The Valentine’s Day hype
A Valentine's Day to remember
I had never heard of Valentine’s Day until we moved to Canada in 1994. In retrospect, I would say I was probably too young to know about it. My parents did not celebrate Valentine’s Day, just their wedding anniversary, so it was not anything I had seen before. My first encounter with Valentine’s Day was in Junior High School. Students could purchase a carnation flower and have it sent to someone on Valentine’s Day.
The flower would either arrive from a secret admirer anonymously or with a little card, if the sender wanted you to know who they were. I figured out very quickly that the more flowers one received on Valentine’s Day, the more popular one was at school. A few weeks before Valentine’s Day, we all had the chance to order the flowers we wanted to send.
Since I didn’t know anything about it, I did not order any flowers. I was very curious to find out though what Valentine’s Day was all about. When the day came, everyone was very excited. Hardly anyone focused on the classes. The talk was all about who would receive the most flowers and from whom.
Needless to say, I was one of the only girls who did not receive any flowers. Some of my girlfriends felt really bad and offered me one of their flowers. This was the very first time I experienced a tinge of uneasiness about Valentine’s Day. I felt left out. And even though my mom went to great lengths to make me feel better after school, it still stung.
Why Valentine's Day worsens your depression
Fast forward a few years and my hesitation about Valentine’s Day had only grown stronger. My experience in Junior High had left a bitter taste in my mouth. Combined with a few Valentine’s Days of being single, my enthusiasm for celebration had faded. Holidays in general can be very hard when you’re living with depression. It can feel like sometimes you’re supposed to manufacture some kind of happiness just because it happens to be your birthday, or a religious celebration.
And when you look around and see the contrast of what you “should” be feeling and how you actually feel, it can make you feel even more left out, alone, and depressed. You can feel frustratingly isolated even in a sea of people as you just can’t bring yourself to share their enthusiasm. All of that can crystallize even more on a holiday dedicated to love.
If you’re already struggling with depression, you might find yourself with more cynical thoughts about the commercialization of love on Valentine’s day. You might even feel put off by the meaninglessness of all the forced sentiments. Or, you may have a bad experience, like I did.
Maybe you experienced a breakup on or just before Valentine’s Day.
“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
- Oscar Wilde
You might also be struggling to find the joy and love in everyday life. On a day dedicated to love and appreciation, you may find it even harder to muster the energy to “participate”. Whether you’re in a romantic relationship or you’re single, there are many reasons why Valentine’s Day can make your depression even worse.
Common Valentine's Day stressors
Maybe it’s simply because of the movies we’ve seen or the media frenzy that aims to make the day feel “special”. Society’s expectations of Valentine’s Day have become increasingly more unrealistic. Grand gestures and perfect moments under the stars are commonplace in our Valentine’s Day narratives. But, those expectations can be impossible to live up to.
Couples often expect their partners to do something truly special for them, when in reality, they may not share the same enthusiasm for the celebration. When we measure reality to the fictional Valentine's Day we’re being sold on Instagram, we are bound to feel disappointed.
Instead of showing our loved ones we care every day, there is this intense focus on boiling it all down on this one day.
The expense of Valentine's Day presents
Even if we are willing and ready to try to match expectations on Valentine’s Day, we may be restricted by a budget. Not all of us can afford to rent a string quartet for dinner or buy that necklace or new computer you know would make someone happy. It can be frustrating and discouraging when you don’t have much to work with to make someone feel special. And you might feel like your own creations won't measure up.
The Valentine’s Day narrative was definitely in part created to sell merchandise. So, it’s no surprise we may give in and buy that special present even when we know we can’t really afford it. The squeeze on our credit cards and financial stress can be felt long after Valentine’s Day chocolates have been eaten.
Reminder of past relationships
A day that is solely dedicated to love can also be a devastating reminder of past relationships. Whether someone is mourning a failed relationship, or even grieving the loss of a partner, facing a day dedicated to romantic love without that person can be absolutely devastating. Old memories can break open old wounds. Suddenly we can feel right back in the pain as we are bombarded by reminders of love and companionship.
Especially if you are struggling with depression, being thrown into more pain and anxiety is not a good thing. In my case, the reminder of having been left out as a teenager created a similar feeling. The day made me think of my experience every year. Later on, it is quite possible that my aversion to Valentine’s Day stemmed from this experience.
It’s a strange situation that we are pressured to create something magical on Valentine’s Day. Especially since it’s not actually a national holiday. Many of us have to work on Valentine’s Day. However irrational it may be, that can cause resentment in another person if they feel they didn’t get to spend the time they wanted together on Valentine’s Day. It can be stressful to try and get the time off work or find the time to make someone feel special.
No matter how we may feel about V-day, over the years it has become a symbol for “coming clean” about your true feelings for someone. Just like in the movies, Valentine’s Day proposals are common. Former “friends” may choose that day to surprise someone with grand gestures to declare their love.
