Seasonal depression has been kicking my butt lately. And by “lately”, I mean the last two months, I guess, but it’s especially kicking my butt now.
Winter for me often feels like a thick bog, an obstacle that I have to cross to continue on my journey (through life). To start, I’ll tell myself that it’s very manageable, just a minor inconvenience. “Look, the other side is just over there! I can see it from here!” So I go, and I wade out into the bog, and I try to stay positive. “Oh, it’s not so bad! That patch felt almost like solid ground!” (Those are the few days which are sunny, still and almost verging on warm.) So I keep going. Just one step in front of the other, it’s all I have to do, right? Then suddenly, it hits me that I’m sinking, and it doesn’t really matter if I’m three-quarters of the way to my goal already and have made it this far – I’m still like, “Damn, I need a floatie or something to make it the rest of the way!”
I don’t have any experience crossing real-life bogs, in case that’s not clear. These metaphorical wintertime bogs, though, I have to cross them every damn year. It’s too much.
I just feel so tired. All the time, feeling tired. I can force myself to get up and cook our meals and do just enough housework to keep our home sanitary to live in, but it’s so hard. My wakeful hours are shifted about a couple of hours later than I’d like them to be, about 10am to 1am at the moment, and it seems impossible to shift them back. I have ideas for stuff I’d like to do, projects I’d like to work on, but I don’t seem to have the concentration to do so. I mostly haven’t been really miserable or anything, indeed on a minute-to-minute basis I can be quite content, it’s just I have such low energy. Even when I wake up, it can take hours before I get out of bed longer than it takes to make a cup of coffee – often it feels like my day’s barely started by the time there’s only three hours of sunlight left to go. Reflecting on how poorly I end up using my time can make me a bit miserable, I guess.
It was mid-2018 when I first realised that this lethargy and flatness I experience (nearly)1 every winter has a name. I’ve never pursued a formal diagnosis of SAD because I never really felt like there was much point, but the second I first read through its list of symptoms I was just like, “omg, yes, all of that.” I mean, not so much the extreme stuff like suicidal ideation. But everything short of that.
In 2018, I decided to try treating what I was feeling with a wake-up light and forcing myself to rug up and go outside for a while before noon each day, and for a walk at some point during a sunny spell. Honestly I feel like 2018 mustn’t have been too bad a winter weather-wise because this year, and last year, that has not really felt like a viable option. It’s not like I’d literally get frostbite and die if I went outside (!) but it’s been wet and gloomy and really damn cold almost every day, so I feel like it’s better for my mental health to stay in. The wake-up light didn’t really work too well either. I mean, it worked at waking me up before dawn in a gentler way than an iPhone alarm when I had to for work, but it didn’t work alleviating any of my SAD symptoms.
In 2018, anyway, I learned about the existence of light boxes, or “SAD lamps”, which you are supposed to use to administer bright light to yourself (on par with daylight) for at least half an hour a day, to treat SAD. At that time I was like, “If the wake-up light and just going outside doesn’t work, I’ll invest the money, but it’s very expensive, so I’ll try these cheaper options first.” I made it to the end of 2018 without feeling like I needed to, and remember the bog metaphor I started this post with? Every year since, by the time I’ve got to realising that oh shit, I really need some floaties (or, you know, an effective SAD lamp) it’s already halfway through July – at least – and it doesn’t seem worth the purchase for stuff I might only get a week or two’s use out of before the middle of August arrives, with its longer days and gradually better weather, when it’s like a thick fog lifts off my shoulders and I’m truly awake for the first time in ages, anyway.
This year, however, I’m refusing to fall for that line of logic yet again. While I was in the middle of drafting this post, I put in an online order for a SAD lamp that had good reviews. It might not get here until August 5, but even if I don’t have to get much use out of it this year, at least I’ll already have it on hand for next winter. That way, I won’t have to march out into the bog, bravely insisting that despite all evidence to the contrary, this time I can make it across all by myself and it won’t be that bad. Next time, I’ll be able to put on my floatie-shoes or whatever, and prevent myself from sinking into the bog at all. Or maybe I’ll still sink in a little bit; I don’t know how effective SAD lamps actually are (although I do know, from reviews, that there are “bad” SAD lamps that are not actually bright enough to have any therapeutic effect). But hopefully it’ll be easier to make it through to the other side without getting bogged down, nonetheless.
There were some years I went on some trips to warmer climes during the middle chunk of winter, and I was basically unaffected by SAD those years. I had just about convinced Vivian how ideal it was for me to time our holidays for the wintertime, when the pandemic hit… 🙃 ↩︎