Last Sunday I woke up to the most beautiful sun streaming through the window. Look at that sun, I thought, I’d better make the most of it and spend as much time as possible outside.
Then I realized it was late November, and the sun was so sparkly because it was reflecting off of snow. It was actually about 20 degrees outside, and not the best day for frolicking outdoors.
I felt the heavy metaphorical weight come crashing down on me. Oh right, it’s winter. Six long, dark months of cold and snow and binding my feet in hideous rubber boots.
My old friend Seasonal Affective Disorder had arrived.
The funny thing is, back when it actually was warm and sunny, I vowed that I wouldn’t get seasonal depression this year. It’s an easy promise to make when your feet are flip-flopping around a pool deck.
But in the dull, fading light of day in November, beating back seasonal depression seems like a monumental task.
Before I continue, I’d like to state that, yes, I do own one of those special phototherapy lights that aid in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s this model, which I like because it’s small but powerful, and meets the criteria of 10,000 Lux that my doctor recommended. It does boost my spirits a little, but a light can only take you so far.
Because the reality is that depression is a beast that needs to be fought on a lot of fronts. And all those fronts become more difficult in the winter. Like, say:
• Exercise: It’s pretty well known that exercise can be an effective way to treat depression. But did you know that in the winter, a whole category of exercise known as “outdoor exercise” must be eliminated? Oh sure, you can brave the cold and go for a brisk walk, but I think around the 30-degree mark “brisk” becomes “stupid” and “painful.” Not to mention you don’t have a lot of daylight in which to get out during the winter anyway. Also I don’t really like slipping on ice. So indoor exercise is really your best bet in winter, and unless you have a good workout space in your home, if you want to exercise you probably have to employ another well-known depression-buster, which is …
• Leaving the House: Hunkering down under a cozy blanket on a cold winter’s day is so idyllic … for about ten minutes. At that point it would really benefit your mental health to get out, whether you live alone or with other people who may be as grouchy and stir-crazy as you are. But leaving the house requires bundling up in seven layers, finding matching gloves, driving in sometimes dangerous conditions, and experiencing the weather while walking between your vehicle and a building. Ehh, forget it, it’s just so much easier to stay home. Except all your friends are also saying that, which means you can’t …
• Engage in Social Activities: It’s good to be around people. You should make plans to get together with friends and loved ones throughout the winter to beat the loneliness and isolation that come with seasonal depression. But throw in a Polar Vortex, a blizzard, or just your run-of-the-mill blah day, and you and your friends suddenly become flakier than Snowpacalypse 2011. You decide you’ll postpone your get-together until July, which is great because it allows you to …
• Take Time for Yourself: Except, oh wait, you have to take care of one or more of the following: your paying job, holiday shopping, visiting relatives, going through airport security, making dinner, folding laundry, and/or keeping your child(ren) alive. When do you have time for yourself? I mean sure, technically you still have most of these responsibilities in the summertime, too, but capping them off with some time outdoors in the late-evening sun sure does take the edge off. In the winter, it feels like all chores, all the time. But at least you can fuel yourself by …
• Eating Healthy Foods: Hahaha, right. Until you remember cookies exist. Warm, delicious, fresh-from-the-oven cookies, just waiting to be washed down with hot chocolate and chased with every other carbohydrate that your body has some sort of evolutionary winter craving for.
My point in listing all these excuses is not to give myself or anybody else permission to stop fighting depression the minute we set the clocks back. I’m just pointing out the ways in which winter’s evils make the fight against depression that much more difficult. Sometimes it’s important to know what you’re up against so you can anticipate and avoid pitfalls. And sometimes it’s just nice to know that you aren’t the only one who thinks that, damn, this winter thing is hard.
So I will keep fighting. I will keep looking for my matching gloves. Or I’ll go out with two different gloves, and that will be okay. I’ll give myself permission to be sad, to eat cookies, and to stay in sometimes, because to not give myself this permission would be inviting in Depression’s BFF, Guilt.
And, most of all, as always, I will put one (hideously rubber-clad) foot in front of the other and keep Fighting the Good Fight. Even if I do slip on a little ice along the way.