It’s been a hot minute since I posted last (“a hot minute” meaning two months!), and while I’ve been sitting on a draft of this post for longer than that, I haven’t published it until now. Maybe because I was in the thick of these emotions and thoughts and needed more time to process them, or maybe because depression talks you out of every good, positive, and helpful idea/suggestion. Honestly, my writing absence is probably a combination of both. Depression has been my close buddy the past several months.
Seasons Change, and I Wouldn’t Change That
Seasons are commonly personified – imagined, described, and revered as colorful, living things, characterized by palpable experiences, activities, and moods – and Winter is no exception. Simply saying “summer” can illicit feelings of freedom and late night fun, while “winter” can conjure up feelings of family holidays and comfort food.
Did you guys know that I used to live in Hawaii? I’m from Wisconsin originally but lived in Hawaii for a little over 2.5 years. In 2016 I moved back to Wisconsin, and I brought with me a whole new appreciation for winter! I missed the snow and all of the great things winter does – it kills giant bugs & other satanic creatures, prevents many natural disasters, paves the way for so much gorgeous re-growth, and makes Christmas feel like magic! Did I mention it kills giant bugs? Like 8-inch-long, poisonous centipedes and roaches the size of your palm (not kidding).
Yes, Pinterest also makes winter seem blissful: cozy, oversized sweaters, pictures of fresh snowfalls under city street lights, warm and crackly fireplaces, perfect snow angels and hot cocoa, cuddling with your loved one, and the list goes on.
But for me, winter has a dark side to it, and its mention brings me feelings of heaviness. It can be harsh, isolating, unforgiving, and heartless. And let me say it plainly: This winter has been brutal for me thus far.
The Dark Side of Winter
I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. I can easily recall being in elementary school and just being crippled with irritability. I would cry when I experienced any frustration, difficulty, or worry. I was constantly worried about my family, so after every recess that was combined with my little sister’s grade, I would bawl my eyes out over the separation. Yes, this was anxiety too, but anxiety and depression are so commonly co-morbid, and each works to reinforce and strengthen the other.
I also remember frequently wanting to explode with feelings of my skin crawling and my blood boiling. When I would get angry or upset, I would pull my own hair as a way to relieve the pressure I physically felt inside of my body. I would spend most of my time in my bedroom, put as little effort into my appearance as possible as I got older, and bottle up all of my emotions. It eventually evolved into feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, shyness, and feeling completely left out of the life that was going on all around me. Depression made me feel entirely alone and hollow.
It may seem like the winter blues are an old wives’ tale, or something made up to explain how tired and bored we all get. But depression is real, and winter amplifies it. This year, it’s worse than it has been since I’ve been back in Wisconsin.
Winter skies are dark and gray, the sun sets before the end of a typical, first-shift work day, the cold makes me dread leaving my home, and the opportunities for fresh air and connecting with nature while avoiding frostbite are severely limited (maybe a tad bit dramatic). Simple tasks like getting the mail and taking the trash to the curb seem equivalent to running a marathon or standing in fire (again, dramatic). My mind and spirit begin to mimic the season, and slowly I begin to dread my days, isolate myself, and feel the same dark and cold in my heart that I feel outside.
If you don’t know depression personally, you’re blessed. Really. It grips its victims tightly, often unexpectedly, and blurs out all of the hope, happiness, gratitude, and joy in your heart. It’s an emotional blindfold. It’s not just sadness, it’s numbness, too. And trust me, those who suffer from it know it rarely makes a ton of sense.
I think the best way to explain depression to someone who has never experienced it is to simply share what it manifests as. I also think that sharing what brings me shame can set me free from it. So, this is is a list of how depression shows up in my life.
*Note: Is this list all inclusive or exhaustive? No. Is it my reality, with diagnosed Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Yes.
Depression is waking up after 10 hours of sleep and wanting nothing to do but sleep more.
