At the end of every summer, while my friends get excited about sweater weather, fall foliage, pumpkin-picking, baking/eating pies, skiing, and the holidays, I am filled with a sense of dread. Aside from my dislike of cold weather, the autumn means despair and pain for me, and the feelings come and go unpredictably. But that is depression.
Although I was never formally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, one of my former therapists suggested that the fall and winter months might trigger my depression due to the short daylight hours. As I had written before, my other main trigger is stress, so the two combined makes life harder for me.
Years later, now that I have a better understanding of my condition, I can recognize and manage my symptoms better. As the sun sets earlier and earlier, I can feel the coldness creep into my bones.
- I have very low energy.
- I isolate myself.
- My anxiety gets worse.
- I can’t concentrate on work or any task that requires a long attention span.
- My sleep schedule gets screwed up. I either don’t sleep at all or I sleep for 10-12 hours—every day, not just on the weekends.
- I don’t have an appetite. During my depressive episodes, I can lose anywhere from 5 to 20 lbs. depending on the severity and length of the episode.
- I skip out on activities I normally enjoy (i.e. food).
People who don’t understand would say things like, “Why are you always so tired?” and “You’re probably not eating because of stress.” I’ve learned to just nod and smile and agree, knowing fully that they’re all wrong. Yes, stress is a huge factor for those of us who live with depression, but stress affects us differently than “normal people.” Sometimes, I feel bad even when I’m not feeling stressed.
So what do I do?
- I check in with myself throughout the day. How am I feeling when I first wake up? In the middle of the work day? In the evening? While I’m getting ready for bed?
- I try to sit outside and feel the sun on my face for at least 15 minutes.
- My energy reserve for people (and socializing in general) gets very low so I’m extra picky about who I spend time with. I stay away from toxic people. I know I have a tendency of attracting narcissistic personalities so I avoid such people as much as possible. If it’s someone I work with, I keep it strictly professional and I don’t spend time with them outside of work hours.
- Likewise, I surround myself with positive people. Talking to friends who understand what I’m going through is extremely helpful, and (thankfully) I’ve had two friends who have filled that role and continue to.
- Although I have people to lean on, I know that my happiness doesn’t depend on one person and neither should another person’s happiness depend on me.
- I give myself time to feel the emotions and wait for them to pass. Sometimes that means calling out sick from work. If someone with a physical illness can do that, why should it be different for a mental illness?
Ever since I was diagnosed with clinical depression 10 years ago, I noticed that I suffer 2-4 depressive episodes each year. On my best days, I feel normal. I’m energetic, I have an appetite, and I am my usual, extroverted self. On my worst days, I have a hard time getting out of bed, I can’t talk to anyone, I can feel the pain of the world on my shoulders, and there’s a heaviness in my heart. On most days, I can honestly say I’m doing fine. During the winter months, I do struggle to have better days. I spend all of my energy putting on a smile and just to… function.
I’m hoping this winter will be different because I have become more self-aware. I had a long depressive episode earlier this year that started in January and didn’t end until early July. In those months, I had lost two friends unexpectedly, I was working under a narcissistic boss, and I spent all of my remaining energy on finding a new job. Today, I’m no longer working in a hostile work environment and I have my new job, but that doesn’t mean the self-doubt, negativity, and heartache doesn’t creep in.