Winter has always been like a big black hole for me, but this year is far worse than any I can remember. Having struggled with year-round depression and anxiety for most of my life, I’ve navigated through some dark shit. But, this recent spiral into seasonal depression has got me by the throat. I hope to help someone else to not feel so alone and to send a message of hope and inspiration because it will get better.
An uncomfortable discussion with my husband (I’m being polite, don’t get used to it) is what woke me up – “THAT’S why I’m feeling and acting like THIS!” Something similar occurs almost every month when I finally realize that PMS is responsible for my current misery, but THIS was way more intense. I was a deer-in-the-headlights for a few days, stunned at the realization that depression had taken hold of me in this way. I was shocked that I hadn’t consciously seen it coming. I knew I had no energy and felt like an irritable, negative piece of shit, but that cloud of doom held me tight in its shadow, forcing me into straight-up survival mode. It’s called seasonal depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or what I like to call the winter blues. It sounds a little lighter to me that way and isn’t technically accurate for my situation, but I don’t give a fiery deuce. Whatever you call it, it’s emotionally defeating and negatively impacting my life in a very real and frustrating way.
Maybe this current episode is due to the added stresses of the recent holidays or having the huge responsibility of molding my kids into highly functioning, well-adjusted, self-reliant adults. Maybe it’s because the only exercise I get is putting the dishes away, making vacuum marks, and sneezing on occasion. Maybe it’s caused by the lack of sunshine (I still love you, Seattle), a chemical shift in my noggin, or maybe it just IS. Sometimes I get caught up in the “why” and that’s not where I need to be. All I know is that if there were an award up for grabs for Most Miserable Negative Wretch, I’d probably win 3rd runner-up (because I suck that much) and then insist on a digital copy, so I wouldn’t have to go pick it up.
Prepare yourself, this section is pretty depressing. I want to paint a picture of what depression looks like. It’s different for everyone, of course, but the theme is there. It doesn’t ever go away, but there are times when it’s much worse. This is a bad time for me, as you’ll clearly see. If you could hear some of my thoughts, you’d probably have tears in your eyes, but I won’t go into many of those.
I look around and see gray skies, barren tree limbs, bare streets, and death. Yes, death. Everywhere. People, animals, garden flowers, dry skin, my will to shave or get out of bed – all dead. I’m reminded of those I’ve lost along the way. I think of our pup who left us almost 2 years ago…it was so traumatic, I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the horror of losing him the way that we did. I miss his loving heart, protective nature, and his big fuzzy ears. Then there’s my grandma. I long to be in my happy place – in her green, 70’s-inspired kitchen eating a peanut butter and butter sandwich on Wonder bread, having her tell me I have a “cute shape” and how talented and special I am. It makes me so sad to think of these things that I’ll never have again, these bonds that have been broken. That’s a never-ending road if I let those memories drive. Of course I’m grateful for those memories – but being grateful doesn’t take away the pain. Depression feeds on the dark stuff and sucks out the light.
Depression is feeling like you’ve been ironed out by a steamroller, like when you get the flu, only there’s no phlegm and the zap just doesn’t go away. I feel weak, tired, emotionally detached, tense, and heavy. I visualize myself wearing flannel, drowning in a murky, cold, stagnant pond of goo. Occasionally I manage to break free from the darkness and gasp for air, but my limbs are too weak and I slip back under. This time of year it’s dark when I leave the house and dark when I get home. All I want to do is sleep. I know extra sleep won’t help, but I desperately fantasize about sleeping for a month. Just a month to check out, and then maybe I’d wake up feeling refreshed. Just want to check out.
My worries tend to haunt me – futuristic crap like having to go find my next job, having to talk to someone when I’m not ready, my loved ones dying, getting into a car wreck, or the Seahawks not making it to the Super Bowl. I’m extremely irritable, indifferent, foggy-brained, and self-critical to the point that I’d classify as my own relentless bully.
I don’t want to do anything or see anyone and would rather spend all day locked up in my bedroom with chocolate cake and booze (don’t worry, I’m not going there). My instinct is to isolate for a few reasons; I’m too busy spending time in my head, I don’t want to depress anyone, I don’t want anyone to see how miserable I feel, and most people either irritate me or stress me out for some reason. Often times I’m a raging, ball-breaking hag because I just can’t handle how I feel. My husband gets the brunt of it, the sorry sack.
