In the third installment of her new monthly column the writer and author Beth McColl discusses Seasonal Affective Disorder, and how to get ahead of it (because Winter Is Coming). Beth is the author of ‘How to Come Alive Again‘ which is a relatable and honest practical guide for anyone who has a mental illness. She’s also a v funny gal on Twitter.
I started watching Game of Thrones recently. I was feeling sad about the end of summer and wanted to escape from this world into another world, one with more shagging and sword fights (two activities that the British government have recently and rudely made illegal). If you’ve not seen the show: it’s mostly dragons, incest, cutting remarks, and comments about the weather. So many comments about the weather, in fact, that I started to get a bit fed up. ‘Winter is coming’ an old crone will say to a raven. ‘Yes, winter is coming’ the raven will agree. It seemed a redundant observation, a waste of screen time that could otherwise be spent on bonking and beheadings. Luckily several men on Twitter were on hand to explain: in Westeros (Game of Thrones land) the seasons are a bit screwy, and a single winter can easily last for years and years without anyone batting an eye or saying ‘this is balls, let’s Air BnB a beach apartment in the Costa Del Sol’.
I really do feel for them in Westeros, and while I’m grateful that we’re not facing down a decade-long winter here, I am still dreading the many, many weeks of 4PM sunsets, grey skies, and icy sideways rain. Like a lot of people, I find that my mood worsens in colder and darker weather. My regular depression dresses itself up in a thick, heavy coat and sits directly on my chest until spring when I can breathe again. This pattern of depression can indicate Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder that usually presents in winter. Sufferers may want to sleep more, feeling lethargic or numb while they’re awake. They may find themselves disinterested in things they’d usually love. They may experience increases in appetite and irritability, e.g. wanting to eat more complex carbohydrates and to tell people to f*ck off at the supermarket.
If you’re also this way inclined, autumn can be a smart time to plan for what’s coming. In the last few weeks I’ve screwed warm, reassuring yellow bulbs into all of my bedroom lamps. I’ve put my weighted blanket on the end of my bed to help improve sleep. I’ve started running more in an attempt to try and squeeze every single drop of possible dopamine out of my stubborn grapefruit brain. I have weekly calls with a therapist and I’ve let friends and family members know what’s coming. None of this will stop the depression totally in its tracks, of course, but it may soften the overall impact. I’m learning to be okay with the fact that sometimes that’s all we can do.
Winter is coming and it’s going to be really, really hard on a lot of us. I wish I could mince my words, but all my mince has gone. It’s in the pies that I’m going to eat by myself, in the bath, with a pint of mulled wine. Even people who usually can’t wait for this time of year are feeling a little less thrilled. Without the guarantee of festive parties, Prosecco, massive roast dinners, fireworks, huddling together around a bonfire, and snogging your supervisor after 7 egg nogs at the Christmas do, what exactly is there to look forward to? Sunlight being a distant memory? The acrid smell of windscreen de-icer at 7 in the morning? Thick wool tights that sag at your minge as though they, too, cannot bear to hold themselves up any longer? Having to stick nan in the shed during Christmas dinner because she pulled the short straw and UNFORTUNATELY JACKIE OUR BUBBLE IS FULL? Bleak.
2020 has been a year of uncertainty and that uncertainty is following us into its final season. But all is not lost. We can’t predict the future, but we can keep busy and commit to being and doing good this winter. We can find out what our local food banks are short of and we can donate it while encouraging family and friends to do the same. We can write twice as many cards as usual, and send them to neighbours, distant relatives, friends we haven’t spoken to in a while. We can look for where lack and loneliness live and we can put our light and our money and our time there. We can take care of ourselves, too, just by understanding that some days we will get up and face the dark morning with magnanimity and bravery, and some days we simply will not. Some days we will climb back into bed at 1:45PM with an electric blanket and our Sean Bean body pillow and we will stay there until the next morning. On all days, good and hard, bad and bright, we will be worthy and wonderful and welcome here. Of that I am certain.