I Combatted My Seasonal Depression By Giving Into It
Sometime ago, I learned that I had seasonal depression every time winter slowly crept in. Casually diagnosed by my therapist, learning that I had this form of depression made me feel somewhat relieved. Maybe it’s because I had something to blame for feeling as miserable and sad as I did, and that it wasn’t entirely credited as one huge trigger of my last breakup (come on, he doesn’t deserve that much effect). It was in fact, a bodily mechanism that slowly rusted around this time of year, every year, that struggled to crank its internal clockwork as adeptly as usual. The shorter days, the longer nights, the colder air, the few times of sunlight—they all contributed to my body’s energetic decay.
Before I learned what seasonal affective disorder (SAD) was, I always felt like something was off with myself. I struggled to find motivation to get out of bed when I rolled over and saw an overcast of gray clouds. I could barely get a good night’s rest without waking up at odd hours through the night with instant worry or anxiety. I even had dreams of my daily fears. I faced the difficult decision of whether to stay in and be alone during my emotional dullness or force myself to brave the miserable cold and be social like a normal person, especially during the holiday fervor which only further lamented my depression. It always felt like I was holding this collision of emotional forces inside me, and it always came down to which would leave me less “sad” at the end of the day. On one hand, staying in saved me so much emotional preparation of interacting other people—it takes a lot out of me to commit myself into the outside world during this mental state. Staying in and being alone would be familiar and comfortable, realigning myself with my inner recoils. But it also deeply contrasted my innate extroverted nature. I’m the type of person to draw her energy from things around her and I’d miss out on that, in turn, leaving me, again, to endure my depression. On the other hand, going out and being social would fix that extroverted problem. I’d participate in all the festive events and parties, adamantly socializing and networking and being the same energetic self as the one from the warmer seasons. But even then, no matter how active I was during these occasions, I always found myself feeling distant or off-balance. Like something was not connecting me with the present moments, and I’d watch life around me as if I were watching a storefront display from the window outside. So I’d go home replaying the day, and I’d just cry over how upset I am for feeling this way. Why can’t I just be normal? Why is being a human so hard to do?
My therapist always had to remind me that this is temporary and that it’s just like this for me. It’s just this time of year, she’d say. Of course with the utmost reassurance, but a part of me felt disheartened that there was nothing I could do about it. Like, I just have to endure it for the 3-4 months of the winter? I mean, I have been in the past, as painful as it was, but as I started noticing the familiar signs again during this year’s winter advent, I told myself I’d do something a little different to face the recurring depression.
I decided to give into it. I decided if it was going to happen regardless, then why not allow, even encourage, its inevitable flood. I spent so much of my efforts trying to combat it in the past by fighting its control over me but it always left me feeling worse and just tired all the time. I hated feeling like I was carrying this internal battle, pulling me away from reality as my focus shifted to fixing what was happening within me. So instead, I’d let it be a part of me and let it happen to me.
This year, I gave myself as many days off as I could to relieve my social numbness. I planned out the days I’d simply go home after work or just stay in on weekends, not having to see or talk to people. I’d think of all the things I could do instead to use that time as a mental recalibration, preparing myself for the times I would go out in the world again—watch endless movies, read the books I’d finally get to, writing down daily affirmations, cry for absolutely no reason but because I wanted to and feel as sad as I wanted to, as much as I wanted to, by myself. In this way, I would be mentally well-rested and emotionally capable to thrust myself back into society and the people-facing occasions I knew were coming down the line. By then, my extroverted self would signal to me that it’s time to interact with the outside world because my energy is diminishing and I need a social recharge. It was a good balance between satisfying my need to privately unravel my depressive mood without feeling hidden and my desire to stay relevant and present in my social world without disappearing during the most jolly-heavy season.
For those who aren’t as familiar with seasonal depression, or depression in general, it’s not something that can just be “fixed”. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes as much a part of you as the physical qualities of your being—like a chemical imbalance in your internal apparatus. And while I may not have the answers in how we each should cope with our own shadows, I do know that we all find our own ways that work for ourselves. I found that this season hasn’t been as stressful as it usually is in the past years because I decided to welcome my seasonal depression and fully accept it as a part who I am. Sure, the next couple of months will be full of ups and downs, most of the time I won’t even know why I'm randomly sitting in my shower crying for no reason or why I choose to shut people out during long durations at a time because the silence is comforting, but at least I know that it’s not something I have to change, but rather to love even harder about myself. And maybe in time, I’ll love it all the same.
To learn more about seasonal affective disorder, check out Mental Health America