Winter Depression

posted in: mental health | 6
A Little Rain Must Fall © 2012 Jane Waterman
A Little Rain Must Fall © 2012 Jane Waterman

You have to know that you’ve found a new addiction (of the awesome kind), when you finish a 30-day blogging challenge and want to write more!

During November, the skies transformed to full grey, and it rained slowly and steadily all month. Outside, the trees form dark silhouettes against the grey day, and the clouds hug the top of the mountains and descend as fog. Everything in the Valley is cold and damp, although the ever-present stratus keeps things from getting too cold. The river is steadily rising, and the salmon end their life cycle as they spawn the next generation. We likely have some snow on the way. While the air is a bit icy, I like that it reminds me to draw a deep breath when I step outside. My lungs have felt tight lately, and I need to practice breathing more than ever.

In my blog, I’ve talked often of my love of grey days, and these days of winter are no exception. One experiences a kind of reverse seasonal depression when the sun effectively holds you hostage with UV sensitivity. However, this year, our 27 year-old daughter is back home, and in the grip of a winter depression, otherwise glibly known as ‘SAD’ or seasonal affective disorder. There’s nothing ‘light’ about winter depression, and I wonder if the person who coined the acronym ‘SAD’ actually suffered from it. If you’ve been reading a while, you’ll know that I welcome a society that allows us to feel appropriately sad, as that is part of our human experience. However, sadness and depression are two different things.

A- is my daughter through marriage. However, our girls have always felt like mine, and I’m fortunate that both have at one time claimed ours to be more than a step relationship. Seeing A- suffer with depression not only casts my own suffering into relief, it makes me think on the experience of winter depression. A- enjoyed a very bright summer, despite a catastrophic start with several episodes of extreme pain due to a medical condition. The situation was worsened by the side effects of an antidepressant that catapulted her into a major episode of mania, and several episodes of psychosis. The pain was resolved with surgery. A- was diagnosed with bipolar in June, but opted not to take any treatment, which led to a rather turbulent time for all of us. While ruling out pharmacological aid might not be helpful, those experiences certainly led me to revise my attitude to medications, especially blithely prescribing the wrong ones, but that’s a post for another day.

Once A- was off the offending med, she settled down somewhat, but pretty much entered a steady period of mania that extended throughout the entire summer. She spent many hours walking everywhere, and visited old and new friends that she had made. I’d never seen her make so many friends, although it turned out that many of those friendships did not survive the later test of depression. In the summer, A- led a very expansive life, despite the fact that she’d been diagnosed with a disorder that made it virtually impossible to handle employment and more complex relationships.

I remember watching the rapid change to autumn: the grey skies rolling in, the colourful leaves dropping, the days sweeping to a dark close that came more quickly with the change to standard time, and finally the rain that settled in for weeks. I could see her world shrinking, with the number of hours spent walking dwindling rapidly. I felt sure it would affect her adversely, and sure enough, as the rains came, she began to withdraw and talk longingly about the days of summer. Only yesterday, as I paused at the back door and breathed the day in, I heard her come into the room behind me and announce, “Another day of rain”. I feel such deep compassion for her sorrow, and in turn, for the younger self I used to be. It’s terrible to be young and full of promise and afflicted by an illness that drains all the joy out of life. Anyone who thinks that depression is a ‘choice’ is just someone who is extremely lucky to have never been visited by it.

I can see that for some, heat and bright light are like oxygen, and the deprivation is terrible. I try to look at the grey days with new eyes, and see how the absence of colour could be so draining for one who immersed her summer in brightly coloured clothes that are now totally impractical for the winter. I wish I had the money to colourize her winter wardrobe, but alas, I’m already behind with my hours and need to spend December catching up. There is a certain ‘deadness’ to the scene, with all the leaves gone, and yet I know that under those same leaves, heat is being harnessed to produce next year’s flowers. In January, I’m usually able to push leaves aside and see the first green shoots of the snowdrops and purple crocuses that dot our beds in spring gathering in tight clumps and pushing up through the earth.

However, it’s hard to encourage my daughter with thoughts of coming life and heat and colour when the weight of depression is now. She’s trying some herbal antidepressants under the watchful eye of our naturopath, but compliance is an issue. Although the herbs might help her, it seems she’s struggling with the “what’s the use” that is the hallmark of depression. I’m going to keep encouraging her, but at 27 I can’t force the issue of compliance. I can only remind A- that taking them is one of the better options she has for managing depression.

In the past, I read a lot about natural full-spectrum lighting as an antidote, but those options always seem expensive (and given the current financial straits in our home, impossible), and it’s a lot of money for something that might not work.

A- can’t drive (like me) and the thought of negotiating a bus or walking 45 minutes to town to take part in some kind of communal activity like yoga seems daunting. She’s taking our beagles out for regular walks most days for over an hour and a half, but otherwise, she’s isolated at home. When I was immersed in a year-round depression at her age, at least the train was only 10 minutes away, and I always enjoyed train rides to the city, so I had the impetus to get out and try to be involved in a large selection of free arts and cultural activities. The options in a small town are much limited, and seeing as most people need to make a living here, it’s hard to find activities that are truly free.

It’s certainly a cruel aspect of depression that it makes one isolated from others when one most needs connection. I can see from A-‘s experience, that the change in seasons only makes that isolation worse.

So while I enjoy the grey days, it’s with a little sadness that the experience is a much bleaker one for so many people and especially for A-.

