The loud 'BANG' from a pistol, rocked my world almost 30 years ago on Christmas Eve and every year I continue to seek help in coping with what happened.

I've never written this story and only a very few close friends have heard me speak of that night.  In fact,  it was only a couple of months ago that I decided that enough was enough and that I was going to try and talk about it openly this year and try to finally be happy this Christmas.  But here I am again, struggling with depression, the same haunting sadness that has ruined my Christmas holiday season every year since.  This has been my dark family secret for far to long and I hope that in my sharing this story will finally help me escape.

Picture this: a blended family, my dad and step-mom, stepsisters, brother in law and my only brother all gathered on Christmas eve to celebrate the holiday, enjoy a meal with the whole family and exchanging Christmas presents.  The evening seems normal like the year before, fun and festive.  But suddenly a family squabble between my stepsister and her husband changed what would be my view of "Christmas" forever.

That night as the fight started, everyone tried to calm the pair down and get them to 'kiss and make up'.  Searching for a way to regain the spirit of Christmas.  But then the unthinkable happened.  My brother in law stormed down the hallway and slammed the bedroom door.  A few seconds later - BANG - he was gone.....  He had taken out his pistol, put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Without reason, he was dead at 22 and over what?  The answer to that, we will never know and that makes me angry and sad at the same time.  Suicide is never a solution, it only creates more problems and I wish more people thought about how much pain their actions would cause.

Love, Hope, Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards others.  Isn't that what Christmas is supposed to be about?  Not Suicide, Depression, Anger and Sadness!!

Everyone rushed in to the room, my brother was first, only to see what no one should ever have to witness. Screams of horror and someone yelling 'Call 911- NOW' filled the small 3 bedroom house. Christmas was instantly transformed to an real life episode of a TV crime drama with ambulances, paramedics, firemen, police officers, even the county coroner and of course - all the neighbors standing outside watching in horror.

That night, everything happened so fast and in a flash he was gone. Nothing but broken lives and a shattered Christmas from years past still remain.  But the memory, the tears, the horror story still haunts me like it was yesterday and it returns every year when Christmas time rolls around.  To this day I miss my friend and what could have been done, if anything could have been done?

Depression is a real problem!  Especially here in Wyoming and I struggle with bouts of depression as well!  Some say that it's because of the long cold windy winters driving people indoors for long stretches of time that can lead to our mental problems.  But my depression is caused by this deep profound loss that I associate with this holiday.  For me, Christmas is a yearly reminder of that night, the instance where I couldn't help in a time of need, where feelings of failure, anger and deep sadness overwhelm my emotions.

Every year, when Christmas music fills the air, I stand up and say - this year will be different. This year I'm going to be happy!  But try as I might I can't fight back the memory, the horror in my family story.  Maybe by sharing this in writing with you, I can finally escape this deep sadness and hurt that I feel.

I know I'm not alone and that millions dread the holiday ahead. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression at Christmas. For some people, they get depressed at Christmas and even angry because of the excessive commercialization of Christmas.  Others get down on themselves about the inadequacies of their life in comparison with others who seem to have more and do more. Still others become anxious at Christmas because of the pressure (both commercial and self-induced) to spend a lot of money on gifts and incur increasing debt. And finally, many people - like myself - feel very lonely at Christmas, because they have suffered the loss of loved ones or have lost their jobs.

I see the familiar sadness in the faces of other people rushing to the store every year.  It's a familiar sound too, people being rude for no reason, lashing out at others, forgetting that we all have our own issues and frustrations. For me, it's the maddening the way we are constantly bombarded with '50% Off' and 'Buy This Now' and "On Sale" messages.  It's no wonder people are clamoring about a 'War on Christmas.' Everything has become so overly commercialized and it seems as though the true meaning of the holiday has been lost for good.

Every year I wonder - What is there to be happy about anymore?

Don't get me wrong, I've had an amazing year and am so looking forward to 2016!  But each year at Christmas, I fall into my usual funk and I search for some meaning within my depression.

Have I sought the help of a professional?  Yes.  Each year, I sit on chairs and lay on couches and spill my guts, crying over the loss, but it still doesn't make any sense and it still doesn't get any easier.

So what should a person do, if you are among those of us who get depressed at Christmas?  My psychologist suggested the following:

First, if the depression is serious, please seek out the help of a qualified mental health professional.

Set personal boundaries regarding the money spent on gifts and the number of social events you attend.

Don't accept any "perfect" representation of Christmas that the media or other people try to make you believe. Try to lower your expectations and any attachment to what Christmas should look like and to try and be present in the season this year and enjoy each moment as best you can.

Become involved in giving in a non-monetary way through charities and worthwhile causes that help less fortunate people.

Be grateful for what you have in your life, rather than focusing on what you don't have;
Avoid excessive rumination about your life, try to think of others and other things more than you think about yourself.

Take action and do interesting and fun things.

If you are religious, take part in church activities that focus on the bigger meaning of Christmas.

Focus your thoughts on all the good things about Christmas - the opportunity to engage in loving kindness, generosity of spirit, and gratitude for others in your life.

The Christmas season has become a difficult time for many people in our society, including myself. For those of you who don't have difficulties at this time of year, it's an opportunity to reach out to those around you that become depressed. For those of us who are depressed, it's an opportunity to take action to think, feel and act in ways that breaks free from the past - like writing it down and sharing with others.

This year I hope to enjoy the twinkling of Christmas lights, the crisp air and all of Wyoming's beautiful winter landscapes, which are so majestic and peaceful (when the wind isn't howling).  I could have chosen to live in bigger towns in other states, but I am truly happy to be in Wyoming and call the cowboy state my home.

This year, as you gather with your family and friends for Christmas, hug them, tell them how much you appreciate them, how you admire them, then tell them that you love them.

For those of us that are depressed, it might not make everything better instantly, but for that moment in time - everything will be right in the world.

In our world today, it's so easy to love as well as to hate. It takes real courage to be gentle and kind.  The simple act of walking down the street, looking a stranger in the eyes ---- and simply smiling ---- can make a world of difference and brighten someone's day!  and Everyday, I choose to Smile at others!!

Thank you for reading my families story and I hope you can find comfort and joy in the holiday season!

Merry Christmas to you all, from someone you know who is suffering from Depression.

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There are several resources available for both men and women who want to learn more about mental health anonymously.

A detailed guide specifically for men dealing with depression, stress, and anxiety can be found at http://www.menshealthnetwork.org/library/ownersmanual.pdf

Men and women can also asses their risk by using free online screenings provided by Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/mental-health-screening-tools

Men looking for more information about a variety of health conditions can visit the Men’s Health Resource Center: http://www.menshealthresourcecenter.com/

Individuals at immediate risk can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
1-800-273-8255 - even if it's just to talk to a friendly voice.