Gosh, it’s been a while! I have started two other posts, but I don’t know when I’ll manage to get them done. Figured the time has come to write something about why that is.
I hate Winter. Apparently redheads are more sensitive to cold, which lines up with my experience perfectly. When others are comfortable, I’m chilly. When others are “freezing”, I am in intense pain. Cold has a mysterious way of prying its way between all my layers of clothing and sinking into my bones, till it seems to be coming from the inside. Intense aerobics and very hot showers are the only things that really help.
Then as the days get really short, the lethargy begins to set in. These days I usually need to get my son to school, so I have no issue getting up in the “morning.” (When the crescent moon is hanging there in a black sky all “Hey There! XD” it’s easy to feel like the clock is lying to you and it is, in fact, still the middle of the night.) But staying up, that’s a different story. If I sit down for more than 20 minutes, I run a serious risk of dozing off. This on its own would make writing (or sewing, or talking with anyone, or even watching TV) difficult, but there’s also the brain fog. Some days I can hardly parse the recipe I’m trying to make for dinner. Following current events becomes difficult, and I can just about forget trying to comment on them. Complex thoughts run away from me, and in their place come repetitive ones like, “Holy shit it’s cold! Oh my god, ow!” “I should change my socks.” “Why the hell does the Earth tilt like this, anyway?” I get distracted without realizing it. By the time Christmas rolls around, I’m usually already too far gone to explain to anyone that, even before the holidays, I just feel awful anyway.
I’m sure you’ve figured out what I’m getting at by now – I appear to have Seasonal Depression. It runs in my mother’s family, but I was in denial about it for a very long time. No, I said to myself year after year after year, school is just really hard this year. It’s because we moved. It’s because I need more sleep. (Ha!) It’s because I need to eat better. Or exercise more. Or fix my relationship. Or meditate. Or experiment with drugs. Or. Or. Or.
Then two years ago I did a consummate job of holding it together. I ate and slept right, exercised, thought happy thoughts and waited for Spring. And waited. And waited. By the middle of February I had to break down and just admit it, trying to go about my life as if everything were fine wasn’t working. Everything wasn’t fine. My thoughts began drifting months before, but at this point I really couldn’t keep it together anymore and congealed into a useless, grumpy lump. In desperation, I borrowed a bright light from my mother and started taking vitamin D supplements.
This helped somewhat, it allowed me enough relief to get through and even make a friend. But our living conditions at the time were far from ideal – Living with much older, judgmental relatives, in a room that was painted the exact same pale gray that the sky around here regularly turns for weeks on end. I used to fantasize about painting that room bright orange, just to have something to look at. When Winter came around again and we were still there, it was hard not to feel like our lives had slipped into a holding pattern and I’d never see colorful decor again.
So when the opportunity presented itself and I was tasked with finding us a place to live, I mustered every trick and every ounce of force I had. Making phone calls! Going out in the cold to meet strangers!! By myself!!! I know I sound like a whiny child, maybe that’s what I’m reduced to during these periods. But I slapped a smile on my face and made small talk and got us a little house! I had been using the light again that Fall, so I figure that had something to do with my ability to pull this off.
When we first moved to Cleveland is the first year I really noticed it, but of course I thought it was because I missed people. I did, I’m sure that didn’t help, but looking back it’s clear that this was my first real bout with the Great White Beast. I was 14. The year after that I started High School cautious but excited, had friends and even a boyfriend, but again by February was depressed out of my mind. I could hardly face the world some days, and nearly earned myself an extra year at that particular institution. After that I fought harder, I graduated and went to college. I took up running to lose weight, stumbling upon something that actually helped. I had found some things that distracted me or numbed me, but this was the first thing that actually helped.
So, naturally, after 3 years I gave it up, in favor of the lifestyle of Hanna Horvath. The second Winter of that I flunked out of community college because I couldn’t bring myself to go. Almost at all. Then I moved to Florida to go to a school down there. I seriously considered staying there forever, it was like waking up in The Shire in Middle Earth (if The Shire were full of crazy people in high pickup trucks.) This might be the end of my story except I got pregnant by the boy I was seeing, who decided he didn’t want to help with that. So back to the Midwest I went.
Of course he was born in the middle of the Winter. (I should be planning his birthday party right now! Don’t worry, it’s in the works.) Thankfully it was only my first Winter back so it was mostly only post-partum and post-breakup crap I had to deal with. That suuuuuuucks but it feels different and I’ve been dumped before so I assumed it would eventually pass. I still feel bad for not being as good to the little one as I could have been, though. That I guess I have to live with, though for now he seems to be doing pretty well. Things have been basically a hot mess between then and now, with me stubbornly taking him to playgrounds and playrooms to give him some other experience. Because it never really did pass; As soon as I’d start to feel better the ax would fall and my thoughts would run away from me and I’d lose a little more hope of ever developing my potential at anything.
Because somehow, when it’s Winter 1/3 of the year, it’s easy to associate your negative feelings with things that happen, you know, like any sane person would. The pattern is easily masked and hides behind coincidence. Back in school this was even easier, who doesn’t get a little bored and scatterbrained after hours of class every day for months? But eventually, finally, I had to at least try it. The light helped a bit, but the idea of Seasonal Depression still felt like a prison sentence. If the weather does this to my brain, what can I do about it? I can’t un-tilt the Earth!
Last Spring I started running again. This Summer I checked out Winter Blues by Norman Rosenthal. This guy was part of the team in the 1970s who first postulated and experimented with the idea of SAD and light therapy. He told me something I had never considered – It’s actually possible, with consistent treatment over time, to make it go away. I had to reread a couple portions to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding him. You mean, I might get that other 30-50% of my productivity back? I might, some day, get to enjoy going anywhere in January? I might not feel like throwing myself into the lake because I know this is just going to keep happening every year unless I can, by some miracle, manage to move someplace significantly closer to the equator??
So I kept running. Right up until it snowed I was going at least once a week. (I cried a little when the nice lady at the rec center informed me that our neighborhood doesn’t qualify and I’d have to pay $45 a month to use their track…) I got a light for Christmas that helps a bit, but I don’t find it to be as effective as Mr. Rosenthal predicts. It’s maybe 20% of my overall attack, I’m sort of going scattershot here because I am impatient. Looking back I have spent way too much time dealing with this and nowhere near enough time figuring out what else I might want to do. This Winter has been better. So far going through life doesn’t feel like being cheese on a grater, at least not yet. I still hate the cold, but strangely it had to get down to below 20 degrees before it really hit me. Some years it starts in the Fall. I figure that must be the running, extra muscle mass, or something. And, obviously, I can still sort of put complex thoughts together reasonably clearly, even if it’s just autobiographically.
I’m spurred on by the idea that conquering it is actually possible. Possible without drugs or years of therapy. I have a silly dream of playing in the snow and actually enjoying myself. Some day!
This is long, I hope it was coherent. I have all sorts of ideas buzzing around in my head about gender politics and parenting and television and housework, having written this I’m more hopeful I’ll be able to scrape them together into something approaching a narrative sometime soon. Love to you for reading! Stay tuned….