I have noticed lately how glum and low I have been feeling as the weather has darkened as autumn has arrived. Of course it doesn’t help that I live in London. Quite a lot of Londoners complain during the summer that it is too hot and they struggle to cool down. Mother Nature’s response to this complaint is to introduce grey clouds which blend in with the different shades of grey of London buildings. Personally I think any colour that can be found seems to fade away unless a ray of sunlight manages to force its way through. Plants, lights, and anything that could remind me of the warmth and comfort of summer fail to exist to me as the cold creeps nearer. I realise how bleak and unattractive my attitude towards London in autumn is, especially because in comparison to other places to live mine is not bad at all. I know that my downbeat outlook is because autumn brings with it the most unwelcome of guests: Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Why Seasonal Affective Disorder Needs to be Told to Fuck Off
Imagine having a person in your life that is aware of what you enjoy, what you look forward to, and what you want to achieve. This person might know all these things about you in greater detail than you. They’re a very supportive person but not in a way which is positive to you or your outlook on life. One day you might want to go out and see a friend. You have not seen this friend in ages and when you come close to mustering up enough energy to see them, this person says, “No. You’ll be more comfortable, warmer, and feel better if you stay inside”. You have a lecture to go to and you know you want to do well in university, and it’s better for you in the long term to go, but the person says, “No. you can catch up in your own time. Stay in bed, you can catch up another time”. Imagine waking up, opening the curtain and seeing the dreary weather outside. You know you have things to do and there is no real reason why you cannot do these simple tasks, but again you consult your friend. “Have you seen outside? You said it yourself, the tasks are simple, let’s complete them another time”. Time and time again this supposedly supportive person in your life is looking out for you and keeping you in what they want you to think is your comfort zone. Would you want to listen to this person? Of course not, and that’s why I had to learn to tell it to fuck off.
Seasonal Affective Disorder**, also known as “Winter Depression”, “Seasonal Depression, and happily abbreviated to “SAD”, begins to affect me as soon as I notice how much colder the outside world is and how comfortable my bed is.
Before I was aware of SAD I used to lie around in my bed happily watching whatever I could find on YouTube. I would achieve little to nothing because I knew, unless I had to, I did not want to leave the comfort of my bed or room. Or at least I thought I was doing this happily. I realised a few months later, when I was told about SAD, was that my desire to remain warm and comfortable was isolating me from doing anything else. I was barely achieving anything, I was doing nothing, my back hurt, my asthma got worse, and I found it difficult to enjoy anything I would usually do when the weather was more inviting. Looking forward to anything was a challenge and it lowered my mood because I had no idea why I was feeling this way. As a result I found myself sleeping a lot. If there was no one to talk to I would put on something to watch and doze off for an hour. Obviously this ruined my sleeping pattern which made me feel progressively shit while bringing down my mood lower.***
In contrast before this particular autumn, I probably had one of the best summers I have known as it was after I had finished my demotivating art foundation diploma. My friends had returned from university so I had a social life again. All things were going well with my girlfriend, I was going to the gym, I was keeping healthy, and I was playing a hell of a lot of football. All in all I was able to enjoy myself and look forward to starting university.
Personally I have come to believe that when you experience SAD or any other type of depression it is easy to believe that staying in your comfort zone will make you feel better: it doesn’t. I thought my comfort zone was several warm blankets, heating, my bed and an entertaining screen but in reality it was the complete opposite.
On one particular evening I found myself surrounded by darkness staring blankly into my screen. I realised I wasn’t watching at all, I was just killing time. I realised I wasn’t doing anything fulfilling, I wasn’t eating anything nourishing, I wasn’t doing anything which actively benefited my mental health. I decided to leave my comfort zone and go for a walk with my friend around Brighton. With this initial decision I began to learn how to say “fuck you” to SAD. By the time spring was at a close I had come up with so many ways to do so. I was reaping the benefits all the way through spring into the summer. Most importantly I knew that by the time the weather began to darken, I would be ready and I take comfort in knowing that as I get older I will only add to my arsenal against SAD.
My Personal Tips and Insights:
Some of these tips might cost money but for the most part they are free. If you are reading this I can presume that you have an internet connection and therefore you have endless resources to discover many tips for yourself.
- There are many products out there which claim to combat SAD*. I originally bought a light box which told me to blast myself with its light for 20 minutes to recover the serotonin, and other lovely, natural positives I was missing from the lack of sunlight. I personally did not like it, and used it as a way to trace drawings instead, but it did introduce me to the Lumie Bodyclock. This incredible product wakes you up with a simulated sunrise and does everything the light box claimed in a more comfortable and user-friendly way.
- Do some form of exercise no matter how small or big. From going for a walk, a run or joining the gym, I believe by staying active you are positively boosting your mental health, saying “fuck off” to SAD, and most importantly you are building yourself up for the months where different activities will become available.
- I went for walks with my friends which were beneficial to me because I was able to get a few things off my chest. One day on a walk along the seafront I was passed by a whole train of runners. I had always wanted to run but I was told by SAD that it was too cold, too uncomfortable, and too unlikely. Stay in. but I had just been overtaken by 30 people braving the wind, the rain, and the cold and doing something positive for their selves. There was no reason this couldn’t be me. I started running a few kilometres around the tiny park next to my halls. As soon as I got to 5k I felt comfortable enough to join the running club and I grew in confidence as I began to run with them on a bi-weekly basis. When it got to spring I was doing 10ks for fun, and when it got to summer, I was pacing out everyone in football. I was the fittest I had been for a long time and I was ready to start training for a marathon. Ego-stroking aside, this is testament to the fact that if you start sowing the seeds to your growth, and start laying the foundations for self-improvement during the challenging winter period, you can reap the rewards in the future. The best reward I gained was discipline.
