Battening down the hatches

…but it was sunny yesterday so you can’t use that as an exc…

My wife tailed off, leaving her sentence unfinished. I finished it for her:

It was sunny yesterday so I can’t use that as an excuse.

[…]

I know.

She’s right, of course.

I claim that as the days get shorter so does my temper. That my productivity and motivation goes down at the same rate as the thermometer.

If it’s not the lack of sun then why (seemingly all of a sudden in the middle of September) every year do I get that feeling that gnaws away inside me?

It’s a really difficult emotion to describe but it’s one I’ve heard others reference: one that says “you’re not good enough”. It’s just an overwhelming feeling of sadness that seems to creep up on me from nowhere.

While I’m neither bipolar nor suicidal (thank goodness) I’m really glad Stephen Fry wrote this post after the media found out he tried to take his own life last year. People wondered why someone of his fame and success would feel down?

His response:

[W]hat the fuck right do I have to be lonely, unhappy or forlorn? I don’t have the right. But there again I don’t have the right not to have those feelings. Feelings are not something to which one does or does not have rights.

I have migraines now and again, a condition closely linked to mental illnesses. So I can spiral if I’m not careful – just as success breeds success, so negative emotions feed off one another to pull you to the depths of despair.

And I’ve been to those depths before. Almost ten years ago I was off work due to ‘anxiety and depression’. Back in 2009/2010 (my last job in a school) I felt those feelings coming back – so I got out as quickly as I could.

Since having positions that allow me to be more in charge of how I allocate my time I’ve learned to build up some defences. To me it’s like battening down the hatches for winter.

Here’s what I do:

  • Take cold showers every morning because they’re supposed to help stave off depression.
  • Take our annual family holiday to somewhere sunny (Gozo) in October/November half-term.
  • Schedule less time away from home between October and February –  it seems to drain me of energy.**
  • Take Vitamin D every day as it may help with depression.
  • Use a Lumie Arabica SAD light to simulate sunshine for up to an hour a day while I’m working.
  • Update: I also have a Lumie Bodyclock alarm clock that simulates sunrise at a specified time.
  • Go for walks at midday when the sun is at its highest point.

I’m sure there’s more I can be doing. Including, probably, just moving somewhere sunnier. But then, as my wife indicated, it’s not all about external factors, is it?

If this resonates I’d love to hear what you do to help yourself through these periods.

Image of storm at Druridge Bay CC BY Byrnsey


*Until reading Oliver Sacks’ book on the subject I probably would have said that I ‘suffer’ from migraines. I’ve now come to accept that I’m a ‘migraneur’. It’s very much part of who I am.

**Which is odd, given that I seem to gain energy from attending events between March and September.

11 Comments

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  1. very interesting and similar to my point of view. All people are different and are built such that they can survive just fine. I have found that changing my diet, getting outside more often and changing some activities (i.e. less facebook, less fiction reading, etc.) which I have found to cause me undue stress.

  2. Rather than get a SAD light, we fitted daylight CFLs around the house, particularly in the lounge, where we can switch on around 7000 lumens total (3000 lights the room “normally”, the extra really brightens things up).

    It’s helped with my periods of “being down” (nowhere near proper depression).

  3. I take St John’s Wort and Evening Primrose to help with my depression and sometimes Valerian (tablets or tea) in the evening if I can’t ”switch off” – I also sleep with the curtains or blinds open so that the sunlight wakes me up. I realise that with kids this probably won’t be the case as you’ll be getting up before it’s light, but it helps me 🙂 I know you’ve been tackling diet too, which is good, we are what we eat 🙂

  4. Autumn and I are not friends. As the days get shorter and the weather nastier, I tend to withdraw. Melancholy. But I’ve found that along with that feeling I tend to be more reflective on “bigger picture” things.

    I do a few things to help myself.

    I make a point of going to the ocean on windy, blustery days and just stand on the beach. There is just something about seeing all that raw, natural power that makes me feel better.

    I tend to write more. Longer, more introspective bits. And not in public.

    Planning our summer vacation. What got me through last fall was planning our family vacation to Disneyland this spring. It gave me something to look forward to. This fall, I am on the hunt for a new destination.

    Repeated watching of Zoolander. Seriously. Watching brainless, silly movies and just enjoying them for what they are often helps me get thru.

    Finally, I adopted “this, too, shall pass” as a mantra a few years ago. I actually find it gives me comfort just to remind myself of that when things are going poorly.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Clint – there’s some great advice in there. I live near the sea now and, after some years living in somewhere landlocked, I won’t be making that mistake again.

  5. Thanks for writing this, Doug.

    Very timely for me as I am currently signed off with depression and am looking for anything that will help me combat it and get me back to my normal self. Feeling like this sucks but it helps to know others have gone through the same and come out of the other side.

    • Sorry to hear you’re off work, Jonathan. There’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel! It might be worth pinning up somewhere a quotation that I wish I’d come across 10 years ago:
      “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” (Albert Camus)
      Small steps. One day at a time. Everyone wants you to succeed, even if it doesn’t always look like it from the place you’re at right now. 🙂

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