Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about the weather.“Ugh, I’m so over this heat. Isn’t it supposed to be fall?”
“I love this time of year. Sweater weather!”
“EHRMAHGERD PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE SEASON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
But here’s the thing. Don’t these people realize that after fall comes...winter? The most dreaded of the seasons, the reason Florida still exists, the season that inspired an entire award-winning HBO series dedicated to warning us that it’s freaking coming (I can only assume Game of Thrones is one feature- length Public Service Announcement about the dangers of winter)?!
I will admit that my disdain for winter goes a little deeper than sincerely hating the cold with every fiber of my being. As others greet signs of fall with relief that summer’s scalding hot grip is loosening, all I see is night slowly seeping into the cracks that used to hold daylight, and darkness rising up to embrace me. Melodramatic? Maybe. True? For me, yes, because I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, so aptly abbreviated SAD (subtle, guys. Real subtle).
For me, fall is the antechamber to winter, an icy, isolating room locked from the outside. What many see as minor inconveniences of the season (layering up before going out, trudging through the snow, scraping the ice off of your windshield) sometimes feel unbearable to me. I feel tired, so tired. Too tired to grab my wool socks, jam my feet into them, lace up my boots, find my hat and gloves (did I leave them in the car? Shit.), button up my coat—are you as exhausted as I am right now— to take my dog for a 15-minute walk. What’s the point?
I don’t recall always being this way, but I also can’t pinpoint a moment when the switch flipped. Something has always felt a little “off” with me in the winter, but never enough to really explore those feelings. Maybe my symptoms have slowly gotten worse over the years, or maybe I’m a more self-aware person now, but I’m finally ready to admit that something bigger than myself is at play here. I’m lucky
that my symptoms are generally mild, and certainly not severe enough to affect my employment or health in any major way. Seasonal Affective Disorder, for me, is something that comes and goes throughout the fall and winter. It might take the form of a few cancelled plans, lack of interest in activities, sleeping more, and feeling like I have to exert more energy to accomplish things. But even if it
feels harder, I’m usually able to step up and do it. “Cool story, Gina. Sometimes you get the winter blues, but not really.”
So, why am I talking about this at all? Because for so long I didn’t. I would get mad at myself for not being able to complete simple household chores, and internalize it as another personal failure. I would get frustrated with my husband because he was the closest person around to lash out at (marriage tip: making your husband the scapegoat for your own insecurities is ill-advised). I thought I should just be able to carry on like I do for the other ¾ of the year, and no thank you, I do not want to talk about it. I felt that acknowledging my own SADness would minimize the struggles of people with “real” depression, the kind that seeps into every part of your life, every single day. I know that my SAD does not compare to those who are out there fighting for their lives, and I felt it would be in poor taste to bring up my issues when many others have bigger concerns.
But you know what? It’s not a competition about who feels the shittiest today. Everyone has issues, big and small. I now believe that I can give validity to my own feelings while maintaining perspective about where they lie on the spectrum of depression. Now that I’m finally out of the denial stage and have named the problem, something glorious has happened. I’m able to be more intentional about how I act. I try to combat the lack of sunlight in my life in ways that I can control (purchasing a SAD light, spending extra time outside whenever the sun peeks through the grey skies). I prioritize exercise. I try to eat healthier. All of these things have helped, but most importantly, when I am feeling down, I try to show myself some effing empathy. Turns out, this leads to less blow-ups aimed my husband’s direction. Everyone wins!
Whatever your personal struggle may be, I would like to give you something that I couldn’t give myself for a long time: permission. Permission to be kind to yourself. Permission to talk about how you feel. Permission to skip the occasional holiday party, and instead eat fistfuls of raw cookie dough while bingeing Game of Thrones. Winter may be coming, but thanks to a little self-care and a lot of understanding, I’m feeling more prepared than ever to face it.