Man, I feel blue today.
March is the hardest month with my depression. The combination of short daylight hours and long weeks of cold weather mount up to make these last few days before the spring equinox some of the hardest I face all year. It’s a little counter-intuitive at first blush, perhaps, since the days in March are actually longer than those in December.
But I liken it to a 12-month tidal cycle. It takes a while for all that water to change directions and to shift back toward my own shore. In December the tide is still out. We’re just coming out of the fall season — long days getting progressively shorter, warm weather getting progressively cooler, and I’m still feeling pretty good. Plus, it’s the holiday season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s, so there are plenty of distracting family activities. January is still pretty good. Yes, I’m starting to feel the weight of all that water starting to slide back my direction, but it’s not too bad at this point. Winter is really just starting to gear up, and the weather, too, is only just beginning to feel the effect of the sun’s southerly slide toward the Tropic of Capricorn. January is tougher than December, but bearable. By February, though, it’s become apparent just how much of that tidal weight has shifted back this direction. It’s been more than two months of shortened days and cold, snowy, icy weather, and my moods are reflective of that. I spend more time feeling tired and depressed, and my mental focus struggles more than just about any other time of the year. There’s some solace to be found in the fact that Spring is right around the corner, but only some. Then March swings in, and the full weight of the tide has settled in. Yes, the days are getting longer. We’re starting to see pre-dawn light around 6:30 AM and the temperatures are more consistently up in the mid-30s to lower-40s (typically), but the effects of three-plus months of shorter days has piled up, and it takes time for the momentum of all that water to slow and start to shift away again. I have extended periods — a week, 10 days, sometimes more — of depressed mood, exhaustion, and mental haze, and even my daily anti-depressant isn’t enough to keep it entirely at bay. I can’t imagine how bad it would be without my meds. At this point it’s little comfort that the official first day of Spring is just a couple of weeks away. It’s a struggle just to get through a day, and it takes effort to find — and focus on — creative projects to keep myself distracted. Things will get better in a couple of months, as the tide starts to shift away again. Longer days, warmer weather make a huge amount of different — but right now, it’s a fight just to get out of bed in the morning and face the mountain of things that have to be done every day.
The cycle repeats on a roughly annual basis. Summers are better and easier. The extra sunlight boosts Vitamin D production, which has a noticeable effect. That’s not to say that I don’t have blue periods the rest of the year; I do. But they’re typically shorter and less intense. There is definitely a seasonal component to my depression, and this year it has helped tremendously that I now work from home with the ‘wall’ behind my desk being a huge picture window that faces east. I get more sun than I used to working in a windowless basement, but those dreary days in February still make it feel like I’m in a cage, sometimes.
I think this may be the first time I’ve talked about my depression in any real capacity here, and it’s not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed by it. It’s a medical condition, and I recognize that. I manage it with medications and by making some specific lifestyle choices. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a while but haven’t found the time or energy to do so before now. And I know there are many out there who similarly struggle with mood disorders. It’s more common than you might think, and I’ve been pleased to see the stigma of mood disorders begin to ease off in recent years.
So consider this me adding my own voice to the conversation. It doesn’t bother me in the least to talk about my challenges with depression. I’m happy to discuss my story and lend support to others as I’m able, and this seems like as good a place as any to present a formal invitation to have that discussion to anyone who’s interested.