I've always been very sensitive to changes in nature. As someone who is very connected to nature, this was never a surprise. As a child, I grew up in Southern California, land of perpetual summer and sunshine. Moving the the East Coast was a major shock to my system. It was hard for me to adjust to the change in seasons as a child, and became even tougher as I grew older. The winters weren't physically taxing to me, they were emotionally brutal. The gloomy darkness of winter was something was something that struck me to the core. I didn't find beauty in the snow. I didn't take comfort in the idea of thick layers. All I felt about the East Coast winter months was emptiness, loneliness and despair. It wasn't until many years later, as an adult, that I realized the intense sadness I felt during this time of the year wasn't just an extreme dislike for the winter, it was a pretty significant dip into depression.
I have often joked about having a case of the S.A.Ds (Seasonal Affective Disorder) every winter, but apart from a handful of close friends, have never really spoken about my seasonal depression. This hasn't been intentional, it has a lot to do with not wanting to rehash negative feelings. After experiencing a particularly brutal battle this past winter, I would love to forget that I spent the previous four months on edge, in tears and lacking in motivation and joy, but I have come to realize that is is something I should, and NEED, to talk about.
Seasonal depression mimics many of the same symptoms that you would find in clinical major depression. During the fall and winter months I can feel myself slowly slipping into a very negative head-space. The fall holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are usually distracting enough to keep me afloat during the day, with sadness creeping in towards the end of busy days. After New Year's the more powerful feelings of darkness begin to bulldoze their way through and it's all day event, no longer just contained to the bedtime hours. My usual active and energetic approach to life, slowly becomes replaced by feeling lethargic and hopeless. My lack of desire to do anything but stay in bed and cry from explainable sadness grows as the days become darker, colder and gloomier. My insomnia and anxiety kicks into high gear, and I become distracted, irritable, easily overwhelmed and hyper-sensitive.
As a working mom with three little ones, a it's not easy to balance feelings of depression with the responsibilities of daily life. Most of the days are an internal battle between what I need to do and what I want to do. What I need to do is power through waking up early, getting the kids fed and ready for school, maintain the house, organize 5 schedules, keep up with work responsibilities and making sure life goes on without too many bumps. What I want to do is become a recluse who holes up in a dark room, sleeps until the sadness passes and has little human contact because that takes more effort than I have to exude. Without my kids and job, I could very easily go through the whole winter without feeling any sort of life. My kids and my responsibilities are my motivators, and even though most days I'm just going robotically through the motions, the alternative would be a lot worse.
I have gotten a lot better over the years in managing my moods. I have become better at forcing myself out of the house on dreary days, just to get some fresh air and clarity. I incorporate events to look forward to. I make plans with friends. Most of the time, the "fake it until you make it" philosophy helps keep the darkness at bay, if even for only a few hours. In the meantime, I have a running mental calendar which reminds me of the (sun) light at the end of the dark, winter tunnel.
Usually my transition from depression to normalcy is a seemingly overnight even. One day I wake up feeling lighter, freer, centered and balanced. The picture above was taken on March 21, 2015. That picture marked my "transition" day this year. I drove down my street and was struck by the beauty of the sun shining through the end of winter's remains. The warmth of the sun melting the snow and breathing life back into nature, and me, is a feeling that lacks adequate words to explain. It is with no remorse or regret that I leave winter behind, and embrace summer. And, I certainly can't help but smile when I hear those little four words I waited months to feel, "You seem happy today!"