this is a guest post written by Joanne Sea, for more of their wisdom, please click here.
Trigger warning for mention of multiple possibly upsetting things including mental illness, suicide, and gendered violence.
It took me a long time to recognize my patterns of feeling depressed were aligned with seasonal changes. There have been other events in my life that have contributed, too. I started to realize, though, that every year around the same time I felt out of sorts.
It can be difficult to separate this from life’s stresses. When I was an undergrad, the fall semester was always more difficult than the winter/spring semester. My grades were lower. I attributed this to having to ‘warm up’ after the summer semester off. I have never particularly enjoyed holidays, the traditions, all the obligations that come with it. So many people feel stressed about the November/December holiday season for many reasons that have nothing to do with seasonal depression – money, change in routine, travelling, family issues resurfacing, grief, crowds. I often felt unhappy during the holidays. These reasons have contributed sometimes. I need a lot of time alone, and I don’t get enough at these times.
But there’s something else. I didn’t see it for so long, probably because it was low-grade. I had a mild depression that allowed me to be (mostly) fully functional – in a capitalist, still meeting social expectations sort of way. I had experienced more severe depressive episodes in the past, but in my head, I had not connected these together to recognize that this is a core part of me.
The seasonal pattern got markedly worse following a time in my life where I matured emotionally due to difficult circumstances and having my naive worldview challenged. I touched life’s truth more closely than I had before. I decided to purposely pull back the curtain and accept realities. I felt this was forced on me. It was the first time in my life that I had faced harsh, heart-breaking sides of humanity fully – a friend’s suicide and experiencing sexual assault. In the beginning, I managed without looking to closely at myself. But after a few years of being involved in animal liberation activism, I developed what was likely PTSD, while I was unemployed for several months. And so my first episode that could not be ignored finally came along.
It’s a long road to figure out what’s best for you. And it constantly changes. You are doing your best and know that you’re not alone.
Things that have helped me
Light therapy – A passive thing you can do is sit by a natural light lamp for up to several hours a day (start small). I noticed a difference in my mood in about 1 week. Here’s a similar lamp to the one I use (It cost me about $40 at Bed, Bath and Beyond): Verilux HappyLight
Talk therapy – Finding someone you like is one of the most important things. A huge issue with this is how expensive it is. Everyone should have access to an empathetic counsellor, in my opinion. Try searching for sliding scale counsellors or centres that offer volunteer counsellors at a lower price. You can also try finding organizations that will fund counselling for you. Once, a church in my area (that I didn’t attend) paid for my counselling, which I really needed.
Acupuncture – Community acupuncture is highly recommended because it is more affordable and you also get the energy of the community. Being in a room with all these other people and being cared for so gently by ‘acupunks’ restores some faith in humanity. I found the treatments helped me a lot with various health problems, including depression.
Reading – Read, read, read, think, journal. Keep going deeper. Keep exploring yourself. Continue forever. Be gentle with yourself. Some recommendations: Zen Habits, The Four Agreements, Radical Acceptance, Mind Over Mood, Buddhism: Plain and Simple (You will notice I like books on zen buddhism, read whatever speaks to you)
Anti-depressants – I have used both herbal and pharmaceutical. And they have helped me. Do whatever you are comfortable with. At some times in my life, I felt like I needed something to give me a boost. I’m okay with that.
Thoughts on ‘Lifestyle Changes’
It’s true, eating healthy and exercising really do help with depression. The problem for me has always been that if I have a hard time eating at all, I’m not going to worry about what I’m eating. When my appetite gets really low, I eat whatever seems appealing (even remotely) and I try not to be hard on myself about it. Eating pizza is better than eating nothing. There are vegetables in the sauce! Good enough. When I feel especially tired, a walk around the block is good enough too. These strategies work best for me as ways to maintain health, or ways to improve my mood when I am experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. They don’t really work for me when symptoms get more pronounced.
Try to go easy on yourself. These things are really, really hard to do when you’re depressed.
Remember: You are pretty much magic.
Being so affected by seasonal changes means one thing for sure – you are connected to the Earth closely and intimately. I take comfort in this when I feel down. My body and mind follow the patterns of the Earth and that is pretty magical when you think about it. This really doesn’t usually fit in with social expectations, which is the problem, not you. You are magic.
guest post written by Joanne Sea, for more of their wisdom, please click here.
image credit to Emm’s Positivity Blog