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gillian marchenko

Author and Speaker


Struggle with Depression during the Holidays


 Struggle with Struggle with depressiondepression… Tis the season

Struggle with depression. Tis the season, fa la la la la, la, la, la, la. 1 out of 4 people in America struggle with depression or some kind of mental illness. There are also people who deal with chronic pain, grief, post traumatic stress, and probably too many other things to list here that are often greatly enhanced throughout the holidays.

I have major depressive disorder… (I know, shocker. I never talk about this… and just so you know, I am so sick of talking about it. I am definitely having more good days then bad but my depression is a curve :). But my publicist for my upcoming book Still Life, living fully with depression (coming May 1st, 2016, InterVarsity Press, available now for pre-order) gently encouraged me to post about the trickiness and struggle with depression during the holidays and how friends and family can support loved ones specifically during these times.

Now, I want to be careful with this post because I know there are some of you who are alone in this struggle without family or community. I hope this doesn’t hurt you. You are not alone. Those of us who struggle with depression are here. We can be your community.

And I know there are some families and communities who still just don’t understand. They don’t see your illness as an illness. I’m sorry. I can imagine that is very painful. My heart is with you.


Here are some of my specific struggles with depression during the holidays:

  1. Unrealistic self-inflicted pressure on myself and quickly embracing the guilt of lack of fulfillment as opposed to the victories. (My wise husband Sergei keeps telling me to do what I can, and for that day, what I can do is enough and to keep praying and to take my thoughts captive to God, to draw me nearer to him.)
  2. I struggle with large groups of people for an extended amount of time (even people I love and who love me.)
  3. I also struggle with one on one conversation, too. Double whammy. My kids sometimes play ‘name the end of the sentence mom is trying to get out.’ Ha!
  4. My anxiety is enhanced from the stress of caring for our two daughters with special needs in other people’s homes (Want to learn about that aspect of our lives? Check out my first memoir Sun Shine Down that published in 2013. Gosh, I am a plugging machine today but what can I say, an author has gotta eat).
  5. I sweat during conversations, sometimes cry, and sometimes laugh uncontrollably (so weird).
  6. I worry about what others (specifically my family) think of me instead of knowing (because I know they do) that they love me unconditionally.
  7. I have other issues, but wait for it… I struggle with depression today and I’m not great so I can’t think of any more.

Last year for Christmas we stayed with my sister Amy and her family in Michigan for a few days. Evangeline was over stimulated, I was over stimulated, and my husband ended up exhausted from taking care of us.

Amy, and the rest of our family made several accommodations that we appreciated and that helped relieve stress. She and I were on the phone a few days ago and she reminded me that it went better than I remember, and that we all, gasp!, had fun.

So, friends and family who love people who struggle with mental illness, here are some things my family does to help me during the holidays:

  1. They gave space. I disappear from time to time for an hour or two to retreat to my room during a full day of family. They are fine with it and even pitch in with the girls during my absence. If Sergei is busy or just needs a break, all I have to do is say the word and my niece steps in and takes over the care for one of our girls (she does great with Evie who can be a challenge for those who aren’t used to her).
  2. They are growing in their discernment. One time (not at Christmas) we visited my parents and right away my mom could tell I was in a depressive episode. She put me to bed for a rest and helped with the kids.
  3. They include me in activities, even if I start to laugh and cry uncontrollably, or grow sullen and disengaged within one simple conversation. They also understand if Sergei and I aren’t up for an activity because it will be too taxing on our family.
  4. They encourage me. My brother-in-law encourages me with scripture and helps me remember that God is with me in the struggle.
  5. My struggle with depression is no longer an elephant in the room. They get that it is an illness. My dad and brother often check in with me to see how I am doing. My sister sees me wilting and steps in and helps where I should be helping. My mom hugs me and offers one hundred percent understanding w/o judgement. Heck, one time my two adult nephews Ben and Will actually came into my room while I was bad off. I was embarrassed but they didn’t care. One joked with me until I laughed and the other actually climbed over the bed to give me a hug and tell me he loved me. During one of Evie’s autism melt downs she and I spent hours in a dark room in an attempt to help calm her down and keep her safe in different surroundings. My sister-in-law Kris had the brilliant idea to send my brother Justin into the room with a glass of wine for me. That kind gesture reminded me that even when absent, I am missed and cared for.
  6. They care for all of our family. My niece Karli and my brother and his family make sure our older children without special needs have fun by paying loads of attention to them, asking them for sleep overs, going to the movies, and in Karli’s case, taking approximately 100 selfies a visit with them to post on social media. My whole family makes sure Elaina and Zoya are included in all activities even if we all can’t go, and they get a lot of great time with their cousins.
  7. They are gracious. Our daughter Polly just loves people (especially her family). She has no concept of personal space and climbs up into people’s’ laps to cup her hands around their faces and constantly wants someone to play with her. They are also upfront with her, telling her sometimes to get down and it is enough, she can’t always get what she wants (but if we try sometimes we just might find… we get what we need).
  8. They are growing in knowledge, acceptance, and love just as they are (and I, as well) with all the intricacies of a loving, happy, but messy family (like all other families on the planet). I think we’d all prefer not to deal with my mental illness. At times, they (and Sergei and I, for that matter) don’t know how to deal with it or how to support us. I know they’d prefer (as would I) the goofy engaged Gillian that I can be. But regardless, we all continue to love.

So, we are going to visit our family for Christmas, and as I read through this list, I see growth for all of us, and dare I say it?,.. am exciting to go.

Merry Christmas. Indeed, we live in a broken world. Tis the season to struggle with depression, but it is also the season to grow and to love and I know that it is because of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

Here are some other posts that can help with these issues:

Surviving Holiday Party Small Talk When You Have Chronic Illness, The Mighty

The Struggles of Depression and Anxiety, NAMI

Holiday Anxiety, Depression, and Stress, Medicine.Net.Com

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  1. Cindy says:

    You seem to have a very challenging life. I am very impressed with how you handle it all even though you sometimes have issues. Good for you. And your girls are all beautiful.

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