Hi, My Name is Eeyore, Or Managing Seasonal Depression
It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.
“You know… you may come off as too strong for your own good. You exude and radiate an aura of got-my-shit-together-edness like few people I know. Most who know you wouldn’t think you’d need help with stuff like your SAD”.
Here we go…
You could probably argue that my running away from winter started when we decided to leave Siberia. It mean… it does not get much colder than that, and while plenty of folks made fun of me, yes, it IS objectively warmer in Canada.
But not warm enough.
All things considered, I think I am getting better every year at managing seasonal depression. It took me few years to say the words “seasonal depression”. Then it took me a while to do anything about it. This year I caved and got a light therapy lamp. Or, rather, my husband got it for me, after watching me cry on the couch for days on end.
Every year I get better at managing IT – it’s like taking care of large hostile animal who does not like you. “Come on, Fluffy! Get outside now! You will feel better!”. Yet, Fluffy seems to get bigger and more hostile every year. Four hundred pounds of angry carcass. I am stronger than last year, but… COME ON.
One step forward, two steps back. Two steps back. Two steps back. Fuck. One step forward. Two steps back. I am tired. I’m gonna lie down. Fluffy is content.
Last fall my therapist asked: “Is there anything you could be doing to help yourself here? What might be a small change that could help?”.
“I am sick and tired of helping myself!”, I blew up. “I know what to do! I am just tired of having to do it”.
Yes, yes, exercise helps. And vitamin D supplements, and fish oil, and eating well, and getting outside, and talking to people, and hugs. Coffee with friends. Reaching out for social support in general. Writing.
Yet sometimes, it just feels like a whole full time job. And I already have a full time job. I don’t want to come up with yet another “small change”, I just want to not be miserable in the winter.
This winter I asked myself if I was suicidal.
I was not.
Yet… I had to ask. It was a fairly calm cognitive exercise. Like… “Hmm… let’s see now”. I did consider that NOT being around at all might indeed alleviate some life questions that are too exhausting right now – like should I or should I not get out of bed? Should I or should I not get dressed?
Nope. Didn’t feel right. It’s just… not me, you know? I am firmly rooted in my Tiggerness, even when I do not have the energy to behave accordingly. Heck, in the winter, you could easily confuse me for Eeoyre.
Besides, I’ve never really been suicidal (there was this one time when a window ledge was involved, but that’s a story for another time), so why change now, amirite? I like consistency.
I get a funny reaction from people. It’s hard to be in the middle of the depression continuum. When you are functional, but just barely.
On one hand, you get an enthusiastic “me too!” when you mention SAD. “Yes!” someone says chipperly (a little too chipperly to be actually depressed). “I hate winter too! Such a drag”, a well meaning friend nods, as he unpacks his skiing equipment.
On the other hand, you have a friend or two who have it so much worse, that you feel bad saying anything at all. Because hey, at least you are not suicidal, and at least, yours will go away once the spring is really here (so, by July?). Hopefully.
Here’s the thing. I do not hate winter. It seems irrational to experience a strong emotion towards a season.
I hate how winter makes me feel. I hate what winter brings. I hate losing myself for weeks, sometimes, months, as I do all the “small things” to simply bring myself to a functional baseline.
There is a certain logical slowdown in the winter. Days are shorter. Nights are longer. It’s cold, and white. Hot soups. Mittens.
Yet, with SAD (seasonal affective depression), something else happens. Your brain just does not start, like an old car when it’s minus twenty. Come on, come on, come on! You keep turning the key in that ignition. Nothing. I just feel cognitively and emotionally “old”, “out of shape” in the winter. My brain creaks, like my Baba, getting out of bed. What comes easily in the summer feels like a struggle. My creativity shuts the door, and flies south.
When Italian is around, he makes sure that I leave the house at least once a day. He pulls me off the couch – literally. At least to go to the gym. Few times, he jokingly (but not really) physically picked me up and carried me to the door.
I have not missed work (that’s the “functional, but barely” part). I showed up to scheduled meetings, and appointments.
Yet I’ve cancelled on friends, and skipped my workouts.
I’ve missed a gym class, and had friends show up at the door after to check in. They found me mostly horizontal, and crying. Why didn’t I come? Couldn’t bring myself to leave the house.
I’ve stopped writing.
Thankfully (ha), I have been at it long enough to recognize it. The darkness descends, and I spend a day, two days, a week at the bottom. Then I know I have to start swimming up. Or… else? I have not yet explored the alternative. What would Tigger do? I sigh, and start swimming.
All those little things? Do every single one. Make dates with people. Play happy music. Take supplements. Ask for help. Do everything. All the things.
All the things collectively start to pull you towards the surface. It may sound strange, but it’s a blessing to experience depression from relative mental stability, solid sense of self-worth, and with someone in your corner.
So, I drive to the gym, and cry in the parking lot. Then, I make it inside, and call Italian.
“I don’t feel like doing anythiiiiiiing………..”.
He talks me though it, slowly. The conversation probably sounds ridiculous to an outsider. Heck, it sounds ridiculous to me.
“Ok, ok. Stop crying. You are ok. Where are you?”.
“At the gymmm!”, I wail quietly, trying not to attract too much attention.
“Ok, that’s good, so you are not driving. Where in the gym are you?”
“The change room.” I stare at the rows of lockers, and wonder if I can fit inside one of them and close the door.
“All right. Are you changed?”
“Sort of”, I whimper. “I am still wearing the outside shoes, and a sweater”.
“Good. Do you have gym shoes with you? So, let’s put those on now. Ok? Put the phone down for a minute”.
I put down the phone beside me, and start fumbling with shoes, feeling a bit like that blonde from the joke.
A blonde, wearing headphones, walks into a hair salon and sits down in a chair. “Make my hair look good, but whatever you do, don’t take off the headphones”, she says to the stylist. The stylist starts to cut her hair, as the blonde falls asleep. “Ok, these damn headphones are really in the way!”, the stylist thinks to himself, and takes them off. The blonde stops breathing, and falls to the ground. The panicked stylist dials 911, and the ambulance comes and takes her away. Meanwhile, he picks up the headphones, and puts them on. It’s an audio recording of a voice that says: “Breathe in… Breathe out… Breathe in… Breathe out….”.
Bad jokes do nothing for me, but REALLY bad ones help sometimes. One edge of my lip goes up, as I lace up the shoes.
“Ok. Shoes are on”.
“Good!” He sounds so proud of me, I want to throw up a little. “Now, the sweater! Do you want to keep it on?”
“Yes. I am cold”, I whine.
“Keep it on then. What will you do at the gym today?”.
“I don’t know”.
“How about the warm-up? What would you usually do for warm-up?”
“Um. A five minute run on a treadmill, maybe”, I offer weakly. “And then, I would do some mobility exercises”. I perk up ever so slightly.
“See? You already have a plan. Go do that, and then call me after if you need to. Deal?”
I almost never call back. The hardest part is to start.
P.S. You might also notice that writing this blog post constitutes “writing”. So, winning right and left over here.