Telling Those Ugly Holiday Twins Apart

“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” (Elvis Presley)

Depression, Grief and Crappy Holidays

Now that we have been dropped into the calendar in the official “winter holiday season,” many people are being faced with challenging situations and emotions. Holidays have a way of marking our lives – The year we… the year Uncle Joe… That time when…  


Holidays put our lives and our relationships in perspective. Most people carry the assumptions that holidays are supposed to feel good, that we are “supposed” to get together with family and friends and we are “supposed” to actually want to be around those people. I want to remind you that, as Anne Lamott says, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”


Holidays have this way of pushing us to do an inventory on whether our lives and relationships are what we want them to be or others are telling us they “should” be, especially when people or dreams have died, when relationships reveal themselves as unhealthy, when people disappoint us or leave us or blow up our goals and dreams, when we feel like we are not measuring up to what and who we “should” be? We are going to feel some very un-holiday-like feelings.  


In other words, the field is ripe for both depression and grief.  


Mistaken Identity

Depression and grief are these obnoxious doppelgänger emotions. They can look so much alike on the surface, but they have opposite needs. It’s sort of like “Starve a fever, feed a cold.” But fevers are obvious. Depression and grief?  Not so much.


Say, for example, you’re laying in bed and know you have to get up to go to work, or class, or even the bathroom. It feels like all you can do is lay there. Is that grief, prompting you to “push pause” and refuse to accept that life keeps moving on without your consent? Or is it depression, lulling you into inertia, convincing you that everything is pointless? 


Both depression and grief can leave us physically exhausted even when we haven’t exerted ourselves. Both can make us irritable, shorten our patience, leave us feeling scattered and forgetful, disturb our sleep.


The outward behaviors are nearly identical. How do you know which is which?


Nearly Identical Twins

If you’ve ever been friends with one or more of a pair of identical twins? It’s amazing how when you know a twin, even an identical one, you can very often tell which person is which. They might look exactly alike, but they have different personalities, different preferences, different inflections, different energy. You sometimes just… know. And sometimes you guess wrong.


The key to discerning which of the Depression/Anxiety twins we are dealing with lies in our self-talk. What are the thoughts rolling around in your mind when the censors are off and you just let it go? 

Grief Depression
Are your difficult thought about things? Situations? Are you trying to make some meaning out of what you’ve experienced?  That’s likely grief. Are your thoughts accusations about all of the ways you are not good enough? How you don’t matter? Are you re-living scenes in your life when you felt like you fell short? Is the self-talk about your personhood and worth?That’s likely depression.

Just to make things more complicated – Sometimes we do both at the same time. To be ecumenical about it? Oi vey, Maria. As can be true with gracious twins, it’s not the end of the world when you guess wrong. It’s all just learning. 


Feeding Grief

Responding healthfully to grief means giving it the space it needs; Letting ourselves feel the feelings and work their way through us in safe enough places, with safe enough people. I often equate grief with a smelly old uncle who invites himself over, plops down on your couch and won’t go anywhere until you give him a sammich. You can ignore him if you want, but he’s just going to randomly trip you and laugh as you fall on your face.


“Okay, Unc… chicken or liverwurst?”

Starving Depression Depression, on the other hand, is like an insatiable beast who hangs out under your bed, just waiting until your foot comes over the side so that it can drag you down and pin you to your bed with its ferocious magnetic pull. Depression is best managed by using “nudging” to change your momentum, one decision at a time. The nudging script goes like this, on decisions both great and small: There’s this thing you probably “should” do...
  • If you have the energy to do it, go for it.
  • If you have enough energy to do the thing because you don’t have it in you to deal with the consequences of not doing it, do the thing.
  • If you just don’t have the energy for it, let it go. Don’t worry about it. Make a conscious decision not to do the thing.
  • If you could go either way, doing or not doing the thing? Do the thing.  Do it and decide how you feel about it afterward.
If you keep doing this, choice after choice after choice, you have a much better shot at nudging your way out of depression. (Take THAT, fiend under the bed! Ha! You just jumped past it before it could use its asinine magnet on you.)

But What If I’m Wrong?

If you treat grief like depression, nudging and making yourself do things that probably weren’t your best choice, don’t worry; Your hungry, stinky uncle will still be there later. You will have other chances and he won’t stop asking for that sammich. If you treat depression like grief, giving it enough room to let the beast under the bed get you it can be very unpleasant and sometimes a little costly on the consequences side. This is why it can be a really good idea to have a therapist and/or family and friends who can say, “Hey, this is looking like depression. Are you ok?”


Listen to them. They might be wrong too. But they might be right.  It won’t hurt you to do a good self-inventory and respond accordingly. 


Other Resources

When it comes to managing grief, and especially the nuances of holiday grief, is an exceptional resource! They have articles, blogs, groups, books, ideas… You name it and they’ve got it. If you can’t find it there, reach out to a therapist. ( is a great place to start.) If you need any help whittling down your choices, contact me.  I’m happy to help you navigate your options.


When it comes to depression, think through those “nudgey” things that are easiest for you to do. You might even make a list when you’re not so depressed, so you have something to look at when depression clouds your thinking. Do work with a therapist.  We really can be helpful as you figure out how to take away the power of “the beast under the bed.” (See the above paragraph about and my offer to help.) 


Whenever a nudging door of opportunity opens up that you could possibly walk through, do it!  Before the door closes. 

Rising Above Whether you’re dealing with depression, grief or both, please know that while it sometimes feels like things will never change, they always do. Each moment we get is just that – a moment. Depression and grief sometimes leave us feeling that things will always be this way and there is no hope. Friends, that is a lie. You’ve probably felt this way before only to find that at another time you can’t figure out why you thought things were so hopeless. As they say in Recovery groups, “Don’t quit 5 minutes before your miracle.” If you’d like help in telling these twins apart in your life, or making a plan to manage them, Contact Tiffany here. Let’s find a way to not “go with” those things that go wrong.