Unable to get back to sleep, I got up and continued reading Wintering this morning:
Then, we enter that strange period between Christmas and New Year, when time seems to muddle, and we keep finding ourselves asking, ‘What day is it? What date?’ I always mean to work on these days, or at least to write, but this year, like every other, I find myself unable to gather to the necessary intent. I used to think that these were wasted days, but now I realise that’s the point. I am doing nothing very much, not even actively on holiday… I go for cold walks that make my ears ache. I am not being lazy; I’m not slacking; I’m just letting my attention shift for a while, away from the direct ambitions of the rest of my year. It’s like revving my engines.Katherine May, Wintering, p.149
The book was a gift from my friend Eylan, an unexpected but very welcome source of joy during this yuletide period.
This post is Day 78 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.
…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.
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?
[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.