mental health

[Two Pronged] Seasonal depression

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer

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[Two Pronged] Seasonal depression


How do you deal with depression in the middle of a season that is usually associated with joy and happiness?

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer:

I just want to share something about my personal experiences every November to January and Every May to June. We all know that seasons like Christmas are celebrated with lots of joy, happiness and gratefulness. However in my case, my feelings are so different from what we expect this yuletide season.

One year it was very bad but I hadn’t told my supervisor I will not be able to work on that day. Before that day, I felt lonely, felt that I need something to make me happy. The loneliness become extremely severe to the extent that I want to kill myself. I didn’t know why I am experiencing those things.

I can’t even say a direct reason why I am like this. The same things happen the following years. My worst experience was in November 2019, when my boyfriend broke up with me and my friend died. 

Even during the hot season, this feeling starts to show, because of my upcoming birthday. I didn’t celebrate my birthday even when I was a child. I am thirsty to feel the special treatment that I didn’t receive even now, as an adult. I know that I am experiencing symptoms of depression in this season, what advice can you give to me or how can you explain this situation? Hope you can help me. 


Dear Arnold,

Thank you for your email.

It seems your depressions are triggered by unhappy memories from your childhood. You never celebrated your birthday, an event which you learned as you grew up was supposed to be a day of joy, presents, fun and games. No wonder as the day approaches every year, you remember what you missed and craved. Depression seems a reasonable response in this context.

The same holds true for Christmas. It is however much worse because the approach of Christmas is heralded by months of music, carols, commercials, and general excitement, all of which are difficult to avoid or ignore. If Christmas, like your birthday, was an annual damp squib, it is understandable that this time of the year became a trigger for depression.

Knowing this is a helpful start to finding a solution for your depression. These childhood memories are so strong that you cannot just tell yourself that now you are an adult you are going to give yourself a birthday party or invite friends and relations round to a festive meal at Christmas. 

Lacking any experience of joy on these occasions, you may have feelings of dread and a sense that everything will turn out a disappointment. It is not an exaggeration to characterize your condition is trauma, a subject on which a great deal of work has recently been published, for example by Dr Bessel van der Kolk, professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School.

Dr Holmes is far more qualified than I to give you further information on this. All the best,

JAF Baer

Dear Arnold:

Than you very much for your letter.  Mr Baer said that Christmas must be an especially difficult time for you, and he is right. It seems like everyone is expected to be happy so your not being so stands out. 

You either get people asking you “What’s wrong with you? It’s Christmas”  and, even worse, giving you meaningless advice when they don’t really know what you’re going through.  It takes a lot of energy to keep from telling them what insensitive idiots they are. These encounters are doubly draining because depressions in and of themselves also take up a lot of energy – to keep from crying, to keep from leaving a party when all you want to do is go back home and cry.

Of course, another tactic is to pretend all is well so no one notices the pain you are feeling.  But that too takes tremendous energy.  We shall talk more about this later.

The cold months are a double whammy for you because not only might you be hit with SAD (seasonal affective depression) when daytime (sunlight) goes by so quickly and the nights are interminably long, but you seem to also be suffering from what is called an “anniversary depression.”

This is when something terrible that happened on a specific date or at a particular time of the year—your father’s death (or, in your case, your friend’s dying), a marriage ending (or, in your case, a break up), a job demotion—brings back the same heartache and pain.

I am so, so sorry, dearest Arnold.  Mr Baer and I have given you concepts that can help you, especially if cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is something that works well with you, as it is supposed to, especially with clinical depression.

However, if your depression has been with you for a long time – and it sounds like it has been – oftentimes body work seems to be more effective.  Yoga, exercise, deep breathing, especially when coupled with meditation are familiar with most people; but there is more.  Therapists are researching and doing clinical work in all sorts of other things:

Please, please, if you feel this might be of help to you, write us again and we will be thrilled to share some more of these therapies with you.

Best wishes,

MG Holmes

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