I need this

Maybe it’s the sparkle of lights strung up on houses, glowing softly on a frosty December night. Perhaps it’s the swell of bright holiday cards crowding the mailbox. It could be the sweet aroma of freshly baked sugary treats that fill the house.

Although the very notion of them seems antithetical to my normally moody self, there’s something about the holidays that brings me joy. I’m not a particularly nostalgic person—there’s no longing for Christmases past. Nor am I religious; I grew up in churches but as an adult my faith is rooted in a more abstract spirituality.

I also struggle with clinical depression, anxiety and panic attacks, which means that the holidays should probably be the last thing I look forward to come winter.

And yet I look forward to them—even as they bring on a wash of dark, complicated feelings: loneliness and regret, anxiety and worry, sadness and depression.

Last year many of us faced what felt like one of the bleakest seasons following the election. With so much at stake in the world, the thought of celebrating anything suddenly felt profoundly wrong, comical even. Certainly, I didn’t want to go out, mingle at parties or shop for presents. Everything seemed as cold and dreary and phony as an artificial tree misted with the fake scent of pine needles or the tinny jingle of holiday carols playing, endlessly, in every cafe and shop.

But then, one night, I caught that sparkle of lights. Not one of those elaborate and expensive displays in a rich neighborhood, rather this was just simple string of bulbs wrapped around a roof, twinkling in the night on my street. In that moment I felt my spirit lifted, and I realized why I’ve always loved the holiday season, even with the emotional messiness it can bring on. Those lights beckoned, revealing a family with a willingness to push on. To me, it signaled a determination to be present in the world, to shine a literal light in the darkness.

So, even as the world around me plunged into political chaos, emotional upheaval and existential anxiety, I sought out ways to bring that light into my life. I could console myself by finding that perfect gift for a friend—nothing too pricey, just something that reminded me of how lucky I am to have her in my life. I remembered that baking for others feels like a balm for the soul. And even when the holiday seemed to reach peak overload—so many parties, dinners, family outings and obligations—I knew that being busy meant that I had people in my life who wanted to see me, people who cared enough about me to reach out, send an invitation and smile when I walked through their door.

A year later and the world is still pretty screwed up. Donald Trump remains president, racists feel emboldened, peoples’ lives are at stake, and our selfish environmental practices are hastening the very destruction of our planet.

And yet. This year, despite the turmoil—no, because of it—I will embrace the holidays once again. I will go to parties, cook for friends and gaze, ever hopeful, at the sparkling lights on my street.