February 2, 2023

Pinoy Trekker

Pinoy Trekker – We go anywhere

The 3 Ms That Help Me Cope With Seasonal Depression

“The word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it weren’t balanced with sadness.” ~Carl Jung

My two year old son looked at me with his big, blue, beautiful eyes.

He wanted me to play. I picked up a toy car and rolled it across the wooden living room floor we were both sitting on, doing an enthusiastic VROOM. He smiled. He appreciated my efforts on sound effects.

The streetlights on the street outside our living room window were already glowing warmly, even though it was only 4:30 p.m. and the sky was black.

I miss the summer evenings, I sighed to myself.

I stared out into the darkness for a moment before Henry demanded my attention and I looked down again and started playing cars again. I smiled at him and did my best to look happy. To make him feel like I enjoyed playing cars with him.

The truth is that I didn’t enjoy playing with him.

I hadn’t felt much pleasure in anything at this point for a few weeks.

I went through the movements. Take care of my family and work commitments as best I can. All the time I longed to be back in bed so I could sleep. I just never felt completely rested when I woke up. I was immediately greeted by the same familiar feelings of fog, emptiness, and numbness.

Every morning when I got dressed it felt like I was dressing in armor. Like the knights in the movies I saw as a boy. Heavy metal armor that made the simplest movements, like getting out of bed in the morning and playing car games with my son, feel like a fight that required all the strength I could muster.

I’ve suffered from seasonal depression, a type of depression, all my adult life, but the winter of 2021 was the worst episode yet.

I attribute it to a combination of sleep deprivation as a parent of a toddler (I now understand why sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture), ongoing physical and mental challenges with long COVID, and uncertainty about whether I would see family over the Christmas period due to lockdown restrictions.

As the darker days descend, I brace myself for another possible fight.

I know I don’t have to face this struggle alone, so I will ask my friends and family for support and work with a therapist who has previously helped me process my experiences.

There were three key areas that helped me get through the depressive episode last year. Here they are, the 3 Ms.

mindfulness

Writer Rolf Dobelli proposes that we are two selves – the remembering self and the experiencing self.

Our remembering self is our story – based on our past, we believe who we are. My remembering self tells me I’m English, love a double espresso, and have a history of anxiety and depression.

My self-experience is different. My experiencing self is the me that is here right now.

Experience myself writing.

I’m aware of the tapping sound my fingers make when they dance across the keyboard while typing.

I’m aware that my heart is beating a little faster than usual, probably because of the chocolate I downed a few minutes ago.

I am aware that I feel vulnerable while writing about seasonal depression.

Our experiencing self exists moment to moment, while the remembering self exists only in the past, through thought.

This idea was helpful to me during my 2021 depressive episode because it reminded me that I am more than a depressed person (which would be a story of my remembering self); I am a person who feels a lot of sadness, as well as many other feelings and emotions, some comfortable, some uncomfortable.

Back then, I made time every day to practice mindfulness meditation. Sit for five minutes and just observe how I’m feeling, which is important, without judgement.

Noticing where my mind is focused, as well as creating awareness of my emotional state and breathing.

I would cultivate an attitude of compassion towards myself, avoid firing the second dart taught in Buddhism, and not feel bad about feeling bad.

I would just accept how I’m feeling in the moment and allow myself to feel sad, helpless and hopeless without judgement, knowing my feelings are always fleeting.

meaning

The second M that helped me was meaning.

We are told that the purpose of life is to be happy. But there will be times when we just won’t feel happy. This doesn’t have to mean that our lives become meaningless; Instead, in our moments of unhappiness, it’s best to focus on what gives meaning to our lives.

While I don’t always enjoy playing cars with my son, raising him and spending time with him and his mom gives my life tremendous meaning.

Some mornings last winter I didn’t feel like getting up, and if I had lived alone I probably would have stayed in bed. But knowing that my son and wife depended on me, I felt compelled to step up and be the best father and husband that could be given to me in my struggles.

I showed compassion for myself by not believing any thought that said I had to be perfect. Rather than being ashamed of how I felt, which would cause me to withdraw, choosing self-compassion helped me address my various responsibilities while also being realistic and not overly committing.

It meant honest communication and being okay with doing less than I would normally do. I created a top ten action list by asking myself what are the top actions to take today to take care of myself and address my responsibilities?

I also made a list of all the people, places, and activities that give meaning to my life and breathe life into my soul, and wanted to devote time to them each day. Having a clear and achievable focus was helpful, and as the depression slowly subsided I was able to return to my normal level of action.

moments of joy

Like the street lamp I saw glowing warmly from my living room window, there were moments during the depressive episode that pierced the surrounding darkness.

The sound of my son laughing as he giggled hysterically.

Feeling the peace and quiet of the forest on my walk.

Be reunited with friends after lockdown and chat over coffee.

The wisest words I have ever heard are these: Look for the good in your life and you will see the good in your life.

This isn’t a question of positive thinking – it’s a question of recognition.

Even on the days when my spirits were at their lowest, there were a handful of joyful moments that temporarily shook me out of my depression and woke me to the truth that even on the darkest of nights, lights shine for us.

These lights, the people and events that bring joy into our lives, are small beacons of hope, reasons to be thankful. And if we bask in its warmth for a moment, we can drag ourselves along in the darkness until hopefully a day comes when it lifts and the sun rises again.

At the end of each day last winter, I took a minute to write down all the happy moments and bask in their warmth again as I reviewed them in my mind.

The most challenging aspect of depression is how it tries to convince us that not only is everything bad, but that everything will always be bad.

Thankfully, by focusing on mindfulness, purpose, and moments of joy, I was once again able to see that this is not true.

About Will Aylward

Will helps people all over the world feel more confident, calmer and fulfilled without them having to fake it. He is the author of Becoming Unstuck: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Taking Control of Your Life. Learn more at willaylward.com

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