December 8, 2003
By Gregory Crofton
Tribune staff writer
It’s a time to be jolly and hang out with family and friends. Yeah, right.
“I have dreaded the holidays for years,” said Mike, 53, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s one of the loneliest times of the year for me. I’d rather lock myself up and hope they go away quickly.”
Mike is a recovering alcoholic who suffers from depression. He has lived at South Shore for 31 years and knows this town can be a lonely place around the holidays, especially as empty second-homes increasingly fill neighborhoods.
But now that he’s sober, things are looking up. Mike had a pretty decent Thanksgiving. The mental health group he attends provided dinner. About 50 people showed up, he knew some of them, and he had a pretty good time.
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“This program literally saved my life,” he said. “There are people here that care. It’s not empty hope, but real hope.”
People can become stressed, depressed or have psychiatric symptoms come back in force at the holidays because expectations are often too high, says Claudette de Carbonel, program coordinator for the Tahoe Opportunity Project at the El Dorado County Department of Mental Health. The best thing to do is try to know your boundaries and prepare accordingly.
“Try to focus what your triggers might be,” de Carbonel said. “Don’t go blindly into a situation and think ‘I’m better now, it’s going to be different’ … we try and help people prepare for what comes up.”
Christmas also isn’t an easy time for Steve Rumjahn, a resident of South Lake Tahoe for 10 years. His family lives in San Francisco, but he only sees them once a year and usually not in December.
On Monday he was out doing errands, not buying Christmas presents. Rumjahn was alone, but not downtrodden.
“What I lack in the holidays is made up by Lake Tahoe’s ambiance, its community and environment,” Rumjahn, 44, said. “I feel like a snowboarder with a million dollars.”
Having some form of stress at the holidays is unavoidable. The combination of families uniting and money being spent can mean gasoline instead of chestnuts on an open fire. To avoid conflict, people like Peter Palmer, a driver for the United Parcel Service who lives in Meyers, bear down and go to work.
“I have a baby at home and a mortgage payment – so I’m into it,” Palmer said. “It’s already a madhouse, but it’s gonna get worse over the next two weeks. Chaining up can get ugly.”
Jazz Lim, 20, of South Lake Tahoe has money problems. She says she will have to be tighter with her money this Christmas because she just paid $150 to attend Lake Tahoe Community College next quarter.
“That’s out of my Christmas money,” Lim said. “No one else does the quarter system except this place.”
Whether the holidays bring isolation or financial woes, de Carbonel said the answer is to reach out for help or call a friend and share your concerns.
“Don’t give up,” de Carbonel said. “It will pass. There are people and agencies in town who can help. Don’t give up.”
El Dorado County Mental Health can be reached at (530) 573-3251. Its emergency crisis line is (530) 544-2219.