
And, Dishman said, give yourself positive affirmations instead of concentrating on your shortfalls and take time to recharge your energy. "Take some downtime for you," she said.
A serious trigger is isolation because family or friends have left to visit others. That's what brought on her episodes with depression when she was younger, Dishman said. Her family would visit other relatives in another state, but she had to remain behind to work.
And above all else, she said, if you need help, ask for it. "I'd rather you be safe in a crisis stabilization unit than do something to yourself," she said.
Yolonda Clay, outreach coordinator for NAMI Lexington, said there are many people hurting during this holiday season. But NAMI is ready and willing to help before a crisis sets in.
"We offer support groups for family members and consumers of mental health services," she said.
The groups meet Sunday afternoons from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at a peer-run support group called Participation Station, 869 Sparta Court in Lexington. Wellness classes are offered there, as well. Call (859) 309-2856 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Trained NAMI volunteers also operate a "Warm Line," which you can call if you need to talk with someone. That number is 1-877-840-5167 or (859) 252-0058.
If there is a crisis, call the Bluegrass Crisis Line at 1-800-928-8000 24 hours a day.
"We offer many tools for caregivers and family," Clay said. "Please remember, you are not alone. NAMI wants to provide the hope you need to overcome not only the 'holiday blues,' but the sadness and disease which comes form biologically based brain disorders."