By Rick Qualls
Good News…you don’t have to have a perfect Christmas. Christmas lights burn out. Your cat attacks the tree. The turkey doesn’t thaw in time or you forget to turn the oven on. Oops, you forgot where you hid the kids’ presents.
The Good News when we are depressed is that Christmas isn’t perfect.
The first Christmas wasn’t perfect. Joseph and Mary couldn’t find a place to stay in Bethlehem and Mary ended up delivering Jesus in a stable. They stayed in a stable with animals. A manger from which animals eat.
In an imperfect world, God took all the limitations of being a human being. He experienced all the problems of living in a broken world.
When we suffer from depression or bipolar we experience the effects of a broken world.
Depressed at Christmas? It is ok. Manic during yuletide? It is ok. We are vulnerable in an imperfect world.
The lessons from that first Christmas have a lot to teach us about coping when we are depressed during the Christmas season.
Mary teaches us acceptance. Imagine how Mary felt when an angel announced that she, an unmarried virgin, was going to have a baby? How could her fiancé Joseph understand? Would he refuse to marry her? What would Mary’s family say? Would her friends abandon her?
When we are diagnosed with a mental illness we have questions. How is this possible? Will our family understand? Will our friends abandon us in our need?
How did Mary respond to the angel’s message? “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it happen as you have said.” She accepted her condition.
Like Mary, we need to come to acceptance with having a mental health issue. The longer acceptance takes, the longer it will take us to manage our disease.
Does acceptance mean giving up? Does it mean being passive? NO! Acceptance is acknowledging reality and learning all we can to manage our disease, get treatment, and work toward remission. There are treatments. There is hope.
Acceptance is a kind of faith. A faith present in the first Christmas.
Joseph’s world was not perfect either. He simply could not understand how Mary could be pregnant. Joseph was heartbroken. Very quietly he decided to divorce Mary. The pain of feeling betrayed must have angered this humble man.
But in a dream, God revealed Joseph should continue with the marriage plans. And so he did. He practiced obedience to God when he felt betrayed. Instead of striking out in anger Joseph responded in love.
I get angry at having bipolar. Sometimes I am furious. It makes no sense. There were more things I could have accomplished. My plans for the future were twisted out of the shape. Sometimes I am so angry I lash out at people in my life though they are not responsible. With foolish anger, I cut my medicine. I fail to exercise. I feel betrayed by God.
Joseph teaches me that regardless of how I feel my response needs to be one of obedience. Striking out at the people I love hurts all of us and accomplishes nothing. Cutting my medicine and not working my plan for remission is only self-defeating.
Obedience is doing what has to be done even when you don’t understand. So when I am at my best I use my anger to energize my fight against my disease.
Not working my plan only hurts me. I need to follow my plan toward remission even when nothing makes sense.
Joseph teaches me obedience.
The first Christmas was not perfect. But what the angel told Joseph is still true, “The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God is with us’”.