Goodbye, Summertime.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

noun
1. recurrent winter depression characterized by oversleeping, overeating, and irritability, and relieved by the arrival of spring or by light therapy.
Abbreviation: SAD.

Or if you prefer, from the Mayo Clinic definition:

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.

As if dealing with regular old depression wasn’t enough, now we have a seasonal version. It is the mental health equivalent of pumpkin spice everything. With the end of daylight saving time, we now have the opportunity to venture down the rabbit hole of deep, dark evenings, lack of motivation and the beginning of terrible eating habits that will surely contribute to the fall of summer health initiatives and sun bathed recreational activities. Sunset runs are now dark and frosty torture events. Paranoia over sinus pressure and the chance of catching a cold become overwhelmingly annoying qualities of mine. I fear sundown when camping; I can’t decide what layers will be the warmest. I balk over wearing three pairs of pants and still tuck hand-warmers into every pocket. My wool hat is my best friend.

I will see my breathe and shed a small tear and feel a soft ache in my heart.

Good-bye, summertime. You will be missed. My already low energy levels take it down a couple of notches. My productivity wanes. The holidays come and I feel the extreme end of the spectrum on which the feelings of missing my family lie. As always, there are good days … and there are very bad ones.

Winter arrives, some things speed up, but for me — many things slow down. Many of those around me are spending time with their families, and I am gently reflecting on my life. Amidst the boxes of old photographs, books of memories, handwritten letters and old cards, I find myself. I am given a beautiful opportunity to reflect; to feel quiet. To feel peace. I have an amazing opportunity to turn inward and dust out the symbolic cobwebs in the deepest places of my soul. It is my gift to have extra time to reflect on my life and the joys within it. The challenges of this season do not need to consume me — this is a wonderful time for me to re-calibrate, to reinforce the habit of being gentle with myself, to really absorb the love and good fortune in my life and allow it to overwhelm me; to become so consumed with these positive emotions and this positive energy, that I may take this beautiful opportunity to love those around me, to be kind and gentle to others.

Winter is always a struggle for me, but this year I vow to turn it around. I will take the opportunity. I will make the most of it. It is possible.

Good-bye, summertime. Until we meet again. 

On Being Vulnerable

This last week has certainly flown by. I’ve fallen a bit behind on my writing schedule, and have chosen to be okay with that. I’ve been writing a little less lately, and focusing on some other things — initially I was perturbed with myself for this change in habit, but I’ve decided that making a periodic adjustment is perfectly acceptable, and that the important thing is to always do what is good for my heart and soul and keeps me motivated in general (seems like a solid plan, though not always easy to adhere to …).

I’ve been feeling a bit vulnerable lately, and that could be contributing to my lack of writing — writing tends to do that to me, perhaps because I am documenting intangible things that are from deep within, whether I choose to share them or not. Being vulnerable can be quite difficult, even if practiced regularly. I am reminded of a podcast I listened to earlier this year, in which Brené Brown discusses her research on shame and its relationship with vulnerability, and subsequently courage (it’s a good listen if you have a few moments).

Speaking of vulnerability, I was extremely touched to read Janie Brown’s contribution to the On Being blog this month. Janie’s letter to a friend struggling with mental illness brought more than a few tears to my eyes. Her friend, who later did choose to end her own life, displayed amazing courage in her decision to be vulnerable when she reached out to Janie. She took steps to seek treatment, to find companionship, to hold friends close to help her through those difficult times. And this, for many (myself included) is so, so difficult. It takes immense courage to admit when you are struggling — to ask someone to be there for you, to let them know you need them. Not only are you left vulnerable, you risk rejection, along with a whole myriad of other possible feelings: obligation, burden, fear, shame, insecurity, etc. You experience doubt that people genuinely care, but feel silly afterword because you know truly that they do. Sometimes you are lost in your head and forget that people have told you they care and that you are valuable and important to them. As Janie Brown does for her friend, a true friend carries no judgement. There is only love.

