The younger Hanleys peer into Advent Calendar windows and make angels in honor of Gabriel's news. My daughter and I explore a daily Bible reading and talk about what exactly "prophecy" and "advent" means.
A coming. A waiting. A hope.
That's one side of the holiday. But before you laud me as this year's best mom, note my intentions are often a deliberate act against my emotional state of messy turmoil. The fake-it-till-ya-make-it teeters more on fake than make. And every year I fight under this suffocating box that closes in darker and darker. I hate the box. I hate the implications of the box (you are weak, you are subject to the season, you are never going to overcome this). When I'm not analyzing, I try to ignore. But who can ignore the load of carrying around an extra 100 pounds of emotional weight?
Tears spring easy these days and shame overshadows it all, for what Christ-following believer should struggle with happiness when life has so much to offer? Isn't depression an admittance to despair? Shouldn't we always feel excited and hopeful?
Suicide rates increase around this time of year. The holidays get the blame but really the time change is more of an attributing factor. As the days get shorter and sunlight streams less direct, insufficient exposure brings on Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) for more than half a million people.
- As sunlight has affected the seasonal activities of animals (i.e., reproductive cycles and hibernation), SAD may be an effect of this seasonal light variation in humans. As seasons change, there is a shift in our “biological internal clocks” or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns. This can cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules.
- Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has been linked to SAD. This hormone, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark. Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increase
Every year come October, I give myself a little pep talk, "You're going to beat this; just don't think about it. Exercise more. Pray more. Take more Omega-3 and magnesium. Try harder." But the shadow isn't intimidated by my boxing gloves. Still the symptoms push in and make themselves unwelcome company.
- Depression: misery, guilt, loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, despair, and apathy
- Anxiety: tension and inability to tolerate stress
- Mood changes: extremes of mood and, in some, periods of mania in spring and summer
- Sleep problems: desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake or, sometimes, disturbed sleep and early morning waking
- Lethargy: feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine
- Overeating: craving for starchy and sweet foods resulting in weight gain
- Social problems: irritability and desire to avoid social contact
- Sexual problems: loss of libido and decreased interest in physical contact
Sometimes I feel like I am holding my breathe through three long months, just waiting, just praying I make it through without losing oxygen.
The sky hasn't given the sun permission this week, so I turned on my "happy light" and tried to coax myself into believing it was real. Try to push these ugly, nagging thoughts that protest against life.
And I come back to Him, because He is all that gets me through. We don't pray to a Savior who has no idea what we experience, but one who understands and sympathizes even when others can't (Hebrews 4:15). He gets it. He loves us through it. And when I feel the burden of shame, I can assure myself that it doesn't come from Him.
Advent's definition keeps propping itself up against my thoughts. Advent. An arrival. Not just a false hope or a wish. A true promise. A lifeline to keep us reaching and pulling and holding on for our ever-loving dear life. And He doesn't disappoint.
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:23
Ann's story came to me like a balm, a sweet reminder of His healing touch.