Winter always affects me. I feel that I become a different person when the nights start to draw in; I’m more tired, irritable. Everything seems more difficult. I often feel like I’m on standby, just waiting for spring to arrive. Minor inconveniences and mistakes become amplified in my brain. Dinner burning slightly, somebody saying something totally innocuous which I then overthink. Small things. I can’t read because my mind is racing. I can let my mood overtake me, and it makes me feel worse because I let it. Particularly at the very start and at the end of winter I feel desperately that I want to hibernate.
I think that Seasonal Affective Disorder is probably a natural thing for humans. As we get less daylight, it makes sense that our energy levels drop. But contemporary life doesn’t really allow for this: our winter schedules look similar to our summer schedules, demands placed on us don’t disappear because everything’s cold and dark. We still have to go outside and pretend to be adults.
The 5th of February is Time to Talk day on social media. Organised by Time to Change, an organisation that helps fight mental health stigma through social and political ways, it is asking people to initiate conversations about mental health. On Thursday I’ll be posting a list of things I do to make myself feel better – things that can help me when I’ve had a slightly bad day to when I feel like I’m on the edge of falling into a depressive black hole. I don’t think it’s a surprise that (thankfully) the only time I suffered from full-blown depression was over winter.
I think it’s important that, as a society, we talk more about mental health. And not in clichéd ways. I have shared how I feel at certain times of the year and other people go through far worse. Very often when we talk and read about mental health, the person doing the talking has overcome their illness. There are many ‘I beat depression and so can you’ kinds of articles. Because it is hard to describe how you feel when your brain isn’t working properly. But I think that conversations should be actual conversations, and not lectures. Maybe as a society we need to listen more and talk less. Maybe we should see mental health as more of a continuum and not a well/unwell binary. Maybe we should allow for more complexity. I look forward to hearing a lot of different voices on Thursday.