Choices, Choices, Choices
Well, it's been a minute, hasn't it? In my every day life, I generally don't speak unless I have something to say. People often think I'm not approachable, but it's simply because I suck at small talk. "Nice weather we're having, ain't it?" "How 'bout them Panthers?" "Hey to the folks!" That's just not me. The same goes here. If I feel compelled to write about something, I write it, and the words flow effortlessly from my fingers. It can't be forced.
So here is what I feel compelled to write about today. I have been very open about my struggles with depression and anxiety, but I finally....FINALLY reached the point in my life where I realized I didn't have to be a victim of my circumstances anymore. The things that happened in my past didn't happen to me, they just happened. Shitty things happen in life, and sometimes you just have to let it be shitty for a while. Then you move on. I wasted a lot of years before I realized that every morning when I wake up I have a choice. I can choose to be happy. I can choose to own the day or to let the day own me. Maybe I'm not happy all day, but each day I try to find at least one thing that made me happy. It could be that I was able to help a patient at work, or even a coworker. It could be a surprise FaceTime visit with my granddaughters in the middle of a hectic day. It could be that I was able to get all my bills paid and not be in the hole (which doesn't happen often, let's be honest).
I even dropped 40 pounds (so far) and started redecorating my living room. I no longer needed the big, clunky, soft and cushy furniture that provided me with so much comfort when I needed it most. I have finally figured out who I am again, and that is monumental.
Over the last few months, though, I have felt myself slipping again. Slowly, one thing after another has seemed to stack itself up against my mental health like a child's building blocks. Frustrations at work, feeling like I'm letting people down, people letting ME down, a failed eye surgery, etc. We are all only human, after all. We can only take so much.
The last couple of weeks have been particularly challenging. The triggering events are insignificant. It's the effects that have worried me. Reverting to old habits (I ate four bowls of cereal in one sitting the other night) and letting negative, even dangerous thoughts make their way back into my brain has been discouraging and frightening.
The thing is, I have noticed that I seem to struggle more during the summer months. Bizarre, right? (Then again, I've never followed the crowd.) Other than the initial "event", which happened in November and was more situational, every major struggle I've had with my depression has either been in late June/early July, or late August. When I was fifteen years old, I had what I now know was my first panic attack. Picture a skinny little girl in a red and white striped pinafore that was standard for a candy striper in 1982. I was sitting alone waiting for my mother to pick me up, and as I looked out at the bright sunshine and listened to the sounds of a hot summer afternoon, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread wash over me. My heart raced and my chest felt tight, as if everything was closing in. I didn't understand it at the time, but it has stuck with me for 41 years.
Yesterday, the 1st of September, was an absolutely beautiful day, with a hint of autumn in the air, and I found myself in an uncharacteristically good mood. I felt more like my old self than I had in six months. Yesterday evening, as I scrolled through Facebook and TikTok videos of autumn and winter (if you remember from previous blogs, I have no life), I came across a term that has suddenly made the last 40+ years make total sense: Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Now trust me, I ain't makin' this up. Google it if you don't believe me. RSAD is a condition similar to the Seasonal Affective Disorder we all know and love. In the colder, darker months, many people develop depression, and the suicide rate, particularly around the holidays, goes up. For some of us, though, it's just the opposite. We thrive in the fall and winter: the early, brilliantly colored sunsets, the eerie, comforting silence of a really cold night, when all you can hear is the soothing sound of a train in the distance. I mean, honestly, who wouldn't want to cuddle up in front of a fire with a cup of hot cocoa and the one you love, watching the snow fall while he gently cradles you in his arms, kissing your forehead, whispering sweet nothings in yo........SORRY! SORRY. Sorry. I got sidetracked.
In all seriousness, though, a 2015 article in Psychology Today reports that reverse seasonal affective disorder affects less than one-tenth of SAD cases, and it tends to return every year about the same time. Now, I have the attention span of a stick bug, so I'll just tell you that, in a nutshell, reverse SAD has to do with an over-abundance of sunlight resulting in a disturbance in the individual's circadian rhythm caused by an imbalance in the body's levels of melatonin, the "immediate precursor" of which is serotonin, which we all know controls mood.
Well damn! It was like someone finally turned on the light (but not too bright a light, and not one that stays bright for an inordinate amount of time), and I feel like I finally understand the paradox that is my mental health. Strange thing to get excited about, but would you expect anything less from me?
So now, I feel like I can move forward with a better understanding of why I am the way I am, why I have always loved everything autumn: the changing leaves, the longer, colder nights, and why I prefer the sound of snow crunching under my boots to the feeling of sand between my toes. I can wake up each morning and make that choice to be happy, knowing that I'll just have to try a little harder between May and August.