Do you experience winter depression? Have you found any activities or changes to your environment that help? Do you know of any online resources that might be encouraging for a young person of A-‘s age? I’d love to hear from you.

Many blessings,
Jane

6 Responses

  1. Carmen Waterman
    | Reply

    I am so glad that you continue to write :) You describe K's experience so clearly and I wonder too how others that suffer during the darker days of the year with a depression that seems to descend and hold on so tightly. I hope for breaks in the grey and light that will shine on anyone that is struggling. Believe that writing and sharing is a way to bring awareness and hope.

    You are a blessing to K and to all of us.

    • Jane Waterman
      | Reply

      I'm sorry I missed replying to this one, Sweetie. Sometimes it's so easy to turn to you and say thanks, that I forget to write here. :) I love and appreciate your full support, even when I feel like I'm stumbling in the dark and not quite sure what I'm trying to say or do. xxxx

  2. Annette McKinnon (@a
    | Reply

    I wonder if music would help her at all. I have spent a lot of time over the years finding and downloading free music from music blogs. It's an annual even to get the years top music from Tangmonkey. And I was looking at Largehearted Boy's list of lists from various blogs and organizations and got a great new tip for music I like. That helps me some.

    So many people never listen to anything beyond their high school favourites. Just a thought anyway

    I read a series of books some years ago about a sleuth who was bipolar (I am a big mystery fan). They were by Abigail Padgett. I am afraid that they contain the bulk of my bipolar knowledge and I hope you don't feel I am trivializing.

    Could starting flower bulbs help a little? That adds some colour, or how about digital art?

    Well good to hear from you. You must be inspiring. I did 2 blog posts within 2 days. I need to research ways to spruce up the blog. There are many things I don't know.

    • blackbirdatnight
      | Reply

      I was surprised I didn't get notified about your new blog entries. I thought I subscribed! Two posts in two days is great! :)

      Like you, there's a lot I don't know about the "new-age" blog. I used to do a lot of programming back in the day and could fix most things on blogs, but with my increasing brain fog and more blogs to maintain – for me, my better half, and our two daughters for starters, I moved everything to WordPress. I like the whole plugin bit with WP. I am going to do some work on my blog in the next few weeks (I like to have a little project at Christmas).

      I'm fairly new at gardening – at least winter gardening. Can you grow bulbs in the winter? Or do you mean plant now and wait for spring? I would like to have a greenhouse one day, but that will be a while off.

      K- likes music. I'll look into the sites you mention and see if I can send her some things to inspire her. I did try to get her interested in the art, but she seems down on it at the moment. A shame because she was taking lots of great photos all summer and has some really good material to make art with.

      I'm starting to learn more about bipolar, but what I do know is just from K-'s experiences so far. I'm hoping to have more time to read and learn at Christmas too – it's a time I do get a little sad (I don't know exactly why when my wife is a total Christmas bug), so I like to keep busy.

      More soon – and I'll come over to check out your blog soon (and see if I can or did subscribe). :)

      Take care!

  3. Larry Wentzel
    | Reply

    I went through some heavy depression periods, and as I've gotten older, find myself more affected by winter depression than before. I got medication for a while, and then went to a therapist for depression. I was taught cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). My therapist recommended reading Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, which uses CBT and provides various ways to diagnose your moods and how to move yourself beyond depression, anger, low self-esteem, etc.

    Two of the steps that I've adopted into my (more or less) daily routine is A) writing down what I accomplish in a day, no matter how small. It's the inverse of a "to-do" list; it's a "got done" list. The point is to show you how much you actually do in a day and to take heart in the knowledge that you do all of this, and it helps inspire you to do more: "well, that wasn't as bad as I thought, I might as well do this other thing as well." David Burns counsels adding before/after comments about how much enjoyment you expect in doing X and how much enjoyment you actually got in doing X. B) writing every day about what is bothering you, why it's bothering you, what's at the root of that, and applying realistic thoughts as a counter to your bothers. Sometimes we expect people to behave in a manner we want, not in the manner they actually do behave. Sometimes we worry about disasters that likely never come, focus on only negative things to the exclusion of any good, mistake influencing others/events for wanting to control them, or expect ourselves to be more perfect than we expect anyone else to be.

    Doing these things helps keeps me motivated to try things and take enjoyment in them, and to ground me about negative thoughts and feelings swirling in my head. It takes effort to do new things, but seeing what I did encourages me to do more.

    You might also try a sun lamp. I used one for a while as I was still warming up to CBT, and then gave it away later (but I still sometimes wish I had it). It seems weird, but it's actually nice to bask in bright, natural light for a bit.

    • Jane Waterman
      | Reply

      Hi Larry,

      Thanks so much for writing, and for the excellent summary of CBT and different techniques! In 1995, I was likewise introduced to CBT and David Burns' book by my psychologist at the time. It's indeed an excellent book. I believe my psychologist and the therapy proposed in Burns' book really saved my life. There are also many excellent programs based in CBT that are available on the internet. The one that most readily comes to mind is the 'Living Life to the Full' program at llttf.com.

      I love the idea of a 'got done' list. That's so much more helpful than a 'to do' list, which is something we often use to beat ourselves up with. As you say, I'm sure we'd all be surprised at what we actually got done if we took the time to list it.

      Thanks also for the feedback about the full spectrum lamp. It is something I'd like to look into for my daughter, provided the cost is not too prohibitive. We bought some full spectrum light bulbs for her room, but I don't know if that's enough on its own.

      Blessings,
      Jane

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