Content warning: descriptions of depression symptoms, including references to suicidal ideation. If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you continue reading and reach content which you find distressing, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.
Some things are constant, especially those symptoms which are more tangential to the depression itself: the nightmares, certain anxieties, and my susceptibility to stress triggers. Some things will always bring down my mood and make my depression flare up: drinking alcohol, altering my sleep habits, neglecting to eat regularly. There’s a certain rhythm to my depression overall, though; there’s a pattern to when different symptoms are most likely to occur. It doesn’t come and go seasonally (it’s MDD, not SAD) but it does change with the seasons.
I always expect summer to be easier. I tell myself every year that the sun and the warmth will make me feel better. It’ll be easier to get out, and I’ll be more active, and it’ll be fun, and I won’t feel so depressed if I’m out doing things, right? It’s a lie and I know it, but it’s a lie I feed myself every year, and the denial rises up around me like steam as the summer gets hotter and more humid. The season carries with it the anniversaries of traumas, and as I approach them I find myself increasingly dissociated, and with increasing frequency, making the denial possible. I stop attributing things I know are symptoms to the depression, and start ignoring them – and it’s hard to practice self care when you’ve convinced you don’t need it. I become determined to feel something – anything – and it usually comes at the cost of my health. I stay up late, because it’s summer, even though I know my mood crashes if I don’t regulate my sleep habits. I drink, because it’s summer and we’re at a party, even though I know alcohol makes my depression flare up. I do any number of things I’m likely to regret, because I’m so desperate to feel, even though I know the regret will cost me more than I can possibly gain in feel.
By the end of summer, I’m a sleep-deprived mess made up of questionable substances, poor nutrition, bad decisions and raw recklessness. I tell myself that summer wasn’t as great as I was hoping, but it’s okay; I’ll get back on track and this year will be better and I won’t make the same mistakes next summer. I realize months have gone by without my noticing so I get to work grounding myself, and as I get there I become aware of just how low my mood has really been. My physical health improves but I don’t really feel any better. If anything I actually feel how badly I felt all along; there’s a relief that I can feel at all, but at same time I feel worse. As the temperatures drop and winter creeps closer, dread because to rise up from somewhere inside that pit of feelings that I’d been avoiding. I hate winter – I hate the cold, I hate snow, I hate icy roads and frosted-over windows and frozen ground and the sounds of snow plows and cracking trees – and knowing that it’s approaching weakens my determination to fight off the depression I’d just finally stopped denying.
Then winter comes, and I stop fighting all together. I stop caring at all. The denial and desperation freeze over like the lakes and rivers around me, and all that’s left is numbness. I know the terrible feelings are still there, a little ways below the surface, but I don’t care. I can’t feel them. I can’t feel anything. The depression is always there, but winter is when I’m most prone to giving in to it. I sleep constantly, eat rarely, and have more of a struggle doing basic things like showering and laundry and dishes. I’m always depressed, but in the winter I look depressed, and in the winter I don’t care that I’m depressed. I’m frozen in place – cold, but calm. The numbness gets me through the holiday season; I want to enjoy the holidays, but being presentable is exhausting and if I’m not presentable I’m constantly reminded that I’m surrounded by people who try to love me but don’t know how to do it unconditionally. At least I don’t really feel it, no matter how it plays out.
Winter is when I look the worst, but the beginning of spring is really when my depression is really the most dangerous. When spring comes and I start thawing, feelings start bubbling up to the surface and create chaos. I start having thoughts again – most of them dark and shame filled. I realize I’ve just spent the last several months doing nothing, and the thoughts creep in. “You’re a waste of resources, a burden on the people you love and the world around you,” my depression whispers. “Your house is disgusting and you can’t even shower regularly, how do you expect to do anything with your life?” it grumbles. “It is never going to get better” becomes my depression’s catch phrase of choice, echoing in my head until I believe it – and once I start believing it, the thoughts of suicide take over. They continue until the temperature is staying steadily above freezing and the birds are back, and then they give way to strange, vaguely paranoid ideas. I think I’m being spied on, controlled, lied to. I start believing that everyone I interact with must despise me as much as I despise myself. I imagine leaving my entire life behind and starting from scratch, as if abandoning my life would somehow erase my past. The franticness of my thoughts rises with the temperatures until summer hits, when I begin dissociating from my wild thoughts and become preoccupied chasing anything that might break up the numbness.
This time of year, where fall is beginning to fade and winter is getting close, is weird for me. I still experiencing my fall bout of low mood and emotional distress, but my rapidly vanishing energy and the way household tasks are piling up tells me the numbness will be coming on soon. I’m trying to pep talk myself into doing something – anything – in the hopes that I’ll be able to build up enough momentum to get a few more things done and taken care of before winter really gets here, but it’s not really working. I’m close enough to my winter phase to lack motivation, but still enough in my fall phase to hate myself for it. I’m dreading the cold and the increasing snowfall, but in a way I’m looking forward to the numbness. Right now I’m feeling hopeless, and in many ways being hopeless is a lot more painful and more dangerous than being numb.