If I could have a superpower, I’d either want the ability to fly (fly away FAST) or become invisible. I want to be invisible more often than I want to admit. Depression is an overwhelming experience and frankly, when I’m in the throes of it, it makes me not want to be me. This is a big problem because I’m actually happy, I’m pretty cool, and I have an amazing life!!! I have it all – in fact, I think that makes me even more depressed about being depressed. As a recovering alcoholic, it’s especially important that I fight through. Hopelessness and desperation is a recipe for relapse or worse.
“The most powerful words you can say to someone with an invisible illness is…I believe you.”
Finding the light
Depression is dark, so we must seek the light, whatever that means to you. There are things we can do to help make it through. Here’s how I find light:
1. Be with people
- Supportive people. Luckily, I have people who lift me up. My husband steps up continuously and I depend on his optimism, strength, persistence, and mind-blowing amount of energy, even though it annoys the shit out of me. My kids help me appreciate the simple, most valuable parts of life, pulling me back into the moment. My mom has always been my key to staying grounded and my dad relates with me because we experience a lot of the same struggles AND we can laugh about them. My brother and sister-in-law inspire me and love me for who I am. I even have a close friend or two. A girl couldn’t really ask for more.
- Set boundaries. I set internal boundaries with everyone. One might call them walls – whatever works. I don’t hang out with assholes and I limit my time with people who trigger negative emotions in me. I don’t care about the reasons why at this point, I just keep my distance as much as possible.
- Spend time with an animal. Animals are far better than most people. Pets offer unconditional, uncomplicated love and acceptance. They distract us, bring us into the moment, promote touch, get us outside, ease anxiety…need I say more?
2. Be aware of moments
- Be grateful. You know that feeling when you go on vacation and the stresses of your everyday life disappear and your partner doesn’t annoy the holy living hell out of you? I know that a similar state of being is achievable. It’s probably called peace. I experience peace every night when I kiss my 5-year-old before bed (I love the other kid just the same, but I can’t risk waking the beautiful little freak up at this point) – he’s sleeping so soundly and he’s so damn amazing, I take a big whiff of his neck, give him a few pecks and walk out of his room with a pure, whole, glowing white heart. That’s peace. Sometimes that’s the only peace I get all day and I’m grateful for it.
- Slow down. Take a deep breath. One deep breath does wonders, you just have to actually remember to do it.
- Set small goals. I found some pro-longed peace the other day (better than I’ve felt in months) – I’d completed all 3 tasks on my to-do list, sat in front of my “happy light” for a few hours, AND did yoga! While I still felt like a constipated asshole, I felt much lighter, accomplished, and optimistic. Optimistic?! Yes, optimistic! Now that I’m awake to this current depressive episode, I am able to do more about it bit by bit. Some days brushing your damn teeth is an accomplishment…celebrate the fact that your teeth are no longer wearing wool sweaters.
3. Go outside
- Get some sun. I’ve always been a sun worshipper, probably because I’ve always been depressed. The benefits I get from the sun far outweigh any potential risk of skin cancer. My husband doesn’t get that. He sings a melanoma song sometimes when he finds me sitting in the sun, but I’m not a pasty white English boy with a history of bad sunburns. Now that I’ve entered mid-life (WTF?!), I can only handle 10-20 minutes in sun before I’m spent anyway. But that’s all I need. The feeling I get when I’m sitting in the warm sun is amazing. Drink it up with your eye balls and soak in the warmth on your skin. (I don’t want to get sued, so I’ll just say, please don’t look directly AT the sun. Sun rays can enter your eye balls if you’re simply looking in its direction. If you look directly at the sun, you’re an idiot and you need more help than I can lend.)
- Try light therapy. I’ve used my new “happy light” 5 or 6 times within the past few weeks or so and I do believe it is helping my mood. It gives me a bit of a headache at first, but then I’m good.
- Remember that Spring is coming. It helps to be reminded that winter won’t last forever. If we could remove January, February, and March from our calendars, I’d be stoked. Living in Seattle during wintertime is a real pisser.
4. Eat OK
- Make better choices. I’m not asking you to change it all and emulate Dr. Oz. You don’t have to get all freaky about it and go organic or vegan, just make small improvements. Instead of a candy bar, choose a juicy sweet apple. Instead of white bread, try a loaf of wheat or sourdough. Have 2 scoops of ice cream instead of 5.
- Give yourself a break. I have the tendency to eat my emotions or attempt to fill voids with food. Rather than fight that urge to binge, I just let it be and make sure it’s food that isn’t completely useless. I take down a seriously large bowl of popcorn with coconut oil regularly. Popcorn = whole grain, fiber, antioxidants. Coconut oil = saturated fat (it’s good, y’all), vitamins and minerals, digestive benefits.
