Trying to Be Hopeful

The last few weeks have been kind of rough. My depression has come back, as it always does once the weather gets cold and starts turning to winter. The thing to remember about depression and all mental illness is that there isn’t always a reason. Sometimes there is no former trauma, there are no triggers, it just happens. I’ve been trying to look for the good and see hope, though. I wrote a couple of poems about it. They may seem a little forced, but sometimes that’s what we’ve got to do. We have to force ourselves to look for hope in the midst of darkness and despair.

October Moon
by Tacy Gibbons

October moon spreads its light softly
over fallen leaves and fallen tears.
Just enough for some small hope,
a little healing.

Understanding.

Change, metamorphosis can be painful.
Dying leaves crumble beneath heavy footsteps.
Yet even in the dead of night
the jeweled moon shines.

Trees on the mountain, blazing red, orange, yellow, will fall,
replaced by new, vibrant greens in spring.
Growth. Renewal.
Ever stretching toward the sky.

In November
by Tacy Gibbons

Tunnel vision is easy
when the sun rises late
and sets too early
behind craggily-toothed mountains.
SADness feels like it will last forever
in the long, cold, dark winter.

I find some small comfort
in black-capped chickadees perched on frosty trees,
continuing to sing
with breath curling out before them—
a twirling, lilting song of hope
in the freezing November morn.
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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD? According to the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651) SAD “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons . . .” It generally starts and ends at the same times every year and, more often than not, is during winter months. However, it is more than just not liking winter.

A few weeks ago my daughter told me she had been feeling depressed lately. Thanks to medication and an awesome therapist her depression went away and her anxiety has been more manageable lately. However, I had also noticed that her depression seemed to be back, perhaps not as bad as before, but she definitely seemed more down than usual. I told her she probably had Seasonal Affective Disorder just like I do. “But I don’t dislike winter,” she said. “I actually like the snow, and the cold isn’t that bad.” I explained to her that SAD doesn’t mean you don’t like the snow or cold. It is much more than that. It is an actual disorder. The Mayo Clinic lists possible causes as:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

You may not be affected by the cold. You may love watching the snow, playing in it, going skiing, etc. That doesn’t change the lack of sunlight or other risk factors for getting SAD.

The Mayo Clinic states, “Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the ‘winter blues’ or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own.” SAD causes depression and has other symptoms, such as low energy, sleeping too much or having difficulty sleeping at all, feeling tired all the time, losing interest in things, appetite changes, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and thoughts of suicide. For me, it is when all my demons come back. I can be totally fine, feeling great, managing my anxiety and the general challenges of life, and as soon as my SAD kicks in (usually around the end of November/beginning of December) the depression hits. I have many of those symptoms I just listed, and I start feeling horrible about myself. I start doubting all the good and believing in the false.

SAD is real and not something that should be brushed away or ignored. Luckily, there are things that can help. Light therapy is a great way to help counter the effects of SAD. I go to a spa that has red light beds and lamps. You can also buy them to have in your own home. Taking extra Vitamin D can also be helpful. Therapy and medication are also always things to consider.

I wanted to write this so people know SAD is more than not liking winter. It is a serious disorder that can be incredibly challenging to live with. But like any disorder or form of mental illness there are always things that can help and give hope.

Beautiful Lessons Learned

My amazing husband made me this little book:

He sent messages through Facebook asking my friends to write something about me. I was a crying, blubbering mess most of the time I read through it, though there were plenty of smiles and laughs, too. I remembered and learned several things from this.

The first thing I was reminded of was what an amazing, wonderful husband I have who loves and cares about me so much. I was also reminded of how blessed I am to have so many good people around me.

Now, some things I learned. First, we really do make a difference in each other’s lives, even when we can’t see it. People brought up specific examples of things I had said or done that didn’t seem big to me. They were things I did or said simply because that’s me. They were things that I figured anyone would have done. Which leads me to something else I learned—little things, simple things, make a difference. Even if we do or say something that seems small or ordinary to us, even if it’s something anyone would do, if still means something or makes a difference in someone’s life. That means we matter. We all matter because we all make a difference.

Another thing I am in the processing of learning or trying to tell myself is to listen to the positive instead of believing the negative. My husband said he did this because he wanted me to see that there are so many people who love and value me—that there are far more people who think I’m of worth than have told me or made me feel I’m not. A friend also commented on my last blog post that something she does is try to remind herself that her brain is lying to her. That’s what depression is. I have written about and shared this too. Sometimes it is so hard to remember, especially when people have told me to my face what a horrible person I am. But it’s true—there are more people who have said good than bad, and that’s what I need to focus on. That’s what I need to believe. That’s what we all need to believe.

I also learned, from this, how important it is to let people know we appreciate them. Whether we suffer from depression or not, we all get down at times and are hard on ourselves. We all need encouragement and to know we are of worth. I want to be better at letting people know how grateful I am for them and that they have made a difference to me. I also want to be better at seeing the beauty around me—because there is beauty everywhere. In nature and in people. In circumstance and experience. It’s hard to see, sometimes, for those of us with mental illness. It is especially hard for me to see in the winter when my SAD threatens to crush me. But I’m going to try.

I don’t know that all the people who responded to my husband and sent kind and inspiring words will read this. But for those who do, thank you. Thank you, and I love you, and I’m so incredibly grateful for the love and inspiration you have given me. You’ve helped remind me of my worth. I hope you know you are of worth and value too.

