I can’t speak for everyone, but my depression follows a pattern.
It took me years to recognize that my depressive episodes occurred in a very specific format: appearing in the fall (roughly October to November) and disappearing in the spring (March or April). Of course, once I recognized the pattern, I started seeing it everywhere throughout my past. The circumstances surrounding the onset might change, but the seasons were always the same.
what is seasonal affective disorder?
I have what was once termed Seasonal Affective Disorder in the 80s [link to wikipedia]. Today, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in psychology replaces SAD under the depression heading as major depressive disorder, seasonal pattern. Whatever you want to call it, it looks something like this: every year in late fall, I start to feel a little bit down. It doesn’t matter where I’m living or working, or what my life is like otherwise. Outside circumstances don’t seem to have any bearing on the onset of my depression; my situation may give rise to a trigger, or it may just happen on its own. For the winter months, roughly November thru March, I experience a long episode of depression that only dissipates in springtime.
Often with winter depression, specific symptoms come up. Obviously, you’ve got your general depressed mood, anhedonia (or loss of interest/pleasure in normal activities), and the emotional symptoms—feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt, and just general self-hatred. When it comes to seasonal depression, you might also experience hypersomnia, or needing to sleep more than the standard 8 hours a night. This can be accompanied by fatigue, whether or not you oversleep. A lot of times, I find myself longing to stay in bed longer when the days are shorter. I also tend to over-eat a lot during the winter months, which also contributes to sluggishness.
my experiences with seasonal depression
It’s usually about December for me when I realize what’s going on. It takes a couple months before I recognize Depression and stare it in the face. In October and November, it just seems like something has happened to make me feel a little sad. As a teenager, it was the endless slew of unrequited crushes I had on people who weren’t even aware of my presence. In college, it was the overall stress associated with taking a full course load and working part-time. As I finished school and got out on my own, it was a never-ending up-and-down relationship with a guy who was borderline emotionally abusive. Then I moved to New York City, and I attributed my feelings to the stress of living paycheck to paycheck in an extremely expensive place with no relief in sight.
This year was different though. I quit my day job and moved to the middle of nowhere with my fiancé last summer. I’m technically (and temporarily) free of money stress because I have somewhere permanent to live. I am possibly the most fortunate person I know in that sense, because I have endless time to do what I want—which means endless time to write, the one thing I always wanted (aside from romantic love, which I also have now for the first time in my life).
I spent weeks, months, denying that this particular depressive episode was even happening. How could I be depressed when I had everything going for me in life? Sure, I missed my friends, many of whom fell out of contact with me once I moved away. Sure, writing wasn’t going as easily as I’d hoped. And yes, I was consumed with guilt for the very privileges that had fallen into my lap. But none of that, I thought, was enough to warrant a full-blown depressive episode.
By January, I couldn’t deny it anymore: the Depression was back and I had to do something about it.
I could tell you all about how I incorporated yoga into my daily routine, how I focused on doing nice things for myself and tried to convince myself that I deserved happiness. I could tell you about how I made a strict daily schedule for myself that includes self-reflection as well as physical activity, time to read as well as a focus on blogging, on reaching out into the world in the hopes of curing my isolated loneliness. But if you’ve been reading my posts, you might already know some of this. For the purposes of this discussion, what I did and didn’t do these past few months to recover from depression isn’t really the point.
What’s the point? you ask. The point is that sometimes what you do or don’t do doesn’t matter. Seasonal depression doesn’t give a shit where you’re living (or who you’re living with). It doesn’t care if you hate your job or you love what you do every day. Depression in all its sneakiness will find a way to make you hate yourself—in my case, I hated myself for the fact that I should be happy.
Then Springtime comes. Flowers bloom, trees bud out, and birds sing. The weather gets better, making it bearable to get outside and soak up some sunlight. And suddenly, almost without warning, I start to feel better—so much so that I almost forget what it felt like to be depressed for months. Almost. Because I still have moments of soul-sucking guilt for the way I’ve behaved for the past few months, the ungratefulness that threatened to swallow me and the guilt that ate me alive. I still have moments when I’m not sure I can do this whole recovery thing.
Recovery is not a monolith.
Sometimes, it’s one step forward and two steps back. But you keep taking that step forward because it’s the only thing you can do.
Recovery is not a monolith. It changes from person to person but also from episode to episode, from month to month and week to week, even day to day. A form of self-care can be lifesaving one day (like yoga was to me) and then the next day it’s not enough. But it goes the other way too: sometimes a comment or piece of advice that hurts may one day begin to make sense a week or two later.
Sometimes, on a good day, I’m able to recognize my own agency. Yes, I’m dealing with a mental illness that may never go away entirely. But I recognize that it’s my choice how I deal with it, whether I let it swallow me or I try to let it out on paper or in safe conversation with someone who cares about me. Some days, like this one, I recognize that I have to take responsibility for my own recovery, while recognizing that even recovery can be temporary.
Without a doubt, the hardest part of this episode—even more so than being isolated in a small town with a small support system—is recognizing that seasonal depression is my lot in life. I will get through this episode, but another one will hit me later down the line. I can win this battle, but the war is ongoing.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure where I was going with this post. I wanted to share my experience—because writing it down helps so much sometimes. I wanted to dispel the most harmful misunderstanding of depression: that it’s curable, rather than chronic. And I wanted to put these words into the universe in the very small hope that they help someone, somewhere, some day, even if that person is Future Me.
As always, thank you for reading, dear followers. You mean the world to me. If this post helped you in any way, then I’ve done my duty. If you want to talk, you know where to find me.