Again, this can create massive anxiety, as someone is preparing to lay their feelings bare without knowing if they will be reciprocated. On the other hand, there may also be despair, anxiety or frustration on the recipient’s part. Especially if the gesture is unexpected or even unwelcome. A lot can go wrong when people feel the pressure to do big things.
All of these factors can cause anxiety, stress, sadness and loneliness in anyone, even those who aren’t suffering from depression. Couples and singles can be affected by all the expectations and pressures associated with the day. So if you’re already struggling to manage due to depression, Valentine’s Day may be a day you dread.
So, what can you do about it?
If you’re in a romantic relationship...
Having an honest conversation with your partner before Valentine’s Day could be an important opportunity to be honest and start a dialogue about how it makes you feel. If you’d rather not be forced to make a celebration out of it, be honest with your partner and explain why you struggle with that expectation.
If finances are an issue, be up front about your budget. Maybe set a common gift-spending-limit, or encourage home-made presents. If you cannot get the time off, try and reschedule for a day that does work for both of you so that no one is disappointed on the day. You can also have regular date nights throughout the year, to take some of the pressure off Valentine’s Day.
And if you feel like you just can’t bear to face the sentiment of Valentine’s Day, be honest with your partner about how it makes you feel. Ask for a more comfortable way to express your love for them (maybe even on another day). Communication is the key to setting expectations. And it can be the key to avoiding disappointments or unwelcome surprises.
If you’re in a conflict with your partner during Valentine’s Day (which happens more than you think), try writing them a letter of gratitude. Or make a short slideshow of your favorite past memories. Sometimes a small gesture like that can help ease the mood on this forcibly “special” day.
If you’re single on Valentine's Day…
Many singles find Valentine’s Day extremely difficult, as they see it as a reminder of their LACK of a romantic relationship. If you’re feeling lonely or left out, remember that love doesn’t just refer to the romantic relationship between partners. Love comes in many forms of caring and support too.
Maybe spend the day doing things that are loving to yourself, or your friends. Treat yourself to a special spa day, or have some friends get together to cook dinner. Try and feel gratitude for all the forms of love and support in your life - maybe from your grandma, your chiropractor, or even your dog. Love and support comes in many forms, and we can all use a day to be grateful for what we do have in or lives.
Lastly, there are lots of communities online that celebrate being single on Valentine’s Day. Some are meant to help people feel included and loved, and others are designed to give you an outlet for your anger about artificial, consumer-driven love. Depending on how you’re feeling, maybe a bit of both will be helpful.
Holidays in general can be very stressful and especially so if you are struggling with depression. The important thing to keep in mind is that you can feel however you feel, without having to justify your feelings. A silly little thing like not receiving a flower made Valentine’s Day stressful for me for years to come. This was only magnified later when I spent many Valentine’s Days single and alone.
For a long time I thought there was something wrong with we because of the way I felt. Over time, I learned that my feelings were just as valid as those of all the people in love with Valentine’s Day. If Valentine’s Day is stressful for you there is a reason. And you do not need to feel bad for feeling that way.
One way to take the pressure off is to be open and honest with your partner and your family. That way expectations can be managed properly. Open communication is not always easy, as you might feel judged for feeling stressed or not wanting to celebrate. Your partner might even make you feel guilty for the way you feel. Regardless of how other people feel, it is still very important to be honest about how YOU feel.
With time, you might even be able to sort out what led to the negative feelings surrounding Valentine’s Day. Maybe you can remember a certain event in the past. Possibly it’s an accumulation of many disappointing Valentine’s Days or perhaps you have lost a loved one and Valentine’s Day becomes a painful reminder.
Take it slow
No matter what your situation is, take it slow and understand that whatever you feel is valid. Years after that Valentine’s Day in school, I had a partner who made my Valentine’s Days very special every year. Over time, I started to feel less and less stressed because I knew I was loved and valued. I am sure that a lot of my anxiety surrounding Valentine’s Day also stemmed from my depression. So, it can be tricky to sort out the issue.
Keep in mind that Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, has been heavily commercialized to boost sales.
It in no way defines who you are or how valuable you are. Valentine’s Day is not a measure of how loved you are. It is easy to miss that in the fog of depression, so it is important that you consciously bring that back into your thoughts.
If you are able to express your feelings to your partner and family, you might be able to find support through them. Otherwise, there are many resources available online like Facebook groups and support forums. You would be surprised how many people struggle with holidays and in particular, Valentine’s Day and you are not alone with your depression and anxiety.
It is possible that as you break through your depression, you will find facing the holidays slightly easier. You will have less brain fog and more resilience to deal with emotionally trying situations. Until that time, be sure to be gentle with yourself and skip Valentine’s Day if it causes you too much anxiety.
Remember that you have a purpose and a very special place in this world, regardless of how you feel about Valentine’s Day!