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.