Although I’ve experienced it for longer than I care to remember, it always seems to arrive as a surprise. Winter comes every year, yet somehow, upon each return, we seem unable to compute it or work out how we survived it last time. For some of us, Winter comes knocking at the door hand-in-hand with Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s essentially depression which is more apparent and hits harder in the Winter months; with reduced sunlight the body’s internal clock seems to struggle and the production line for both serotine & melatonin seems to run dry.
For those who haven’t had direct experience of depression, be that at any time of year and in any incarnation, the best way I can describe is having a grain of sand halting the cogs of the brain. It’s invisible, unseen and often unnoticed until it’s toll is felt with a vengeance. It often makes an appearance with anxiety, a complex web of overthinking and unease. Together they can stop day-to-day living as you know it, leaving behind scare resources to just about exist instead.
I didn’t get my first diagnosis of anxiety & depression until I was 21, working on an academic essay for my PGCE somehow became the thing that upturned my life completely. I struggled with it, for reasons both logical and imperceptible, to the point that my battle with it became the centre of everything. My ineptitude of writing it meant I was an awful person. Useless. A waste. As the deadline for the essay approached, the spiral worsened and deepened – to the point of near-total consumption. In all honesty, I don’t know how I got through it. The diagnosis of anxiety & depression provided a name to the monster and brought with allies to help fight it.
Retrospectively, it explains so much about things I struggled with as a child. My 60% attendance at school in year 11 makes more sense. The deep-rooted fear that arises from the deepest pit of my stomach when even remembering my secondary school years becomes that much more understandable.
I’ve written before these struggles. I’ve even written before about my fear of SAD, and how September is the start of a new school year and my internal countdown. I think I was in denial about it’s return, naïve and hopeful that maybe – after 20 months of a global pandemic with all the emotional & mental & physical turmoil it brought with it – just maybe, it might take a break this year.
Instead it has arrived with the kind of entrance an all-consuming diva could dare to dream of. Except not only has it arrived bang on time, it arrived with horrific efficiency and timekeeping. For me, SAD arrived precisely at midnight on Monday 1st November. The clocks changed on the Sunday, going back an hour which means the mornings are a tad brighter but the nights get darker quicker. The sun now sets at 4.30pm, leaving us stuck in the bleak blackness for far, far too long.
I’d gone to bed on the Sunday happy and rested, waking up just two hours in – at midnight – feeling the weight of everything. The back-to-school dread, the countdown timer to Christmas already unwillingly started, mixed with the sudden realisation that this would be it. Until March.
I’m only three days in, but these three days have felt brutal. It feels like a Dementor arrived like a Grim Reaper of joy, taking everything that makes me me with it. My appetite is one of extremes – I’m either too hungry or too full. I’m aching and tired, yawning constantly and craving just to be still. My passions have gone from technicolour to grey, I struggle to motivate to do anything beyond staring into space. Social interactions seem harder, forming sentences becomes a Herculean task when the words feel just out of reach. Hope has been zapped, dread and worthlessness grow where it once sat. Everything, even the most simple of tasks becomes a battle. Whilst surrounded by people, the loneliness settles within the bones with an ever-present ache.
I’ve already lost count of the amount of conversations I’ve already had that involve the phrase ‘Are you okay?’ It’s a question that’s becoming increasingly hard to answer. Not because I’m afraid to say I’m not okay, but because even just finding the fuel to say that feels a waste of deplenishing supply.
The only hope is that this a transitionary period, that these are a form of growing pains of adjustment that are transitional. Temporary unwelcome residents that will swiftly depart. Soon this weather and the every-present dark sky will be the new temporary normal until it reduces it’s overtime and lets the sun return from supporting to main act.
Because I desperately wanted to feel like myself again, not a barely-there shadow.