The point in the winter season where everything turns a little gray and sad. I’m not talking about nature though. I’m talking about me; I’m talking about my mental health.
I first noticed the struggle to get through winter in 2014. I was having trouble getting dressed in the mornings for work, finding my way to the gym after school, and lacking all motivation to make dinner or take care of my family. I don’t think (and still don’t) think it was full-on depression, but I referred to it as being ‘seasonally sad.’
I’m seasonally sad again.
But what’s different this time is I’m equipped to deal with it, I knew it was coming, and I know I just have to ride it out. I know this isn’t permanent. One perk of getting emotionally healthier is I have the ability to see my current state or emotion, acknowledge the hard or painful parts of it, and know it will not last forever. It is a season, a week, a moment, a time.
It is not forever.
Last winter when I felt the sadness coming, I asked my therapist for help. She explained seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression is a real thing and not uncommon. Once she gave me the name, I consulted my doctor (AKA: the internet) to learn that seasonal affective disorder is also known as SAD which is totally cruel and a really funny joke. It normally sets in during early adulthood and some scientists believe it’s related to hormone changes and/or lack of sunlight in the winter. Of course, it’s more common in women than men because why wouldn’t it be? (source)
We had a mild November and December so in the back of my head I was slightly hopeful it wouldn’t hit me so hard this year–THE SUN WAS HERE JUST RECENTLY. I’LL BE FINE.
Another cruel and funny joke, because it is most definitely here.
Last night I was asleep by 9 PM and had trouble getting up to my 6 AM alarm. I got nine hours of sleep, wasn’t tired anymore, but couldn’t get out of bed.
Seasonal affective disorder coming in hot, friends.
But I know how to handle it now. I know how to not let it take me down completely. I know to be patient with myself as I wade through this yuckiness and wait eagerly for spring. (Plot twist: I don’t hate winter. I like snow. I like wearing layers and wool socks. I like watching my kids sled in fluffy snowsuits and chug hot chocolate overflowing with marshmallows afterwards. So it’s hard to wish away a season I enjoy.)
Even though I was hopeful in December I might not get seasonal sadness this year, I prepared for it anyway. I am an odd mix of overly optimistic and very practical.
Here’s what I’ve learned to do (with the help of my therapist, reading, and trucking through this season for a while now):
Take my vitamins
My therapist recommended I start taking vitamin D and vitamin B6 daily. I don’t do this in the other seasons regularly, but as December winds down and I see the long, boring parts of winter approaching (January through March), I start my morning vitamin routine.
Move my body
Purposefully getting out of my desk chair and stretching or taking a walk is important. When I transitioned out of the traditional classroom four years ago, I stopped moving all day. Teaching means you’re on your feet all day, and it helped to combat some fuzzy feelings. Now I’m sitting at a desk staring at a computer for hours on end and, if I don’t get up and move, the funk settles faster.
Refuse to skip my morning quiet time
I don’t buy into the idea you can get out of depression or serious mental illnesses with just some good Bible reading, but spending time in my Bible as part of my plan of attack is important. Beginning my morning with Truth and talking to my God helps clear cobwebs or lies that might have settled in during the last 24 hours. This is my touchstone, my re-calibration, and if I miss it, I know things will feel more off during the day.
Find the sunlight
I fling open all the curtains in our house as soon as the girls get on the bus. I don’t even care if the sun won’t be peeking through the clouds today, our blinds are open, and I’m letting in as much natural light as possible. I know I’m emotionally impacted by the state of my house so clutter or dark rooms add to my blah-ness. I straighten and let light stream in to help shake off the sadness and yuck. (Some people do well with a light therapy lamp during this season as well; I don’t have one and haven’t used one, but I’m keeping the idea in the back of my mind as the winter progresses. If things get too rough, I’ll be ordering a small one for my desk.)
Talk to someone
Every time I start to wonder if I should take a break from therapy, I find new and exciting things I need help handling. Cool. At this point, I am acknowledging I will be in therapy–in some way or another–for the long term. Right now I go once a month as a health check-in. If I need to, I can up my appointments. Maybe you don’t need a therapy appointment, but don’t keep this sadness to yourself. Tell your spouse or a friend things just feel off and sad right now. If it feels right, seeking a therapist or counselor is okay. When my therapist helped me understand what was happening and ways to cope with my SAD, I felt more in control. It didn’t make it go away, but it made it feel manageable and more settled (even if that feels weird to say).
Drink more water
My tendency is more coffee and Diet Pepsi when I’m tired or need energy and right now I need all the energy I can get, because I’m feeling so blah and apathetic. The problem is that’s not what my brain or body needs to work its best. I know everything feels fuzzier if I’m not drinking enough water. So sticking to my daily water routine is imperative right now. No excuses, drink the water, Mary.
As Indianapolis gets ready for a foot or more of snow this weekend, I’m gathering my supplies: books, snacks, a list of Netflix shows to binge, freshly-laundered blankets to snuggle under with my girls . But I’m also paying attention to my mental health, reminding myself to drink water, take my vitamins, say out loud when I’m struggling, and find the light when possible.
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