keskiviikko 5. maaliskuuta 2014

Day 391: Winter depression


Audio transcripts from today:

“Today I cried out of joy when I stepped out into the sun. Apparently it's been a very dark winter. It is very difficult to find life from within yourself when everything around you is dead. But then again, it shouldn't be about the polarity of life and death, now shouldn't it? Like going from one extreme to the other.”

“But everything is not dead. It's just... Darkness is not dead. Frost is not dead. The plants are not dead, they're just sleeping. The animals are not dead, they're just absent, they're just hiding. Winter in fact is not dead. Why do I label darkness as death? Or loneliness as death? Or coldness as death or discomfort as death? I've grown reliant on stimuli from outside of myself to make me feel alive. How do I learn to sustain myself?”

Some background:

I have recently surfaced from a couple-month long winter depression. It is a common phenomenon around the polar areas for people to become depressed during the winter, and this is usually explained by the lack of sunlight and the following lack of vitamin D, but also with the lack of exercise and other side effects of the environment turning unpleasant for humans. This, however, is the first time I have ever experienced this phenomenon myself.

It has been a very strange experience, and I cannot pinpoint exactly when it started. All I know is that some time around November I started gaining weight and that by January I started lagging behind on my schoolwork having lost all motivation. I reached a low point of sorts and haven't been able to pull myself out of it properly until I've literally had to in order to pass my courses. To pull myself “back to life” I have made reviews of my living habits – exercise, sleeping rhythm, nutrition, socializing, recreation – and these slight changes with the increase in daylight and temperature have brought me back to a state of vitality.

As a side note, I watched this really cool TED talk today about depression and found the key statement about the opposite of depression being vitality instead of happiness being quite accurate in my case. I remember feeling really alive before my downfall began, and I am finally starting to feel alive again – not happy per se, but energetic and motivated. God, I've been super cranky for these past couple of months now that I think of it.

Anyway, back to the transcripts. When I stepped out today and bathed in the sunlight for the first time in months, I cried out of joy because suddenly the world around me felt alive again – as if I was “connected” to life itself for the first time since winter began. However, this concept is inaccurate. Life itself hasn't been “switched off” during winter: I just haven't been able to see it. There is life in darkness, coldness, silence and hibernation, but it is just a different kind of life from the other end of the spectrum: of the noisy, bright, colourful and sweaty summers. So to think of winter as “death” and summer as “life” does not follow the reality.

What I am saying here is that I have somehow accepted and allowed myself to be affected by the environment I am in. Of course the circumstances the human being – an organic creature – is in affect its state, because different circumstances support different things: different possibilities are available and so forth. I do not suggest that the human being should somehow be separate of its environment, because that is simply not possible. However, one can believe oneself to be a victim of one's circumstances, thus giving oneself the permission or the excuse to do something, to for example “slack off”.

I have accepted and allowed myself to be taken by moods, going from one extreme to the other. I see that following these moods could possibly result in me being extremely happy during summers and extremely down during winters (which is the reason why so many people living here in the north escape the winter to warmer countries). I see that this is not a sustainable state, to resent one manifestation of life (winter) and to celebrate another (summer).

What I think happened in my case is that I used my prevailing circumstances (winter) to give in to my deep-rooted loneliness. My life is mostly quite nice and I can honestly say that I enjoy many aspects of my life, but the social dimension of my life has been unsatisfying for years now – actually, we might be talking about more than a decade of feeling completely alone, since I started getting depressed at around the age of 10 because of bullying and other malfunctions in my social network.

So what did I do when the winter came? I focused on my work, stopped exercising, started binge eating, forgot to rest and give myself space to be creative (with music, movement, theatre, writing, arts, etc). And then I wondered why nothing felt like anything, why I was so tired all the time, feeling restrained and secluded and brought down by my thoughts of self-diminishment. I was doing it all to myself.

I'm writing this now to support myself to remain stable and functioning no matter my surroundings. I might have to live through many winters, and I do not want that time to be lost into being stuck with myself. I might even face completely new circumstances, like staggering heat or humidity or drought, and even then I need to find the practical solutions for physically surviving AND the mental solutions for not throwing myself out of balance because I believe myself to have a plausible excuse to do so.

I'll continue from here with self-forgiveness and corrective statements.

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