Depressed at Christmas?

Wilson Orhiunu

First Gentleman with Wilson Orhiunu

Email: Twitter: @Babawilly

Wilson Orhiunu qed.ngJoy to the world the Lord has come! So why the long faces? Probe deeper and people tell you that Christmas is a joyous time for them because it brings back great memories of Christmases past. And here in lies the problem. Vomited memories sometimes taste like pure bile. It is not unusual to see a rich man lament the poverty of his childhood days when they had neither tree nor turkey. He is unable to enjoy the festive season for he meditates on how he was the kid that Santa forgot.

My Christmas needs simple things to get started. Drinks, food and Elvis Presley’s Christmas album featuring songs like Santa Bring My Baby To Me, Blue Christmas and Mama Liked the Roses. I think this vinyl album belonged to my mum as did the Handel’s Messiah album.  I remember enjoying these albums at home as a youngster.

December was also the only time I got to ‘ride’ on the escalator in Kingsway stores in Lagos when we made the yearly pilgrimage to the Father Christmas Grotto.  The water pistols doled out as gifts tickled us no end. Those with rams or goats walked their animals to nearby fields for grazing and the brave ones got their rams to lock horns in battle.

Despite my fond memories of the festive seasons gone by, I know that Christmas can be a difficult time for others. Those who grew up without a family usually wonder what the fuss is all about while those who have lost family members stare sadly at the vacant chairs on Christmas day. The childless also wish they had kids to buy gifts for.

Those who have been ‘nailed’ by their loved ones (given their romantic marching orders) also remember their first Christmases with their ex partners. If still single or lonely they curse their exes on Christmas day almost choking on their turkey. The poor host who felt that “we cannot let him be alone at Christmas” regrets inviting a guest who refuses to cheer up but would rather cry and spoil it for everyone.

Songs like Dance with My Father don’t help. The winter does not help either. Seasonal affective disorder comes along and the bright Christmas lights do little to cheer some people up.

It is not enough to tell the depressed to ‘snap out of it’. (Snap out of a hyperactive Amygdala and shrinking Hippocampus? Not so easy!)  One should be sensitive and pick up on any signs that the festive season is driving a friend to despair.  A problem shared is a problem halved. Listen to your friends. They might be low in mood and turning to large quantities of alcohol to numb their despair. Also beware of friends who strive for their Christmas to be so perfect they stress about every aspect of it. Underlying hurts might be the main drivers of their obsessiveness with the ‘magic of Christmas’.

Some have no money to spend and no cards to send. A clean and empty fridge for Christmas is soul destroying. This is just about the worst time to be poor. Unemployed parents can feel like failures at this time when their kids wait for gifts in vain.

I am blessed. I have never gone a Christmas without food. I name our turkeys every year. Not sure what name I would give our turkey this year. Dr Azonto? We shall see.  But some would go into the festive season with empty stomachs and no hope. We should all look for someone to make happy this Christmas. Wishing everyone a very merry Christmas is good but mere wishes are sometimes not adequate to instigate the structural adjustment programmes needed to boost  the ‘stomach infrastructure’ (Nigerian joke).

Depression is a disease and requires treatment. Self-help measures can be effective but if things do not improve seek help.

Stimulating your brain with exercise is good, as is the avoidance of stress. (Just don’t buy what you cannot afford and stop seeing the butcher’s wife!).

Getting good amounts of sleep, healthy food and avoiding recreational drugs are measures that will improve your mental health.

Laugh at yourself and ignore real or perceived insults. Don’t listen to those moody musicians with their depressing songs of heartbreak and loneliness. Go for Azonto, Gweta and anything fast and pulsating so you can dance, sweat and forget your sorrows.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Jesus born into the world is a thing worth celebrating. People of faith should all pray so that all men can find Joy in this season.

Now to my favourite Christmas story which explains how a Naija Dad can become depressed at Christmas. It was up in Kano and Christmas was coming. My friend, Lady L’s family had relocated to Kano the year before and her Dad surprised them with a huge ram for Christmas. Lady L had visions of shining in the lead role of Mary. Not the Mary from the nativity whose child was called the Lamb of God. Rather she dreamt of staring in the movie adaptation of her favourite nursery rhyme- Mary had a little lamb. She believed the ram purchased to be a pet and named him Fred. She fed Fred and sang to him daily. Four days to Christmas she overheard her parents discussing hiring a butcher to ‘murder’ Fred. She cried for hours till she summoned the courage to do the only honourable thing.  In the middle of the night she crept outside and set Freddy free.

She was so proud of herself when she broke the news to her Dad the next morning over breakfast when her Dad had commented that Fred was unusually quiet that morning. Her dad did what Naija Dads do when very angry with the children. He blamed it on his wife.   “Come and hear your daughter o!” he thundered.  The search party never found Freddy.

Merry Christmas and think sensibly.