- Drink water. Water is important for so many reasons. Flush those toxins out. If you’re like me, dealing with constipation, water is essential. Having a large, compacted piece of shit crammed in your intestines doesn’t feel good and certainly adds to irritability, at least for me.
- Eat less sugar. Sugar is evil.
- Don’t eat fast food. The only thing you score with a $4 lunch combo is fake shit full of chemicals, sugar, and fat. McDonald’s is a twisted joke. Fast food is an energy suck. Please don’t put that shit into your body!
5. Get into a routine
- Get up early. I started getting up at the same time everyday about 2 weeks ago. When I hear my alarm go off I want to scream and thrash about like a 2 year-old, maybe even poke my husband in the eye, but I do feel more prepared for the day, once I’m ready to go.
- Get enough sleep. This isn’t news. It’s hard to feel human, let alone like a good one when you’re tired.
- Challenge your negative self-talk. This shit is exhausting. But, if you just try to be more aware of it and do what you can to redirect your thoughts or tell yourself to shut the hell up, it will help. Every little effort counts.
- Take meds if you need to. This here a controversial one, but I’m going to set it right. First of all, see a mental health professional, not your regular doctor. Regular doctors aren’t trained in mental health and don’t know shit. If you’re anti-meds, just hear this – no one is going to give you a medal for toughing it out on your own. If you’re miserable and can’t break free on your own, get some god damned help. Give it a whirl. If you’re afraid of becoming dependent on it, you should probably let that shit go – if it makes life easier, so be it. Life is too short to feel like shit all the time. I’ll pop a pill till the day I’m dead if it helps. Educate yourself.
6. Move more
Exercise is a tough one for me. It used to come naturally, but not anymore. I see people running on the street and I want to open my car door and clip ’em. I’m jealous as hell that I don’t have that drive or will to be able to commit to something so challenging and rewarding. I don’t like committing to things like gyms or workout routines now because I end up losing money and feeling like a worthless dumbass. I am careful not to set myself up for failure. “Well, just DO it then” you say? How about that doesn’t work for me and we’ll just leave it at that.
- Make small changes. Instead of organized fitness, I’ve been making small efforts throughout my day. Parking farther away from the grocery store is a good one (no, I’m not 80 years old, but all it takes is a little shift of intention sometimes). I’ve taken a few flights of stairs at work for the hell of it (or maybe it was to get away from some idiot crop dusting my area). No matter how I get there, I am making an effort to move more. I’ve taken a few yoga classes and managed to hold my fart in, so those were HUGE encouraging wins. None of this is routine and certainly won’t get me bathing suit ready, but now this is all I can handle. At least it’s something. Plus, I don’t know if I even care if I’m bathing suit ready anymore…I just want to FEEL good.
Laughing makes us feel better instantly. It is a natural pain reducer, lowers your blood pressure, and lowers stress hormone levels. It relaxes our bodies and gives us an overall feeling of well-being.
- Find something that makes you laugh every day. Sitcoms are great. Check out some YouTube videos of people falling down or look at pictures of animals cuddling or being cute. Find a goofy morning radio show that makes you chuckle. Whatever makes you laugh, find more of it. And don’t forget about the power of farts. Thinking about, talking about, and ripping farts is funny. And not just to me…you know you can’t help but laugh when someone in the stall next to you rips a long, raspy toilet bow fart. Those echo chambers are there for your entertainment! Smelling someone else’s fart is highly offensive and instantly turns me violent, but everything else about farts is hilarious. Enjoy them!
I’m still pretty deep in that pond of goo, but I can see a ladder to grab and my legs are kicking. This too shall pass and life will go on. I’ll take my moments of peace and keep trying for more, by taking small mindful steps.
If you’re really struggling, this list looks like a piece of shit. I know. It’s so hard to imagine feeling better sometimes. In that case I’ll tell you to do this: put your hand on your heart. Do it. I’m not going to move on until you do it…….OK….Do you feel your heart beating? I couldn’t either and it almost freaked me out…try your pulse. Feel that? That’s your heart pumping blood. That’s love in there. That’s your strength to get you through another day. If I can do it, you can do it. Please don’t give up. Every effort counts, no matter how small it seems to you or others. Your story doesn’t end here and neither does mine.
Thanks for reading,
“Depression is like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise on your brain. You just got to be careful not to touch it where it hurts. It’s always there, though.”