I get the opposite of what many people get. Seasonal Affective Disorder hits during the colder months when there's less light, but those aren't my worst months. My worst months often happen in the summer. Some of my most serious depressions have started in June, July or August. That isn't to say that summer is always bad for me or that I don't get depressed during the colder months, too. Often depressions that start in summer go through fall. But every time I have a gloomy summer, I wonder about all the people who do better during this time and I wonder why my depressions so often start during this bright, "happy" season.
I'm going through a shift in how I see my chronic depression. Up until now, I’ve kept thinking I'll find the combination of medication, exercise, diet, emotional support and fun activities that will head off depression or at least get rid of it quickly when it comes. I’ve been struggling to reach a point at which I don't spend any more time fighting (and giving in to) sugar cravings, staying in bed too much, staring at my tear-swollen eyes in the mirror and wishing I could stop being me. I’ve tried to stop gaining and losing weight depending on my mental state. Most painfully, I’ve tried to hold myself together because not everyone I know is comfortable with depression. Not everyone has accepted that this is a chronic illness that requires patience and management, but I suspect I’ve been in denial, too. I think the past 24 years of therapy, remedies and techniques for improving myself have been a sort of denial. I haven't wanted to face that my condition is no more likely to go away permanently than someone's arthritis, chronic migraines or diabetes. Believing that if I work hard enough, I'll figure out how to beat my depression for good has done a real number on my self-esteem. Each time the depression comes back, I feel like a failure.
I am done with that. It's time to accept that I have a chronic illness, the symptoms of which will come and go. When it's not here, great. But when it is, I'm going to stop trying to push it away, feeling ashamed and depressed about my depression. Instead, I've decided to start nurturing myself during depressive episodes. I'll accept that when the depression is with me, it's time to take extra gentle care of myself, rather than berating myself for "letting" the depression return. I'll let myself move more slowly, spend more time with friends, do more yoga, eat some chocolate and take sick days from work (mental illness can be just as incapacitating as physical illness, although it seems few people understand that). It’s time to stop worrying about what others think and just focus on taking care of myself.
I went to my Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance meeting last week and bawled out my hopelessness and fear and those wonderful people let me. The facilitator came and sat by me and rubbed my back, encouraging me to let it all out. The others supported me with stories of what they do when they feel this way, or just validating how I felt. Some admitted their sugar addictions and assured me that just because someone has a hard time understanding me, that doesn't mean I'm incapable of being understood by anyone. I felt supported and much more peaceful after that meeting.
The next morning my breakfast was eggs with salsa, prune juice, a banana and a third of a bar of Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate with Mint. So be it. I felt depressed and that was okay. People with herpes, AIDS, sciatica and psoriasis get flare-ups of their symptoms, but they don't beat themselves up for it (I hope). They just take extra care of themselves until the symptoms go away again. That's the response to depression that I'm committing to from now on. It comes and goes and beating up on myself only makes it worse. I just need to keep in mind that the depression is a force of its own, independent of the reality of my life. Instead of hating myself each morning that I wake up depressed, I'll focus on thinking, "It's back, but that's okay because it will also go away again."
Over a week has passed since that DBSA meeting and it turns out that allowing myself to sleep late, eat sweets and walk more slowly didn't prolong the depression. Giving myself permission to be depressed, didn't keep me there. Within days of accepting my emotional state, the sadness began to lift and today I'm back to healthy eating, brisk movement and not feeling irritated with the dog.
Maybe this is the way to go: instead of fighting the wind, I'll yield to it, trusting that it won't blow forever.