Because Christmas is a time of compulsory happiness, its a tough season for those battling depression, says Hannah Cooper
Last week I ran out of a church service in tears, all the way home in the cold to my concerned and, rather bemused, husband.
Why? Amid the tinsel, friends and fairy-lights the first bars of my favourite Christmas carol had begun to play, and all I knew for certain was that I couldn’t sing. My first rendition of 'Angels from the Realm of Glory' this year could not be spoilt by uncontrolled sobs. I am a singer, it is my 'thing', and in those moments it seemed imperative that my beloved carol should not be spoilt by my inner demons.
Why was I on the verge of tears? A simple question, with a rather complicated answer. I am a Christian with depression. I have been saved, supposedly made in his image and, according to my minster, God loves me more than I could ever know.
But that is the problem. I don’t know it. My inner monologue is closer to a horror movie than a rom-com.
No matter how many people tell me they like me, even love me, I feel like a lonely social pariah. Every time I eat I feel fat. Every time I wake I am afraid of what the day might bring. Every time I hear of God’s grace a large part of me believes it is not for me, that I am somehow the exception to his rule of love.
Christians are not supposed to be like this. They are meant to be shiny happy people, radiating his love, alight with the glory of his name, not running out of churches sobbing over Christmas carols.
Yet according to the mental health charity Mind, roughly 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health problems each year, so it stands to reason that at least some of us will be Christians.
It has taken me a while to realise it, but my problems don’t make me a defective Christian. Believers with physical disabilities are no less faithful - those with mental disabilities should be thought of in the same way. We all have our own personal trials in life that we may choose to hide or share, to soldier through or crumble beneath. Some are obvious, others less so.
Christmas is a particular challenge for sufferers of depression, not because we fear mince pies and baubles, but because it is a time of compulsory happiness, and that is nigh impossible for people like me. The more pressure there is to be happy, the darker my world gets - like when the dementors enter in Harry Potter, or when the White Witch unleashes her wrath on Narnia.
The more pressure there is to be happy, the darker my world gets
And for Christians at Christmas the reasons for festive joy are even greater. Not only is it a time for presents, family and friends, but its a time to celebrate Jesus’ entrance into our world, when God was born among the lowest of us to save our souls for all eternity.
Good news, right?
But you can’t force happiness. Passers by tell you to "smile love, it might never happen!". Yet whatever happens I still have what my husband describes as a "wonky head". God entered the world to die for us and I still feel depressed, which in turn makes me feel guilty, which in turn makes me more depressed.
But when Jesus left his stable and entered into his ministry, his focus was not solely on the happy, the blessed and the ones who had it all together. He focused on lepers and sinners, the poor and helpless. It wasn’t just the magi who approached the manger - the shepherds were also invited.
God entered the world to die for us and I still feel depressed, which in turn makes me feel guilty, which in turn makes me more depressed.
Although I might find it hard to believe in my darkest moments, Jesus understands my demons. He knows them better than I ever could.
That is what I will cling to this year amid the compulsory merriment, when my smile gets a little forced, when I feel tired upon waking and when I start to bully myself within my own mind. I will try to remember whose birthday I am celebrating, and see past the tinsel, turkey and trimmings.
This Christmas I will remember Jesus as the light. He is a light which is made to help those who suffer darkness.
Even 'Angels from the Realms of Glory' cannot cure my "wonky head", but the light of the world can shine beside me during 'Joy to the World' and he can understand. That, is a Christmas miracle.
Hannah Cooper is an entertainment journalist