It is also easy to forget that you are valuable and important to yourself. It is easy to forgot to be kind to yourself. In my journey of transformation, mindfulness has been a prominent topic and a difficult practice to make habit — though an entirely worthwhile effort. Attending meditation workshops, working with a meditation instructor, reading Buddhist texts and memoirs, seeking knowledge from those seasoned in the practice have all fueled much of my personal growth, and led to many changes in my life that continue to increase my levels of happiness and satisfaction.

I kept reading through the On Being blog, to Sharon Salzberg’s post, The Concentric Circles of Connection and Lovingkindness. She so beautifully explains:

Classically, mindfulness is really about being present in a certain way, about tuning into our experiences, interactions, emotions, and thoughts with a sense of curiosity and equanimity. It’s an overall sense of openness, and that’s what helps provide us clarity and space to cultivate insight, resilience, and compassion for ourselves and others.

Let me reiterate: compassion for ourselves and others. Through mindfulness we can learn to be gentle with ourselves and one another in a most profound and peaceful way. I can feel it in my soul – the way increasing my mindfulness calms my anxiety, eases my fears, aids me in seeing the good in the world around me, and the people in it. I can come back to this moment and feel at peace in this whirlwind of a world. For this opportunity, I am grateful.

For anyone interested in beginning a meditation practice (or interested in general), I encourage you to check out Community Mediation.  You can watch prior videos and practice at your convenience, or take part in the live feed on Wednesday evenings.

I will leave you today with these beautiful words to ponder from Sharon Salzberg:

Through nourishing ourselves with love and acceptance, we ultimately prepare ourselves to offer lovingkindness to others and recognize our shared desire to be happy and supported in this life.

I Am Not My Depression

Below is a lost blurb (that has now clearly been found) that I previously wrote about depression. Given my prior post discussing the relationship between passion and depression, I felt now would be a good time to let these words out into the world. I hope that this small effort lends even a tiny hand to the greater movement to bring awareness to depression and mental illness in our society. It’s a glimpse into things that happen in my own mind, and perhaps many others who are not comfortable with this level of public vulnerability. I hope to be strong for myself and for everyone else who shares this silent struggle.  

I have been under the veil of depression for as long as I can remember. I often feel burdened by the heaviness of feeling abnormal. I realize that it is impossible for me to really know how anyone else really feels and I should not waste time comparing myself to others, but there is always that lingering “if only …” in my mind.

There is a heaviness in feeling tired all the time when there is no simple, physical solution. No amount of sleep will take away the fatigue. There is much weight in holding back unexplained tears. Even allowing them to flow freely doesn’t put a stop to their nagging. There is an overwhelming burden that comes with being unable to focus. The lack of energy can be immensely discouraging.

I choose not to take medication for this ailment. I have, over the years, tried different drugs — prescription and non — and have chosen to deal with my depression on my own. I have spent years journaling about it, experimenting with things that make me feel better, recognizing what lifts the fog and making lifestyle choices to accommodate these things; recognizing that there is not a cure-all, but that I will spend my life continuing to learn and evolve methods of coping.

I make a lot of lists. And scrap them. Sometimes, but rarely, I complete them. I make more lists. Create reminders. Post sticky notes around my apartment. Rewrite mantras until they stick in my brain. Practice reminding myself what activities make me feel stronger, happier, confident.  I keep reminders of good days everywhere — photos, trinkets, notes. On bad days I find myself living inside my own fantasy world, replaying a happy time until I find that I can smile again. I retreat. I spend time alone, wishing I wasn’t alone, but being afraid to step out into the world, for fear of bringing others down and for fear of being judged. Sometimes I just need to cry for a bit. None of this is logical.

I also worry about being stigmatized.  I worry that people will think I will be a burden and forgo friendship with me if they only knew what a whirlwind my mind was. Let me just say that I know this is completely silly. Maybe its possible that this is true, but I have not found this to be the case. Yet this thought still nags at me. I worry that I bother people. I worry that I am annoying them. I worry that I’m too high maintenance. And yet none of this is true. As a result I realize that I push people away. I have many short-lived friendships, or I keep people I have been close to at arm’s length, even though all I really want is to be close to the people in my life that I care about and that care about me.

