singing the winter blues.

Here we are in November… The weather gets a little cooler each day, forcing you to dig out your winter scarves and sweaters, and bundle before you leave the house; the trees are almost bare, shedding the last of their colourful fall foliage; the days are getting shorter – less daylight as we move through the motions of each day. I find the first few days like this are so refreshing – the cool air is crisp in my lungs as I breathe in, and it feels good to hide inside the house and wrap up under a blanket on the couch.

For a couple weeks it almost felt dream-like as I would pile on the layers, grab a hot beverage, and take a stroll with my pup. But now, each day when I wake up it takes longer for the sun to appear, and each day when I go home the sky is grey and becomes dark so quickly. My energy is depleted, small tasks seem absolutely monstrous, truthfully I can’t make it through the day without a nap, and my motivation has disappeared just as quickly as the warm weather.

I am singing the winter blues. It’s a song that plays around the same time each year, and though it is very unwelcomed, it lingers around for months. That song is titled Seasonal Affective Disorder.

While it’s estimated that 6% of the population is diagnosed with severe SAD, another 15% will experience symptoms, and let’s be realistic – a change in weather can affect just about anyone. Less sunlight will change the internal clock of the body, and also drop serotonin and melatonin levels which keep our mood and sleep patterns in check. You might experience a change in appetite, weight gain, over sleeping, low energy, anxiety, or even an increased intake of toxic substances such as alcohol or smoking.

If you are someone who sings the winter blues, there are steps you can take to be proactive and change the tune of the coming season.

1 – Brighten up your environment: Make your space a little brighter by opening up the curtains during the day, even if it’s a little overcast outside. If the grey weather really gets you down, you might consider investing in a Light Therapy Light Box. They mimic natural light, and you can definitely find one that won’t break the bank. You also might want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement during these next few months, but please consult with your doctor before doing so.

2 – Wake up with the sun: If you can begin to get up with the sun, you will have more daylight hours in your day. Sleeping in hours past sunrise will only bring you closer to sundown. Try setting your alarm for day break, or even shortly after to feel the all-day effects of natural light.

3 – Take care of your mind and body: Often times when we are tired, it is easy to skip the gym, opt for fast food, and maybe even sleep in. Exercise when you can, meditate, go to a yoga class, or just take part in an activity you enjoy, whether that is playing guitar, painting, or play time with a pet. Take the time to nurture yourself.

Most importantly, I encourage you to be open, honest, and talk about your feelings. It is okay to feel tired, it is okay to feel anxious, or agitated. It is all okay. Just talk about it. Holding it in will only make for a longer winter. Shout it from the rooftops, and perhaps the winter blues won’t be the song you’re singing anymore.

emotional resilience.

If you have been following along with my journey, you will know that I participated in a three-month program for Dialectical Behavioural Therapy at the local hospital. (If you’re new to the site, and would like to read about the program, you can click here to go to the blog post.)

I finished the program at the end of April, but wasn’t completely discharged from the hospital. There is one more course to take – one that the therapists do not allow patients to start until they have gained the coping skills and emotional balance from the dialectical behavioural therapy. The course is called Emotional Resilience, and I started it yesterday.

I have been terrified to start this course – it was explained to me as “delving into the complex trauma that affects your day-to-day life, and figuring out what triggers you, which causes anxiety and depressive episodes.” Yikes.

But I see it as a necessary evil: it will be hard, yes. I will cry, yes. I will drudge up memories that I have stored in the back of my brain in a locked box marked ‘do not open‘, yes. But it will help me to heal, fully.  So, I will attend this class for the next eight weeks, do the homework, and keep working on me.

A hand-out given in yesterdays class defined Complex Trauma: the kind of trauma experienced in early childhood when bad things happen repetitively. The experiences may not be life threatening, but they are repetitive, are associated with no real escape, and usually perpetrated by trusted care-givers. The trauma interferes with the normal bonding or attachment process that a child has to have in order to soothe oneself. Whatever the trauma may be, it is the individuals experience of the traumatic event(s) and the meaning it has for them that is the most important issue to understand.

