I started university in 2007 knowing that I was prone to depression, but I also understood that my sadness had a catalyst - the death of my older sister when I was 13. After she'd passed, I took to my bed like a remote island no one could get to. That was the place where I let myself sink into incredible lows and often allowed my emotions to overcome reason and rescue.
My sister had grown severely ill during the 2002 autumn season and then died, quietly and without protest, on December 1st of that year. That experience is why fall and winter churn up a threatening sadness. The dead trees, lack of sunlight, and brutal cold reflect the despair I felt during that time and ever since then I retreat very quickly into a kind of deadened state of being when October rolls around.
Some people come alive during the colder months. The beautiful autumn colours, sparkling snow, and family gatherings fill them with genuine joy. I envy them a lot. That's not to say I don't enjoy the holidays. My family gives me great purpose and seeing them is always a highlight. But when I return to my Brooklyn apartment that's filled with happy relics of my 25 years - pictures of me and my best friend, presents from my boyfriend's mother, plants that I've somehow kept from dying - I struggle to find any happiness in it. I look outside and see dead or dying trees and irrational tears sprout up and I turn to Netflix or food to calm me down.
If I let my mind wander, the sense of hopelessness that characterises seasonal affective disorder and all forms of depression becomes overwhelming. When my brain can't process anymore TV, I sleep. I waste days. I wake up disoriented not knowing what time is it. I get pissed off at my boyfriend who immediately raises his hands in surrender and walks out of the room. In short, I'm not myself.
Two years ago my S.A.D. reached an impasse. Up until that point I had accepted it as an annual routine. I had said to myself, "Ok, Carla, you're going to feel like sh*t from October to mid-March, so deal with it." Then something simply changed. I crawled out of bed, went to the toilet, and stared at myself. I looked awful. I looked sad. I looked like I was wasting the life my sister never had. Since that moment I've taken precautions to combat seasonal affective disorder. Is it working? Yes, yes it is. Here's how I cope:
I try to catch the sun
Those of us who deal with S.A.D. can't stand the lack of sunlight. Well, I do everything I can to get my daily dose of vitamin D during the winter. When it's high up there I bundle up and then take long walks and hang out in the park. Sometimes I can find little pockets of warmth too among the snow. The exercise and endorphins are absolutely restorative! I also keep my windows open to let in as much natural light as I can during the day.
I watch summery movies
Sounds silly, but goddamn it, it works. I'm a stickler for rom-coms so I watch silly romantic movies like Something's Gotta Give, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Wedding Planner, and Amélie with summery backdrops. It's nice to be reminded of what's to come!
I make plans
Getting yourself out of your apartment is one of the most difficult parts of overcoming seasonal depression. The weather, the scowling faces of people trying to get from A to B without freezing, and the gray tint to the days make staying in bed all day feel like a pretty good option. But I know deep down that good friends can brighten up dreary days so I'm always making and sticking to plans.
This tip is crucial. We all know that exercise has a positive affect on a person's mood so I make sure to get in at least a 20 minute workout at the start of every day. The physical activity warms me up and gets me pumped for the day ahead.
I stick to a sleep schedule
S.A.D. can cause major disruptions to your sleep. Insomnia is potential outcome of seasonal depression, but with a 9 to 5 job on my plate getting less than eight hours of sleep just isn't an option. In the winter, you can find me crawling into bed by 10 every night. Not a minute later!
I change my diet
It's so easy to eat a bunch of crap during the winter but the gluttonous intake screws with my head and overall energy. I opt for a super well-balanced diet to offset the amount of sugary meals I'll devour during the holidays.
Do these tips totally scare off my depression during the fall and winter? Not completely. However, I am in more control of my happiness than I've ever been before.
Approximately half a million people are affected by S.A.D. each year and women are far more likely to develop it than men. Don't be afraid to talk to a loved one or a professional about how you're feeling so you can get help!
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