Stuck

I feel stuck. This has been a really bad winter for me so far, and it’s not even halfway done. I have this urge to hibernate—to hide away from everything because everything is just so hard. I keep trying—trying to be a good mom and stepmom, a good wife, a good coworker. I keep trying to keep my house clean. I keep trying to write. I start. I write a few sentences, then I stop and can’t write anymore. I keep trying to find motivation. But I have none. I just feel stuck. Even when I do put forth that effort it exhausts me, so I don’t even know if I’ve done the right thing or not.

I just feel stuck. And tired. And wishing I could hibernate until spring.

SAD Again

Winter is in full swing and so is my seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. The cold, cloudy, dark days and nights have really gotten to me. Other stress is also weighing me down. I’ve been trying my hardest to stay out of the clutches of depression, but winter is an especially hard time for me. One thing that helps are the birds.

I live close to a Waterfowl Management Area, home to more than just waterfowl. It is a stop for migratory birds, and winter and spring is filled with them. I love going out there to watch them and take pictures of them. It doesn’t cure my SAD, but it at least gives me a little bit of joy in an otherwise bleak and dreary time.

What hobbies or things do you do to help yourself with your mental illness? I believe we all have something we can use or lean on to at least help a little.

Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier

You Don’t Always Have to Be Happy

I wanted to share this wonderful article about why it’s okay to allow yourself to feel sadness; about why it’s okay to not always be happy. https://www.ldsliving.com/Jesus-Wept-and-So-Can-I/s/85891?fbclid=IwAR1NaOp-0wkUEwnbIXQsFEYb5WIV_LIq2-2oGjvLFW7L9oBr-igwNBjKZIY

I have long expressed how it’s okay to allow yourself to feel. There is nothing wrong with feeling sad, depressed, lonely, frustrated and other emotions people associate as “negative” emotions. Emotions are real, no matter what they are. Trying to suppress those things usually causes more problems than just feeling them, letting them go through you. It’s about what you do after. It’s about how you choose to react once you have felt them. Do you continue to dwell on them and let them rule your life or do you find ways to deal with them or get help for them? But to feel them is okay. Beyond it being normal–human–it allows us to become compassionate and understanding. I believe it allows us to become more like our Savior.

Mostly Doing Well

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I had a panic attack today. First one I’ve had in a long, long time. I’ve been doing really well. I’ve barely been affected by SAD this winter. It has been amazing! But I had surgery a week ago. My boyfriend has been here, taking care of me. He goes home tomorrow, and I was feeling so overwhelmed with all the things I need to do and wondering how I was going to do them without his help, as I continue to recover. (He lives over 1600 miles away.) At first I was just crying, but then it turned into a full-fledged panic attack where I was hyperventilating and getting light-headed. My boyfriend heard and came rushing in. He pulled me into him and held me, then started breathing deeply, for me to hear. I tried to match my breathing with his, and eventually calmed down.

Living or being in a relationship with someone who has mental illness can be hard. I know it hasn’t always been easy for my boyfriend, but I’m so grateful to have someone who has let—and even encouraged—me to be open about it. I’m grateful for someone who has been willing to be patient and learn and help. I don’t believe mental illness should be used as an excuse. It can make certain things much harder to do, but I never think it should be used as an excuse, and no one should be expected to allow themselves to be abused or remain in a toxic relationship with someone who has mental illness who isn’t willing to do anything about it. But I do wish, still, that there was more discussion on it, more openness and more willingness to be patient, to learn and to help—on all sides. I still continue to be hopeful that one day there will be.

Depression

Anxiety is usually what gets me these days. It is the demon I live with on a daily basis. Depression does rear its ugly head in the winter as SAD takes effect, and every once in awhile I’ll get down for a little while, but for the most part I don’t get depressed a whole lot. Until recently, anyway.

The last couple of weeks depression has attacked me. I have been painfully stumbling through life in that dark place, and I don’t know why. That’s the thing about mental illness—there doesn’t have to be a reason. It just is. It just happens. And I hate it! I hate feeling this way. I don’t want to feel like I’m worthless. I don’t want to feel like I’m inadequate. I don’t want to feel like I’m not enough. I don’t want to feel like I’m a terrible person. I try. I try hard to do what I’m supposed to. I try to feel good. I try to feel happy. But I don’t. And I wish there was a reason. If there was a reason I could fix it, or at least have a starting point to work with. But there’s no starting point. And there’s no ending point. It’s just a circle that sometimes, luckily, is in the light, and sometimes, inexplicably, rolls on in utter darkness.

Just a Poem

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Maybe

Winter.
SAD.
Cold, wet, dark.
Siren song of depression
lulling me to sleep,
enticing me deeper into blackness.

I need to prop my eyes open
like Odysseus.

But maybe I don’t want to see
the endless ocean,
relying on nothing but hope
to get me home.
Maybe I want to close my eyes.

Let the dark overtake me.

-Tacy Stine

Real Identity Theft

A few days ago I was looking through an old journal and came across an entry from about a month after my daughter was born.

“Who I am lies dormant in words that are packed away beneath stacks of notebooks. I am forgotten, unknown poems, unable to bring them back to life inside of me. If anyone should ask where I am, this is where I’d tell them to look.”

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I had forgotten just how much postpartum depression steals your identity from you. It is the truest form of real, actual identity theft. Some women get it back after a month, a few months, a year. I didn’t begin to start feeling like myself again for three years. And even then, there were parts of my self that never came back. I lost so much.

After reading this journal entry, remembering, pondering, I realized what a good place I’m in right now. I know who I am again. I have a sense of self, and I can be that self. And I like who I am. I feel strong, confident, independent, though able to admit when I need help and ask for it, and I’m happy. Life isn’t without its struggles, and sometimes I get down, feel disappointed, am sad. But I am still me, and that is one of the biggest reasons I’m able to get through those hard times without letting them consume me.