January Lows: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Both the temperature and my energy are low.

January is always the hardest month of the year for me. My Seasonal Affective Disorder is in full swing, but I can’t distract myself with thoughts of the holidays. The days are short, the weather miserable, and my motivation is non-existant. Everything from work to household chores are a struggle. The idea of doing anything “productive” is exhausting, and having fun is almost laughable. But I don’t want to stay in the dull-drums.

How do you break through the lull?

In short, you do the best you can. I am resting when I need to, and trying to prioritize my “must-do’s” and “should dos”. Some things, like going to work and feeding the cat, have to happen. But is it necessary to sweep the floor every day, or cook a fresh meal? Has a little dust, or cereal for dinner ever killed anyone? Expecting too much from myself when I’m already in slump will only make me feel inadequate and disappointed. That, in turn, will increase my depression- which leads to less energy and less motivation, creating a vicious cycle. So, to get ahead of that cycle- I start by remembering that just surviving is enough.

This year, it’s just a lull.

Some years my SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is worse than others. This year, I feel like my mind, my life, my energy, and my emotions are slow. I feel like I’m living in a fog, or a high-gravity chamber. Everything feels unclear and heavy- taking extra effort and concentration. But some years, everything is dark. My mind and emotions are especially bleak. Some January’s I feel as barren and dead as my rock-filled garden. My thoughts are as cold and bleak as a white sky that refuses to snow. For weeks on end, I can only think of the budding of spring, and how much I wish I wasn’t “like this”.

But I’m not broken.

When we feel hopeless, tired, or sad- it’s easy to fall into the habit of self-hatred. We hate ourselves for our thoughts and emotions. We guilt ourselves, and punish ourselves for our “weakness”. But it’s not weak to feel down, it’s natural. Winter is a hard time for many living things. Warmth and light are important for growth, so when both are in short supply we want to rest. Just as the soil needs to rest in order to grow, we do too. I know this, but I still feel myself fall into negative self-talk when the feelings come. I obsess and dwell on the dark and dead, instead of meditating the light and life. Embracing the dark has its time and place, but depression is not it. So, when I recognize that I am falling into those traps, I do a few things. I ackowledge them, accept their existence and their place, then try to release or replace them with with something less destructive.

Does it work?

Not all the time. I am only human, and I am prone to anxiety and depression. Wishing mental illness away doesn’t make it disappear, and there aren’t miracle cures. But, over time I did learn to manage them and cope with the symptoms. Taking control of your thoughts is hard. Stopping a negative spiral is even harder. I’ve found that turning negative self-talk into self-acceptance was one of the most difficult- but also one of the most effective steps in managing my mental health. When I know I am particularly vulnerable, like I am in January’s lulls, I try to be extra kind to myself. If that’s not enough, I reach out to my support system to help me through. Winter is cold enough, so why would I be so bitter with myself? Love, self-love and love from others, is one of the best ways to warm an internal chill.

Winter is part of a cycle.

As Earth makes its journey around the sun, the season change. This is a simple fact of life. Unless we have the money to jump from hemisphere to hemisphere every 6 months, we cannot avoid it. Winter has its own important role to play, and does have it’s own joys. Even those of us who struggle this season can learn to cope with its challenges and accept its existence. It may not be easy, but we can make it through. I’ll rest and wait, and try to be patient and kind with myself for the coming weeks. The sun will return, the ground will thaw, the flowers will bloom, and spring will come.

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