Depression is desperately wishing that I could quit the job I normally love and do literally nothing for the rest of my life. It’s feeling like there’s absolutely no way I’ll make it through my hectic work day as anything more than a shell of a human.
It’s being blinded by lies that convince me my day is going to be complete and utter shit, and that my days won’t be any better tomorrow or next week either.
Depression feeling stuck in life, trapped in my circumstances, and destined for nothing but what I experience on my worst day. It’s truly believing that my best days are behind me and that nothing extraordinary or life-changing will ever happen for me again; it’s feeling that I’ve already reached my peak in life and that I’m bound to a downhill slope.
It’s not being able to envision what I want for my future because I don’t have enough energy to envision what I want for my week.
It’s not wanting to go home after work because I dread being left alone with my thoughts and returning to the environment that seemingly encourages my suffering.
It’s fully intending to come home and have a productive evening, only to be so drained when I walk through the door that the only thing I can see clearly is my couch.
It’s seeing my sink piled full of dishes and knowing it’s gross, but having zero desire, motivation, or energy to do them.
It’s thinking that I’d be mortified if a friend unexpectedly stopped over to see the state of my house but still telling myself that they’ll be fine until tomorrow. But then telling myself that for the next 4 days, too.
Depression is not turning on music to dance around the kitchen with my daughter. It’s making ham sandwiches and tater tots for my family instead of stuffed chicken breasts, roasted asparagus, and rice.
It’s wondering if I should paint my nails but then asking, “What’s the point? Does it even matter in the grand scheme of things?” and then giving up all self-care routines that make me feel good because I stop believing that it even makes a difference.
Depression is not exercising because again, what’s the point? Does it really make a difference? It’s me telling myself that it’ll take at least 30 exercise sessions to notice any real physical difference, and then letting the enormity of that number discourage me from exercise session #1.
Depression is being terrified that the sad, hopeless me is who I’m going to be from now on.
It’s being completely and utterly suffocated by panic and dread, like being stuck in a room whose walls are closing in on me. But I’m not able to identify the source of it all and therefore talk myself down.
Depression is feeling alone and unloved in a room full of friends and family that love me. It’s feeling like I’m invisible in the world – just a gray figure frozen in time while everything and everyone all around remains vibrant and full of life.
It’s knowing I have bills to pay but looking the other way because doing so would mean I have to get off the couch and search for my username and pin (who has the energy, mentally or physically?).
It’s doing laundry only when I run out of clean underwear and am forced to.
It’s sitting on the couch watching TV until I realize it’s almost time for bed, at which point the dread of having to wash my face and brush my teeth sets in… even though I’ve done literally nothing the entire evening.
It’s not being able to organize my thoughts; It’s being foggy-brained nearly 100% of the time. Depression is not being able to think of solutions to simple life problems because the mere fact that they exist makes me feel like I’m going to crumble under the weight of it all.
It’s believing I don’t have the ability to become smarter, learn, or overcome challenges.
It’s feeling guilty because I know that I have the power to change me, but I’m failing.
It’s feeling ineffectual, impotent, and useless.
Depression is a Liar
Depression is soul-crushing. It steals your reasoning for loving life. It dims your spark and dampens your wick so it can’t be re-ignited. Depression lies to you and convinces you that what once made you feel good about yourself and boosted your mood doesn’t actually work. It convinces you that nothing will make you feel better; why waste what little energy you have on something that won’t work? It steals the joy and wellness that comes from taking care of yourself, investing in yourself, and treating yourself to positive things by convincing you that none of it matters in the long run.
But here’s the thing: Depression is overcome by trusting the sun’s ability to kiss your face and remind you of all the reasons life shouldn’t just be survived, but lived. It’s overcome by choosing to trust that just like the winter season, this mental and emotional season will pass, too. It’s trusting that you’ll always come out on the other side, and choosing to believe the truth that the blackness won’t last forever, even when every ounce of your being feels differently. Depression is defeated by remembering that your survival rate is 100%. As long as you believe you can, you’ll always get through it.