Encroaching darkness

As summer makes it’s final curtain call, I can’t help but think there’s two kinds of people during this time of year. There’s those who embrace the cooling temperatures and the days getting shorter. Then there’s those of us who feel a sense of unease and trepidation as the nights get longer. The night comes creeping in, gradually, earlier and earlier.

Soon it will be dark by 6pm. Then 5pm. Then, finally, by 4pm.

The sun will no longer be there to greet us when we wake up, instead appearing when we’ve already arrived at work – almost apologetically, like a friend who is late to meet us or whose schedule has become so busy that it has to rush off, leaving before we get a chance to see it as we leave work.

We go to work in the dark and we leave in the dark. It can feel more like existing than living.

For some I imagine there’s a comfort in this whole process. Although I’m uncertain as to what or how. For me this is a process to be endured, not savoured.

Whilst the arrival of Autumn brings a handful of delights – Pumpkin Spiced Lattes (if you’re that way inclined), Halloween and the ever increasingly prolonged run up to Christmas – it also brings an unease for many of us.

Having a name for it helps enormously – Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s the name of that feeling of innate heaviness, the bleak feeling of despair that can tinge everything and make day-to-day living feel impossible. It can make the very act of simply getting out of bed in the morning require a level of effort that can only be described as Herculean.

In my life I have called Samaritans four times. Not because I thought I was going to do something permanent but because I felt desperate to talk to someone who didn’t know me, who couldn’t judge me and who was without any prior context of who I was. I was a person bubbling over with fear, worry and uncertainty. I felt consumed by it, afraid how it felt and afraid of myself. Those phone calls were truly invaluable, a life raft whilst lost within it all.

Each one of those phone-calls took place in January, of different years.  That’s because January seems to be the month where my SAD reaches its peak. Rationally I can see why. In November and December I can hide away from Winter by throwing myself into Christmas; the novelty and the tat – I love it all. It’s like a literal burst of colour to light up the darkness. Then it goes.

There’s Crimbo Limbo, the period between Christmas and New Year, where the festivities still linger on slightly. Then there’s New Years Eve, the self-imposed and socially imposed expectation that it will be ‘the best night ever’ – which it almost inevitably won’t be. Past midnight this mindset may be replaced by ‘new year, new me’. That also has its own expiration date.

Then what? The coldness lingers. The short days still don’t have the fight in them to take on the long nights – that battle doesn’t really start to begin till February. Instead we’re left with grey – literally and metaphorically. It’s easy to get lost when one day blurs into the next.

So, as sunset starts to greet the afternoon, I find myself clinging onto the sun as much as possible. Each look at the window and a checking of the time, confirming it is getting darker earlier, results in the same ache in the pit of my stomach. The trepidation of what is to come.

Winter is coming. It’s not the cold I fear, but the greyness that comes with it. May there be many blue skies in amongst the dark.

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