Be a flicker of light during the holidays…

Pencil drawing by Diane Mottl (

Pencil drawing by Diane Mottl (

As much as I want to see the holiday season as a joyous time, I know that for many it is not. There are sobering statistics attesting to the fact that the holiday season is a time when depression spirals, grief strangles, and sadness reaches unbearable depths.

Before you stop reading, saying “This is too much of a downer, I don’t want to read this”, give me two more minutes to convince you that it is worth staying on this page.

Those who are struggling with depression, sadness and grief can make it through the holidays; can get themselves off the edge of the cliff and back on solid ground again. How? The same way those fighting cancer do: by the support, love, patience and understanding of those around them.

Why the comparison to cancer? Because I recently read a powerful blog post where the author talked about how when she was fighting breast cancer, there was an outpouring of support, but when it came to fighting her mental illness, she was alone again (read more: ).

Why is it that we can come together during a crisis and unite to fight something tangible (physical illness), but find it so hard to support the intangible (mental illness)? Is there a part of us that still sees mental illness, grief, emotional struggles, loneliness, etc. as a weakness? “Pull up your socks and get your sh*t together.” Would we say that to the cancer patient? Of course not. But think about it for a moment. One aspect of the struggle with cancer is emotional: continuing to fight through the pain, the despair, the unknown, the fear. What makes that so different than someone who is fighting to hold on for other reasons? Why do we show kindness to one and marginalize the other?

May we each reach out with a little more kindness and a little more understanding this holiday season. For someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. For someone who is struggling with a mental illness. For someone who is alone. For all those out there who feel enveloped in darkness. May we take the time to reach out, so we can be a flicker of light.

For further reading on how to be there for yourself and for others, please explore the links below:

  • Canadian Mental Health Association has a number of articles on
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a blog article entitled . The main NAMI website is also packed with articles along with more information on StigmaBusters (speaking out and challenging stereotypes about mental illness).
  • The Mayo Clinic has a short article called plus links to more information.
  • The website GriefShare has an extensive library of articles about after the loss of a loved one.
  • My friend Wendy (a grief specialist) wrote an article called , which has a number of ideas to help kids who have experienced significant losses.

May we all find a little peace, this holiday season.

6 Responses to “Be a flicker of light during the holidays…”

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  1. Brenda says:

    Diane, I wonder if one reason people shy away from supporting those with mental illness is because so many people don’t really “connect” with others. They appear to do so on a superficial level that can appear to be genuine when dealing with a physical challenge, because then they can “do something”, such as bring food, drive someone to appointments, that kind of thing, without really having to pretend that they can relate. That is sympathy. With mental illness, it requires others to really push themselves out of their protective shell, where it’s all about themselves, and makes them have to actually think and feel from another person’s perspective. That is empathy. Most of us are not very good at that.

    My husband shared a story with me of someone he knows who talked about this man’s response to learning that his 20-something son had cancer. The man said, “Well, glad it was him and not me.” This comment, about his own son. We were both just stunned at such a response. There was neither sympathy nor empathy, only an extremely self-involved sense of “whew”. Perhaps there is an element of this man’s attitude to people who see mental illness as “someone else’s problem”, and they feel neither sympathy nor empathy.

  2. brenda says:

    Hi Diane
    Merry Christmas!
    Your Christmas pastries from grandma sound like “Butterflies” that my Mom used to make, although it was Matilda who made them year after year at Christmas. I really must get her recipe.

    Your depressed dog drawing…a friend of mine, her nickname for my dog Rosie is “Sad dog”. She looks exactly like your drawing. I am happy to report Rosie is not a depressed dog, she enjoys a very simple life with me and her pal Taffy.
    Thanks for the reminder to reach out to those who are sad and lonely…I will do my part in putting a smile on more faces this season.

  3. says:

    Diane, thank you so much for touching on this topic because it is very real. I think often times people deny the very symptoms because they just don’t know what to say or do. I had a distant relative who committed suicide on Christmas day and I often wonder what could have been done or said to have shifted her from this tragic ending… Sometimes, it could be something so simple as a hug and saying, “Come. Let’s have a cup of coffee and chat…” Love the art! Keep it coming!

  4. says:

    Well written, and again the sketch is superb.
    So how does one bring joy, when struggling? it
    Is it just in sharing, even when life may not be that great, that it becomes better?

    • Jocelyn, I think Amy captured it in her post (the one I linked to), when she said “People don’t like to talk about it…I give you permission to talk about it. I need people to listen, to ask the question: “How are you feeling?” and mean it.” I think when one is struggling, knowing that someone out there cares enough to really listen, connect, and be there, means a lot. It might not bring joy, but it can be a stepping stone. For me, I think the joy comes when I can quiet all the things that really don’t matter and focus on what really does. I do believe there is joy everywhere, we just have to re-train ourselves to see it, feel it, connect to it…and filter out the rest.

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Jocelyn. It brought some joy to my day (smile).

  5. says:

    Great time of the year for this message. Thanks.
    Drawings are wonderful.