This is what I often look like in the throes of seasonal depression. Needless to say, It’s not pretty. Often times, my demeanor is that of someone who just pulled a double and then ran a marathon while trying to take care of seven kids. Over the past couple of years, I have become more aware of how this affects me, as well as being aware of what I can do to make it bearable. While I understand that millions of people deal with this, I felt that it was important to share my thoughts and experiences as well. Join me as I take the plunge into the cold abyss of emotionless wintertime. Who knows, you might just learn a thing or two.
For as long as I can recall, I have dealt with the devil known as anxiety. For many years, I didn’t realize how large of a role it played in my life until I was finally self-aware enough to realize that it had been affecting me all along. Unlike depression, anxiety is not a seasonal burden, but a year-round one. It seems that nearly everything that makes me somewhat uncomfortable gives me a feeling of my heart burning a hole through my chest paired with the feeling of existential woe. Sometimes I’m able to sit with this uncomfortable feeling, and other times I’m unable to. Growing up, I was never really an adventurous kid, and I think that I subconsciously stuck to places and activities which made me feel comfortable as to avoid anxiety. I restlessly chewed my fingernails and picked my toenails for years without realizing that it was entirely a nervous habit sprung upon me by anxiety. It wasn’t until I purchased this fun nail clipper that I stopped chewing on my nails. As a disclaimer, I want to say that this won’t work for everyone, but it helped me. To this day I put my nails to my teeth during pangs of anxiety but I don’t chew them. Awareness is the first step, right? Baby steps are surely better than no steps.
Recently, I have felt the pangs of seasonal depression and have tried to mount every possible defense that I know against it. Often times it augments itself when I’m feeling alone, overwhelmed or hopeless. The thing that sucks about depression is that feelings of hopelessness and loneliness often beget more feelings of the same, which raises them to a much larger magnitude in a positive feedback loop of misery. When you are at the bottom of the emotionless pit, it becomes difficult to pull yourself out. There are things which can help, like exercising, eating a balanced diet, taking medication, and also spending time with others. People will often say things such as ‘I don’t need antidepressants, I have nature’ and not realize that while a walk through the forest might put you at ease, it will not cure your depression. While I do believe that these things help quite a bit with managing the symptoms of depression, they don’t make it go away. You can go for a walk in the woods every day, eat kale like a rabbit and spend time with your closest friends as much as you want, but you still have to sit with your depression, or at least that’s how I feel. Trying to beat depression is a literal fight for your own happiness and that can be a very hard thing to do when your mind makes you care about nothing.
Some of the things which I’ve found have helped me with my seasonal depression include, but are not limited to:
-Inhaling hot green tea vapors (If you haven’t done this, I highly recommend it. There’s something medicinal about it that I can’t quite pin down)
-Trying to eat a decent amount of fruits and vegetables every day
-Medication (I love Zoloft, and will expound upon this later)
-Talking to my therapist (I’ll expound upon this later as well)
-Listening to happy music like Dr. Dog (This reminds me of feeling happy, and by extension that happiness is attainable when I feel otherwise)
-Listening to down-tempo music like Modest Mouse and Car Seat Headrest which talks about depression, thereby helping me understand and relate to my own depression.
-Spending time with others who I care about
I want to mention that most of the aforementioned things help me with anxiety, but there are a couple of things which really help me as well. One of those things is simply being aware that I have anxiety and trying to sit with my emotions and better understand them in an act of self-reflection. I’ve also found that listening to nature videos on Youtube really helps as well. There’s something inherently calming about listening to a stream in a forest.
Let me just reiterate that these things help, but aren’t necessarily a panacea. These things help me manage my depression, often very effectively, but don’t by any means cure it.
While we’re still on the subject, let’s talk about the stigmas which revolve around my friends anxiety and depression. Nobody wants to talk about the status of their mental health if it is ever less than optimal. Depression is seen as a weakness or a personal failure rather than a sickness like the flu. If you take medication for depression or anxiety, you are viewed as not being cognitively or emotionally adept enough to calm yourself down. If you go to therapy to hash out your feelings and emotions, you are viewed as if there must be something desperately wrong with you and you are on the verge of countless mental breakdowns and suicidal thoughts. These stigmas, while pervasive, could not be any further from the truth. Depression is a mental illness, which can be caused by a myriad of different things. What it is not caused by, is a personal failure or a lack of effort.
I think that there are a few reasons why there is such a large stigma against medication, primarily antidepressants. Since depression is already viewed as a personal shortcoming, taking medication is viewed as a measure to make up for your personal shortcomings, which they still believe exist even with medication. Many people believe also believe that medication is inherently bad, since it is produced by large corporations, so they opt out of taking it. I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of corporations, but until the day there’s artisanal, farm-to-table, locally produced Zoloft, I will gladly take the corporate-produced version.
More importantly than the stigmas revolving around medication, there are social stigmas which exist around going to therapy, and I hate all of them. We live in a society which tells men to bottle up their feelings, and to be emotionally unavailable and calloused. If you go to therapy, surely there must be something truly wrong with you, or at least that what we’re often taught to believe. Let me just say that I love therapy. Being able to articulate how you feel and then sit with and address how you feel is a liberating concept which not enough people have dared put into practice. Even if your life is mostly smooth sailing, therapy can be very beneficial. If you think of therapy more as mental and emotional tune-ups, or even as scheduled moments of reflection peppered with honest and open conversation about your life, you will surely feel empowered to make positive change in your life. Lastly, a therapist is usually a professional who is intellectually and emotionally ready and able to handle your issues and concerns. Their confidentiality paired with their professionalism takes a burden off of your social support system and can allow you to reclaim certain relationships, once bogged down with constant venting sessions and emotional baggage.
I want to touch upon something which I think is especially poignant regarding these issues. There are many people who cannot afford, or for any amount of reasons, do not have access to quality healthcare. This includes not being able to purchase antidepressants, not having enough time and/or money to go to therapy, or not having adequate health insurance which would cover access to mental health treatments. Nobody should have to worry about not receiving proper health care because of their financial status, especially in the United States, which is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. For these reasons and many more, I believe that we should have universal healthcare. If thinking that people deserve to get medical treatment without fearing of going into debt makes me a communist, then so be it.
So remember, mental health is very import. If you feel sad or hopeless, please seek help. If you have aversions to seeking help, the odds are stacked against you for ever feeling well again. By taking active steps in prioritizing your mental health, you are keeping your mind as healthy as it possibly can be. Sometimes placebos can help, and there’s no real way to explain that. If you believe that something is going to help, it just might. I’ll always have anxiety, and seasonal depression will likely be knocking on my door every winter. What that doesn’t mean, is that I can’t be prepared to stave them off by using every tool at my disposal to fight for my own happiness. Remember, always advocate for and love yourself. You and your happiness are the most precious things you have and you should never let anything get between you and achieving happiness.
Those are my thoughts, what are yours?