Complex trauma creates a disorganized attachment (ie – Is it safe for me to be attached to this person?) The hand-out states, “when early attachments are dangerous, it creates an internal struggle between the yearning to attach and the drive to be safe. ‘Do I run toward, or do I run away?'”.  The teacher in class described it as a push-pull scenario, which resonated with me deeply. I have always had a yearning to have a relationship with my mother, but when I get close to her I always get hurt.

I want to leave you with these song lyrics that I heard a few weeks ago, and felt very attached to, as they reminded me of her.

Julia Michaels – Issues
“…you got hands like an ocean, push you out, pull you back in”

 

remember what you’re fighting for.

This week has been a blur, trying to get things organized for my Go Fund Me campaign. I hadn’t been writing, or even practicing my newly learned mental health coping skills, and I found myself having a busy mind, and not stopping to just breathe.

Then I saw in the news that musician, Chris Cornell, committed suicide, and I was reminded of why I am running this campaign in the first place. To raise awareness about mental health. To let people know that there are humans out there, suffering, and they need your help. They need understanding, and forgiveness, and unconditional love. To talk about depression, and suicide, and for me to tell my story, so you know you’re not alone.

I can host all the fundraising events in the world, and I can go to this Yoga Training ten times over, but what really matters here is spreading the word. Ending the stigma. Fighting for a life.

So I would like to share a journal entry from May 13, 2017 – I was having a rough week:

“I think there is a difference between wanting to kill yourself, and not wanting to be alive.

I do not actually want to cause my body harm. I don’t want to feel pain, or have my family find my lifeless body in some surprise gruesome fashion.

I wish that upon no one.

I do have moments, many moments, where I think it would be better, easier, if I was not alive. It would be less of a burden on my family and friends, both emotionally, and financially. 

But mostly, it would end my suffering. This ball of constant anxiety that lives in my throat, that I choke back each day, would be released into the universe and my energy could be used to create something beautiful, like a star.

The star could light the way for my loved ones, to move on, knowing I was at peace.

Please don’t think I am going to harm myself. I know I sound morbid, but it is just how I feel inside.

I feel so alone.

I am lonely.”

It’s important to know that there are ups and downs in every life, and I feel grateful that I was able to get through this rut. You are not alone. Always remember that.

 

*as a side note, I would like to extend a huge thank-you to all that are helping my in my journey – those who have donated money, items for me to sell, time, and much more, thank you.

one step forward.

Depression is a dance that I have not yet learned the steps to – a waltz of sorts, and I can’t quite get the footing down.

Each time I learn a new step, a pattern that I finally figure out, I am hurled backwards and I lose balance. One step forward, two steps back.

I feel like I show no grace as I stumble through this journey. I have no fancy footwork, no elegant twirl, no final dip. The performance is just me, wading through a pool of emotions, trying to figure out the next step. But I don’t feel much like dancing, and sometimes, I’d like to sit this one out.

Regardless of the coping skills I have learned over the past few months, I find myself asking, why?
Why does the universe think I am strong enough to bare this burden?
Why do I sit, surrounded by loved ones, yet feeling so alone?
Why I am so tired?
Why me?

I know there are no answers to my questions; I know that it is up to me to build my strength, and surpass the questions – create my own path.

So maybe I don’t have to be any good at dancing with depression (waltzing was never my strong suit anyway). Maybe I’ll change the music and freestyle my steps, so there are no backward movements. I’ll just keep moving forward.

One step at a time.

a place where it doesn’t hurt.

In early November of 2016, I stayed with my parents in Ontario for about five weeks. It was a tough time for me – my depression had reared its ugly head, and was a weight on my shoulders that wouldn’t let me up. I was drowning.

When I arrived in Ontario, I slept for days. My depression had led to strep throat, which became bronchitis, which turned into me sleeping for nearly twenty hours a day. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was crying.

I remember one Sunday in particular. I woke up and the sunshine was coming through my window, and I felt instantly energized. I wanted to be outside. It was even warm – winter hadn’t yet begun, and the air still smelled of that crisp autumn earthy smell. My parents asked me to go for a walk with them, and for the first time in nearly a week, I left the house.