- Create a routine to keep busy. If this is difficult for you, decide on a simple task you would like to fulfil each day. Write it down, create a poster or a timetable, or download an app to track your task. I have an app on my phone which leaves a notification badge (the little number) on my phone until I cross it out once I have completed my task. Having a physical representation of what task you want to achieve, to me, shows how much you want to achieve your task. It sounds stupidly simple, but nothing is stupid when it comes to helping you achieve what you want to achieve, or do what you want to do.
- For some people it might be incredibly difficult to do this. You might also find yourself struggling to do anything after a 4 day streak of completing tasks. Neither of these struggles means that you’re a failure or you will never get better. You have to realise that everyone has off-days and that with many things in life there will be hiccups along the way. Stand back and look at what you have accomplished.
- Be kinder to yourself. If you are really struggling to do what you would like to do, simplify it. If you wanted to run around, go for a walk instead. It may not be what you wanted to do but at least you got out the house and did a form of exercise, besides, you might even feel like running once you are outside. If you wanted to write a whole page or a chapter, just write a sentence. You may not have done what you set out to do but you did a lot more than you did if you left it alone. If you wanted to go to the gym but can’t find the energy for it, do 10 press-ups instead. If that is unappealing, just do one. You still accomplished something.
- Join a class or a group. When I am at my lowest I realise how much time I am wasting. I use this as motivation to learn something I have always wanted to learn. If I truly didn’t want to go outside, I turned the hours I would use wasting away into the darkness to learning new recipes which could compliment my exercising. Socialising in a learning environment can do wonders for your mental health. Good company and like-minded individuals can go a long way.
- Develop discipline. Did your parents ever tell you to make your bed? Do you brush your teeth once or twice a day? Do you remember to feed yourself multiple times throughout the day? Do you shower? Do you put on deodorant? Do you remember when you have to be at work and school, and if you do, do you manage to arrive? Regardless of whether or not you do these things, these are overlooked examples of discipline. Unlike motivation, which I personally find comes and goes, discipline can stick with you to make sure you can do the things you want to do in difficult periods.
- Avoid overly negative people. This one is tricky because while I encourage people being supportive of each other, sometimes I think some people choose to help others to a significant degree more than they help themselves. I personally think that to help others you have to be in a good place yourself. If for instance your partner is having trouble at work and needs support, support them, but if you know an individual or groups of people that are constantly complaining about little things, maybe you should question if it is right for you to be surrounded by negative outlook or attitudes.
- Change your diet. Salmon, dark chocolate, bananas and tons of other food are scientifically proven to boost your mood positively. Spend time looking for recipes which can accommodate mood-boosting food to your taste.
- Stretch. This tip is very personal to me because I realised that when I am at my lowest of moods my back and muscles can ache to the point I stop doing what I ha planned throughout the week. Stretching as soon as you get out of your bed, even if it’s just for 2 minutes, can prevent these restrictions and any other injuries. By progressively stretching more you will eventually feel the benefits of increased flexibility and stronger muscles. You might even get into yoga. There are so many free apps and videos on YouTube which have workouts ranging from under 5 minutes to over an hour.
- When it’s sunny go outside. Even if it’s not sunny, go outside. In the really dark moments of winter you may find that the sun is shining for a few minutes every day. See if you can try to take a moment to soak in the rays even if it is for 30 seconds. If you are at work I encourage you to speak to your employer about taking this much needed time off. Even if they don’t agree, I’d go as far as sneaking out. If your peers have the freedom to smoke or go to the toilet whenever you want, I don’t see why you can’t do something that can be just as beneficial and arguably just as necessary.
*I believe that while there are probably less useful products to combat SAD than useful ones. I don’t believe any product will be the sole answer to combating SAD but I do believe they can be a useful accessory. Sadly while there is a demand from people with mental health issues there will also be a lot of products which claim a lot of things but do not actually help at all. Make sure you put in the proper research before parting with your money.
**For more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder, another type of depression, or another mental health problem, i strongly suggest visiting Mind’s website at:
***You might be a person that is absolutely, positively, and indefinitely mentally healthy and you manage to comfort being in your bed, staying warm and comfortable. I am not saying that staying in your bed means you have SAD or any other form of depression. I am drawing from my own experience and describing what I did, and still do, when I notice myself being restricted by SAD.***
I started the day feeling totally deflated. I have barely done a thing to this website for the last couple of weeks and it has made me feel worse. I have kept writing, but since I stopped halfway during some challenging emotional pieces I have struggled to return to them. I feel like every goal I have set had been pushed aside, and the truth is it was me that was doing the pushing. I had the time to do everything but I didn’t, I just feel very weak because I know how low I might get. It is the fear of feeling low again that has made me doubtful about what I want to do. I asked myself if I even wanted to continue contributing to this website any longer. I decided to take my own advice, “Just write a paragraph and see how you feel after”. It worked. 47 words turned to over 2600. Sometimes I think it is easier to give advice and support to others than it is to listen to myself. Even if it’s the exact same advice.
Despite my setbacks, self-imposed or not, I have had tons of fun. My friends have been great, I had one of the best nights of my life a couple of weeks ago and I have many things planned for the future. I feel like I have a new friend, and I feel a deeper connection to a former friend. I passed my counselling course, which is great, but I am very aware that I am still floating about. I guess I have to take my own advice again and remain busy. I suppose I already have. I’ve written this and I bought a sketchbook and some sketching pencils. I have rediscovered how much I want to be able to draw again for the first time in 5 years. Perhaps this is another addition to my arsenal against SAD. I might finally be able to create my own images to accompany my journals!