“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer….Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own.” – definition from mayoclinic.org
It’s still dark out, why did my alarm go off?
Without the sun to separate the day to night, the concept of morning is so foreign to me. When it’s time to get up, I feel like my blanket weighs 100lbs. Every bit of energy I built up over night, is swept away at the thought of getting ready for the day. Even the smallest tasks, like brushing my teeth or pouring a glass of water, are so draining. On day’s off, it takes what seems like forever to get out of bed, if at all. For some people, a little vitamin D and some exercise does the trick. For others, it’s a little harder to try to cope with.
Disclaimer – I’m writing about this because I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this… whether seasonal depression is an annual thing for you, or it’s something totally new that’s been brought on by the uncertainty of 2020. I’m not writing this as an encouraging or positive post, but just to acknowledge what you’re feeling and let you know that I’m right there with you. I know how easy it can be to fall back into old, unhealthy habits. I know how lonely it feels when your brain starts being mean to you. I understand the snowball effect and how scary it can be when things start spiralling.
So, let’s talk about it. Full transparency here.
How are you, really? – sit with that for a minute.
This can be emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually… allow yourself time to think about this. When was the last time you really thought about how you’re doing? With so many things going on in the world right now, it’s easy to forget to, or feel guilty for checking in with yourself – but it’s SO important, now more than ever.
I’ll go first;
I’ve been struggling a lot the last few weeks.
It’s like my regular anxiety and depression are teaming up with my SAD and I’m stuck in a fight I won’t win. Some days, getting up is easy. Remembering to eat and drink water is easy. Doing morning stretches and meditations are easy. Motivation comes quick. Other days, I don’t know if the sun came up at all because I spent my entire day wrapped in a burrito of blankets and pillows, trying to shut off my brain and shut out the world. A lot of the time, this is exactly what my body needs (even if I have no reason to be exhausted). I have days where I can imagine all of the things I have on my “to-do” list, but for whatever reason I can’t find the energy to do any of it. Every day has something different to offer, but regardless of how much or how little I do, the weight of simply existing is too much to carry.
I started new medication recently to help combat my anxiety and depression. They make me feel like sh*t, to say the least. I take it before bed hoping I can sleep off some of the side effects. It makes me super nauseous, heightens my negative thoughts and anxiety, and don’t even get me started on the super bizarre dreams. It feels like my brain is against me more than ever right now. Every night I get anxious about taking it because I know how it made me feel the night before. I’ve been battling my mind for years, but recently it’s been more of a struggle than usual. My doctor told me that the first few weeks are the worst, but once you get over that hump, the medication should start to balance out and work the way it’s supposed to.
Currently, I’m dealing with both anxiety and depression, partnered with the yucking feelings from the medication, SAD and the pandemic anxiety as a cherry on top. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I’ve personally gotten to a point where I can’t differentiate one from the others. I wake up feeling uneasy, but struggle to pinpoint exactly where it’s coming from.
This time of the year, every year, I feel like I’m just surviving.
It’s like I’m in an enclosed cardboard box, forced to sit with my negative thoughts and anxieties. This year, someone came around and dumped an obnoxious amount of water on the box – the water is COVID-19. I’m still in my box, but now water is seeping in. Being stuck in the dark corners of your mind can be lonely, but having physical isolation as well has been a game changer.
Before I continue – does any of this resonate with you? If it does, good. I hope I can help you feel heard and validated. I strongly encourage you to dive into your own brain. Writing things down feels really good to me, it may not be the same for everyone, but I hope you find a way to allow yourself to dig deeper.
How are you, really?
Let’s talk about some things that help put my mind at ease, even its just a few moments ; maybe it will help you to.
- If I’m having a day where being productive doesn’t feel like an option, I allow it. I’m starting to learn to be patient with myself and understand why some days may be harder than others. I know this is a lot easier said than done, and don’t get me wrong, I definitely have days where I wish I got more done, but I try not to feel guilty for it. If all I do in a day is drink tea, take a shower, sit in my towel for hours and write for 10 minutes in my journal, that works for me. Maybe that’s more than I could do yesterday, maybe I’ll be able to do more tomorrow. Remember; your productivity doesn’t determine your worth, and feeling unwell doesn’t make you lazy.
- Surrounding myself with people who are good for my mental health has been an ongoing process for me. Letting go of things/people that no longer benefit your life is tough, no matter what phase you’re in. Hold on to those who bring light and warmth to your dark days and who want to help bring you out of the negative pit you’re in. I know 2020 has made it hard for a lot of us to stay as connected as we were before. Do whatever you can to keep those people close. We are SO fortunate we have technology that allows us to keep in touch from all corners of the map. Phone call. Text message. Social media. Video chat. The options are endless. I literally FaceTime my girlfriends when I’m doing laundry because that’s the only way I can hold myself accountable (true story, ask R – she’s sat through multiple loads).
- I try to take in as much fresh air as I possibly can in a day. This can range from taking a long “serotonin walk” (as I like to call them, but normal ‘walk’ works too), or simply opening up some doors or windows for a few minutes to feel the slight breeze while I’m laying on the couch or in bed. I never realized how much I took fresh air for granted, but 2020 has definitely made me extremely thankful. Filling my lungs with the cool, winter air (without a mask) is a small reminder to be grateful that I’ve made it to another day, even if my brain tells me otherwise.
- I’ve been working on allowing myself to feel whatever emotions surface – whether there’s an obvious reason for them or not. If I wake up and I’m feeling anxious, I acknowledge that. If I wake up and feel sad, angry, lonely, happy, motivated, scared… I give myself permission to sit with those emotions and really feel whatever my brain is telling me it needs to feel. Mind you, I do whatever I need to do to help cope or work through the different emotions, but I recognize it instead of brushing it off. If I need to cry, I let myself cry. If I need to scream into a pillow, or sing at the top of my lungs, I allow myself to do that as well.
Honestly, maneuvering through the winter months with seasonal depression is tough even in the best of times. I think most of us can agree that 2020 has been an absolute roller coaster and has pushed our emotions and mental capacity to levels that we didn’t even know were possible. On the plus side, the year is almost over. I’m so proud of you for making it this far – I know how hard its been.
As we enter into the last month of the year and prepare to walk into a new one, be aware of those around you; some may find it easier to hide their struggles than others. Please continue to check in on your friends, but don’t neglect yourself in the process. Take a few minutes and check in on yourself as well – don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need to. It’s okay to sleep in a little longer than expected. It’s okay to cancel plans. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to admit that. Remember that everything you’re feeling is valid and that you absolutely aren’t alone in the space you’re in, even if it feels like you are.
Be kind to yourself today. Don’t forget to drink water, take your medications and fuel your body in whatever ways it needs to be – you deserve it.
All my love,