Photo by Dawn Huczek
January has a way of bringing me down, then giving me a few good kicks while I’m there.
This has been the case, in a memorable way, since January 1998 when, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the sun only shone one day: the last day of the month, when I gave birth to my firstborn. In other words, this is the 14th consecutive January that has been a struggle for me, yet somehow each January I forget, and my deep-diving moods take me completely by surprise.
Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to do a mind-over-matter trick—if I don’t think about depression or say the word, it won’t be true. Or maybe depression is just good at being extra sneaky, like the tide that very gradually tiptoes in, one gentle, lapping wave after another, stealing away your little patch of sandy paradise.
The rhythms of nature certainly have something to do with it. That’s why there are well-known terms and conditions like Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD), and a whole market for sun lamps and plane tickets to sunny places. But there are no quick fixes, (although I wouldn’t say no to a week in Costa Rica). Just as surely as my winter depression gradually sneaks up on me, it takes time for it to fade away. I think of January 30 as my winter solstice—the darkest day of the year, the deepest depth, the turning point from which I can begin to look up and emerge into the light, like I did the day my daughter was born and the sun finally shone.
Emerging out of the darkness, inch by inch
Of course, that emergence happens verrrry slowly. And it doesn’t help to fight it—at least not in that aggressive, angry, combative way. It does more good to embrace it, even coddle it a bit, and then do what I can to placate it, like you might do with a grouchy old woman who has every right to be grouchy.
Step one, for me, is admitting that I’m struggling with depression. It involves bringing it up with my husband and friends, and saying it “out loud” by writing this post. It was only a year ago that I wrote my first post about depression, Bringing a dark secret to the light. In that post (which is currently the sixth most “popular” post on my blog) I wrote this:
I blog about my divorce, my parenting struggles, my complicated feelings about God and faith. Why has depression been the big taboo subject—the one I am most ashamed of, and least able to examine rationally, with hope and even humor?
After the admittance is out of the way, and that very real thing is right there in front of you, the embracing can begin. A big part of that comes through all the people who share this struggle and embrace one another through it. It starts with feeling less alone, less ashamed.
Coddle and placate with simple pleasures
Then finally, the coddling and placating can begin. This January, I started going to yoga classes, and indulged in a knitting project for me—I’m making a sweater of the softest lambswool and mohair yarn. I’ve also been experimenting with making chai from scratch, with whole spices, and Jason has kept our fridge stocked with amazingly comforting soups and stews.
And then there are all of the ways my community helps to placate the gremlins and lift my mood. Yesterday on Facebook, I wrote “This day needs *something*. I’m taking suggestions as to what.” The responses themselves were an instant boost, even before I got around to indulging in any of them:
“Black Dog” (an amazing barbecue place in Urbana)
“A messy art project?”
“chocolate. coconut. book. tea. quiet.”
There. Don’t you already feel a bit better, too? Together we’ll get through this, once again.