Bleak midwinter

Cat hissing.
Having a bad day?
It’s been a while since I heard the old myth, so I was a little surprised when a detective show I watch had the medical examiner character refer to Christmas as “Suicide Season.” That myth (based on the notions that the cheerfulness {forced or otherwise} of the holidays the makes depressed people more starkly aware of their situation) and the associated one that the stress of the holidays literal drives people crazy, have both been debunked by numerous studies.

It’s not just that suicide rates don’t go up, nor merely that psychiatric admissions don’t go up. The studies show that suicide rates actually go down at each major holiday, and that psychiatric admissions reach their lowest point in the weeks immediately before Christmas.

Every time I’ve written about this on line, I’ve linked either to several of the studies or the page on the topic. And pretty much every time someone who reads it has felt the need to argue on one point, and it’s always the same point. The people who conduct the studies often make attempts to explain why the statistics show the exact opposite of what people expect. And one of the possible explanations they give for there being fewer suicides and psychiatric admissions during the holidays is that the extra support from family and friends. There’s always someone who wants to disagree about the support supposition.

The editor of the current snopes article on Christmas Suicide went so far as to make a comment doubting the support from friends and family as part of her byline!

Now, anyone who has met me knows I have more than a slight pedantic streak, so I understand the impulse to point out that this explanation hasn’t (yet) been proven by the data. But I don’t believe that most of the people arguing about support from friends and family are really doing it for that reason. The subtext of the comments is always, “They got that wrong, so I can ignore the rest of the study.”

And that’s pure BS.

Whether or not your family and friends are supportive or otherwise make your life better, doesn’t prove that no one’s family or friends are. For statistical studies modeling the entire population, you just have to have a fraction of the population who is at risk for suicide or psychiatric problems to have actually supportive families for those families to be a factor in the statistic. That’s the pedantic, mathematical disproof of your claim.

As to those of you who don’t have supportive friends and family, you’re still not entirely off the hook. We all know that we can’t pick our families. That’s true.

But we do pick our friends.

And if you have nothing but non-supportive friends, if all (or the vast majority) of your friends are the sorts of people who make your life worse, rather than better, if all of your friendships are toxic, I have to ask you: why do you keep them?

Granted, there is a fraction of everyone’s social circle that are not entirely a matter of our own choice. Some of the spouses or significant others of some of our friends may be people who dislike us (and we dislike them). There are friends of friends who we put up with despite all their faults because we don’t want to lose the mutual friend. That’s all true. But there’s a difference between putting up with a person you can’t stand because their spouse’s positive and helpful qualities more than make up for them, rather than putting up with both a toxic significant other and a “friend” who is never there for you.

Sometimes friendships change. A person who was the pillar of your existence and had your back through thick and thin for years can drift away. Sometimes it isn’t a drift, such as one of my best friends from high school/college who couldn’t deal when I came out of the closet. Friendships can also dissolve when no one is at fault—if you befriend someone when you are both younger it’s easy to grow into two very incompatible people.

No matter why your social circle is dominated by people who aren’t supportive and loving, the responsibility for fixing the situation is yours, and yours alone. If you need to dump some former friends, do so. Usually it’s easier to just let them drift away rather than have a big confrontation. If you think there is something worth saving there, you can try to talk to them about things. There are many options.

If you’ve done this several times already. If you have separated yourself from former friends, and found new ones, and then found all of them lacking, you need to seriously ask yourself if you have been the kind of friend you expect others to be. Chances are you aren’t, because if this sort of thing is happening again and again with different people, the only thing all the failed friendships have in common is you.

There is the possibility that you have a knack for picking lousy friends. You may be subconsciously sabotaging all of your relationships in advance by latching onto selfish users and/or abusers. This sort of co-dependent behavior, unfortunately, tends to become a vicious circle. Because of self-esteem issues or clinical depression or other difficulty, you pick people who treat you bad, which only reinforces your feelings of inadequacy or being undeserving. Which prevents you from taking steps to improve your situation or get help.

Don't ruin other people's happiness just because you can't find your own.
Don’t ruin other people’s happiness just because you can’t find your own.
It’s also possible that you have impossible standards. For instance, even the most devoted friend won’t always to be able to drop everything else in their life for every single one of your crises. Particularly if you have a crisis two or three times a week. Another example: if you insist that friends behave in very specific ways around you, or insist that they can’t talk about particular topics, or insist that they can’t talk about particular people, et cetera.

The world isn’t a horrible place all of the time. Most people are not evil, manipulative jerks. Other people simply being happy or enjoying the season is not a sign that they look down on you, or that they are shallow, or that they are gloating. Those are facts.

If your life experience thus far defies those facts, then what are you going to do to change your life?

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