Most people begin to notice the affects of seasonal affective disorder in late September or early October. Some won’t experience them until Thanksgiving. But almost anyone who has been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD, for short) will be deep in the throes of a depressive episode by Christmas — or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, or whatever you choose to celebrate.
But not me.
I notice its onset in August, when the sun is at its closest and the days are at their longest. It isn’t the sadness that gets me, or any of the conventional symptoms of depression, it is the mania: the intense, productive burst I have just before a cold, dark, and dismal storm. I work from 7 in the morning until 10 or 11 at night. I run five, six, even seven miles at a time, and while I sometimes forget to do the dishes, I do manage to purge my entire wardrobe and rearrange the kitchen pantry, all before dinner.
It’s like I’m nesting.
I’m preemptively taking care of myself. I’m subconsciously running from myself.
But I know I can’t keep up this frantic pace. I know I can’t stave off my depression with distractions and menial tasks. I know I can’t outrun it; I know I cannot stop it.
And the truth is that scares me. I scare me. This season scares me.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things I love about the season: Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love costumes, candy, both orange and black, and anything pumpkin. (Yup. I am your stereotypical hoodie-wearing, ponytail rocking, PSL-loving white girl.) And Christmas, as a parent, really is a magical time. I mean, who doesn’t like watching a child’s eyes light up when they see a proverbial sea of presents beneath a blue spruce, Douglas fir, or even stacked on the coffee table. But with the season comes the stress of expectations, the dread of having to “perform” (i.e. having to slap on a smile when I want to slip inside, and slip away), and the anxiety of get-togethers I simply cannot get out of.
And, sometimes, with the season comes suicidal thoughts.
But you struggle with depression year round. How is this episode any different?
In truth, it isn’t. By definition seasonal affective disorder is just another type of depression — one which affects people “during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight.” Symptomatically, it feels the same. I am morose and moody. I feel numb. I am lonely. I stay in bed more but sleep less. I become reclusive. I question my faith, my value, my worth. I cry over stupid shit, like burnt out lightbulbs and unanswered texts. I cry over important shit, like love and money. I cry because I am crying.
But SAD is different because the season makes it easy to isolate myself. Bad weather gives me the excuses I need — the excuses I long for — to cancel plans, and the chill in the air and pre-dinner darkness gives me justification to hide beneath covers. Throw into the mix that November is the month in which most of my family members have passed and, well, I am a chemically and emotionally imbalanced mess.
There is medication. There is talk therapy, light therapy, and nutritional therapy. There are things I can do (I’ve already incorporated Sam-e into my diet and made reading the Tao a pivotal part of my day) but the one thing I cannot do is stop it. I want to; I try to — because I am a stubborn ass — but I can’t. I can feel it coming, and I can’t fight it. I can feel it coming, and all I can do is hold on and wait for it to hit. All I can do is hold on and try: try to trudge through, try to do anything and everything to keep myself afloat, and try to keep myself accountable.
So that will be my parting message today: try. Don’t worry about great or good or even okay. Try, just try. Because, to quote the Beatles, it sure as shit will be a “long, cold lonely winter” but the sun, well, “here it comes” (eventually, but it will come).