We walked for maybe half an hour. At the beginning of the walk I was so full of hope – Could this be the start of my healing? Is it this easy? Did I just need to see the sun? 

But after about ten minutes, a dark cloud moved in, casting a shadow over only me; the sun still shone for the rest of the world.

You will never be happy. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life crying in bed?

I started to cry, walked ahead of my parents, and lead the way home. I walked into the backyard and sat on the patio stairs. Dad came and sat beside me and let me cry into his shoulder.

I will never forget the conversation we had next:

“Dad, I wish I had cancer. Because then I would have something wrong with me that people could see, and I wouldn’t feel so ashamed to feel this way.”

“I know sweetie, depression is hard.”

“Dad, I don’t want to live anymore. I just want to say good-bye to my family and friends, and just go some place where it doesn’t hurt.”

This was the first time I had said the words out loud – The first time I said them to another human being – They were no longer just scribbles in my journal. Someone else finally knew how I felt, and it was freeing.

 

I am not sharing this story to make you sad (even though I have shed a tear or two while sitting here writing it), but I am sharing it to show you how far I have come.

I know that it feels like it’s going to last forever, but it won’t. I promise. It’s not all good, but it’s not all bad either. Your dark cloud will go away, the weight will lift, and the tears will dry. I believe in you.

 

I love you, Dad.

 

she was free.

In addition to my writing here, I also keep a journal filled with thoughts, quotes, notes to myself, and sometimes, creative writing.

Today I would like to share with you an excerpt from a journal entry that I wrote five days after being admitted to the psychiatric ward.

 

February 15th, 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. What happens when we die? What comes next?
Perhaps it is a little something like this…

“She took her last earthly breath; for a split second as her lungs grew heavy and her last breath dissipated into the outside air,  she felt a burst of panic. She felt the deep sadness that was her life.

And then it all went away. 

Every twisted thought of causing harm to her own body had disappeared. The overwhelming emptiness she fought every day, was gone. Her pain, both physical and emotional, ceased to exist.

She was free.

The darkness turned into a vast infinite space. The universe enveloped her, cradled her like a baby, and presented to her gleaming galaxies and uncharted nebulae. She cupped her hands and held a star, and felt its’ warmth coursing through her veins. 

She did not feel sadness for leaving her loved ones behind, for she knew they would meet again.

But now it was her time. Her time to rejoice in her new life – for her soul was at peace, and her smile would never fade.”

 

One thing that I deeply struggle with as I fight my battle with mental illness, is the thought of suicide. When is it too much to handle? When will I want to bow down, wave my white flag and surrender? What am I even fighting for?

I have to wake up every morning, and actively choose life.

And I do. I did yesterday, and I did today, and hopefully I will again tomorrow, and the day after that. But it is never easy.

If you have a loved one struggling with mental illness, please take the time today, and every day, to tell them how much you love them, so that they too, may continue to choose life.

when the night comes.

Sometimes, when I go to sleep at night, I silently tell each of my loved ones how deeply I care for them, and then I apologize, as I wish with all my strength that I won’t wake up in the morning.

I have spent countless hours over this past month, staring at this screen. Typing – deleting – typing – deleting – typing – smashing the laptop screen shut. I felt pressure – pressure to have the perfect first post. It is, after all, my first blog, and I want to catch the readers’ attention. I want to hook you all in, so you will subscribe and follow me and I can touch the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands.

No.

That is a pressure that I created in my head – no one put that pressure on me, but myself. The purpose of starting this blog is not to gain followers. The purpose of this blog is to have an outlet for my brain. An outlet for the thoughts that creep into my head when I’m falling asleep at night, or walking, or at a party, or at yoga. A place to write down my trials and tribulations, but also my strengths, and happy moments. Or maybe post an article that has helped me through a tough moment, or perhaps a piece of advice from a friend that I hold dear to my heart.

I invite you to come along on my journey. Adventure with me as I challenge myself to live a better life. I have much to tell you about my past, and if you’ll listen, I will share.

Shan

As a side,  I would like to thank my friend Jillian, for sometimes knowing me better than I know myself. She suggested an amazing song, part of which ultimately became the title of my blog.

Please have a listen to When the Night Comes by the talented Dan Auerbach