I don’t know about anyone else. I don’t know how other people cope; I hope that someone, anyone, might read this and know they are not alone in the fight against feelings that manifest physical symptoms; something that we don’t always feel we have control over.

If I could say anything to those who don’t feel this way and have these experiences, is that I only want to be treated like everyone else. I want to be included; I want people to know how much effort I put into being a part of this world.  That every day I wake up and put on my try-hard hat to leave the house and find joy in everything.  That my only real life goal is to feel happiness.  And that every single moment of happiness that I experience makes each day worth it.

It’s really the little things that bring me so much joy. I know that every moment of joy is a victory over this thing that resides in me and tries to control me, to convince me that I am my depression. I am not my depression. It resides within me, but it does not control me; it does not define me.  I am victorious.

My Existential Crisis

I have been on a steady stream of writings about death, but I’m going to make a slight detour today; mix it up a little. Death and depression go hand-in-hand for me, so this shouldn’t be too sudden of a transition. My grandmother’s recent death shook me up a lot more than I expected it to. On the heels of the five year anniversary of my mom’s passing, it brought to the surface a plethora old thoughts and feelings that I believed I had control over. Needless to say, it’s been a struggle for me to deal with all of those feelings surfacing again. I’ve found myself depressed and experiencing tremendous unfounded negativity and anxiety — my head running away with itself; conjuring up completely irrational fears. I’ve taken two sick days from work this week, just to try to get my head on straight again. I literally cried for three hours one day for no rational reason other than I felt like shit. Depression is a mental and emotional nightmare that if left unchecked, will manifest itself in physical symptoms ranging from merely annoying to completely debilitating … and they can potentially come and go as they please. I’ve been lazy and careless; I’ve been taking care of my body, but neglecting my mind.

In the midst of this internal whirlwind, I felt compelled to open up my unread copy of Maslow’s Toward a Psychology of Being. I am a firm believer that the things I need always find me when the time is right. This quote found me:

It seems quite clear that personality problems may sometimes be loud protests against the crushing of one’s psychological bones, of one’s true inner nature. What is sick then is not to protest while this crime is being committed. And I am sorry to report my impression that most people do not protest under such treatment. They take it and pay years later, in neurotic and psychosomatic symptoms of various kinds, or perhaps in some cases never become aware that they are sick, that they have missed true happiness, true fulfillment of promise, a rich emotional life, and a serene, fruitful old age, that they have never known how wonderful it is to be creative, to react aesthetically, to find life thrilling.

Good gawd. Have I been neglecting my inner nature far too long? It makes perfect sense. I’m stuck in the rat race. Stuck. I went for a long run today with no headphones, and as I pushed onward with my body, my mind moved forward also — I feel utterly, completely, ridiculously passionless. Purposeless. I have reached an existential stand still. 

No wonder I’ve been depressed. I had multiple experiences in a very short time period scream at me, “Life is short!! Get on with it!!!” I have been doing everything in my power to get outside, to the desert, to the mountains, to sleep in a tent, to climb a peak, to run a trail; but that doesn’t take care of the daily grind. And it certainly doesn’t give me purpose. Nature is my drug — I feel good when I’m there, but when I’m home, the high wears off and I find myself back in my suburban pit of despair, feeling like life really has no meaning. I often say that it’s a freeing — to have no purpose in life except to experience happiness absolves us of much responsibility, but not having passion for what we do with ourselves might just negate that freedom, squashing what good comes of it by offering a reminder that we as humans have a desire, a need, to be wanted, to serve a purpose, to have passion. I need a fire lit under my ass. I need to care deeply about something outside of myself, and I need to do it every day.

I have much to think about now. There is work to be done. I must find my passion.