Winter depression has a more fitting name: SAD. Seasonal affective disorder that is. It’s a type of depression related to the changing of seasons. Any season can cause it but it’s the cold sunlessness that spikes mine.
I live in North Dakota. It’s been cold here since late October. We’ve been dealing with streaks of sub-zero temperatures and several feet of snow. 40mph wind gusts create ground blizzards and winter weather advisories. The roads are slick with ice and the snow banks are so high that you can’t see oncoming traffic. My car has died three times this winter. And I can’t honestly blame it.
My winter depression creeps on slowly, like subtle weight gain. It’s under control until it’s not. I wear it like a heavy coat.
Because depression doesn’t always present as devastating sadness. It’s the slow disinterest in not only the things you love, but in life. Responsibilities and obligations matter just a little less. And then they don’t matter at all. You let yourself fall into a cycle of procrastination. You ignore things that once had your full attention. You find that it’s easier to sit at home than acknowledge the world around you.
It’s also easier to sit at home when the world around you feels like -40 degrees Fahrenheit. The scenery in Fargo is often bleak and lifeless. It doesn’t inspire or create hope. The cold makes me dread leaving my apartment. When I’m lacking motivation and I literally don’t want to go outside, not a lot gets done. There are days I will let myself get a parking ticket rather than have to go outside and move my car. It’s not even always about the cold weather but the excuse that the weather provides. I would go do that right now but it’s just so cold outside… I’ve made it easier to stay in and avoid my life.
The things I skip in the winter are important. I skip class, work, going to the gym, running errands. I don’t want to leave the apartment. I don’t want to get out of bed. It’s a version of myself that I don’t like. And yet I find it increasingly hard to change my ways.
Especially for those of us in the Midwest. It’s cyclic, beginning and ending at the same times each year. Depending on the season, the symptoms change. If winter significantly affects you, you might be lethargic and irritable. Weight gain and feelings of hopelessness are common. If summer triggers SAD, you might experience increased anxiety and weight loss. The weather impacts individual mental health more than we imagine and it does it in truly unique ways.
I was briefly off them. And for a moment it was good. I was experiencing emotions that had been dulled for a long time. Antidepressants can take the edge off of the depression but they can also take the edge off of the happiness. I was feeling pure happiness again.
But then in time, I was feeling pure depression again. Heavy, unexplainable depression. The kind that requires coping mechanisms and medication. Intensified by the lack of sunlight and vitamin D, it was too much. I willingly admitted that it was not the right time to quit Zoloft.
I’ve found a lower dose of Zoloft to be my happier-medium. I don’t need the full force of it anymore but I can’t ignore it’s ability to let me think clearer. Medication has been a valuable tool in handling my anxiety and depression, and I need to keep using it.
I know that I need to better about several aspects of my life. But I also know that I’m not in a place for drastic change. I’m easing back into going to the gym. I’m trying to hold myself more accountable in school. I’m rediscovering my passions. I’m trying to make healthier decisions for my mind and for my body. And I’m holding on to the weather forecast that predicts above-freezing temperatures. There are some things that only the sunlight will fix.
Most importantly, I’m forgiving myself for slip-ups. For moments of sadness that I just can’t get past. I’m not going to waste time ruminating on the mistakes I’ve made or the times I’ve come up short. I’m doing the best that I can right now. And that deserves a little credit.
Mental health has a learning curve. It takes time to figure out what triggers your depression or anxiety and what you can do to manage those things. I think the biggest reason for this is that we don’t see the problem until we’re out of it. It takes a moment of clarity and perspective to notice mood changes. Now that I’ve realized the impact that winter has on me, I can try to be more mindful of it. I know that it will take time to truly see the beast for what it is, but I’m getting more familiar every day.
Writing about my mental health has been therapeutic and educational. It requires a level of introspection that I don’t always practice in my everyday life. Writing requires that I slow down my thoughts to record them and analyze them. It pushes me to admit the tough truths about myself. And in the end, that is what will force me to grow.
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