I need a t-shirt that says “I went outdoors to treat my depression and all I got was this mild tan.” One of the efforts I started last year to combat my feelings of isolation and worsening depression was to make sure that I take daily walks. I didn’t really expect it to solve all my problems, but I did hope that it would have a more marked improvement on my mood and general mental health. The daily walks sure help me make sure I can get my average of six hours of sleep per night, but the emotional benefits of getting daily sunlight or daily fresh air have largely vanished at this point.
I remember the marked improvement I felt when starting this habit, how I felt like there was a night-and-day difference, but most of that benefit has faded in the face of the general grey malaise of my current tide of depression. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve been incredibly stressed lately about a lot of things, that there are a lot of external reasons for me to still feel depressed or to have less success with managing my depression and anxiety. I just miss feeling like there was a silver bullet solution. I have had to disabuse myself of that notion over the past year, that I could solve all my problems if I have this thing or did that other thing. That’s not how sleep issues work, that’s not how mental or physical health work, that’s not how recovery and management work. You gotta put in the work, make potentially sweeping changes, and learn to live a different way.
Preparing for this winter has been a study in mitigation strategies. I’ve carefully introduced new items to my home, messed with variables, collected data as precisely as I can, and examined the results. For instance, it turns out that my windows didn’t just radiate cold but let in a significant amount of air. If I had covered all of my windows at once, I wouldn’t have figured out which onces are the leakiest. If I had put down a bunch of rugs all at once, I wouldn’t have learned that one of the main issues with keeping my apartment warm is the exposed (to the outside) foundation on the northern portion of my apartment. If I hadn’t tried heating my apartment with various doors in a mixture of open and closed states, I wouldn’t have been able to locate the rooms that need the most attention or extra heat.
Managing my mental health follows a similar path. The exact steps tend to vary significantly, but it’s a lot of careful changes and alterations followed by observation and adjustment. Like daily walks. I tried various walks until I found the minimum distance and the maximum time (before it turns from an enjoyable routine into An Event in my mind). Or the amount of melatonin I can take that will encourage me to sleep but not leave me feeling like I’ve lost control of myself. Or the hour when I have to stop consuming caffeine if I want to give myself time to calm down for a while before bed. Or how much caffeine I can have before the increases to my anxiety outweight the self-medicating effects on my depression/general alertness. Or what time I need to be out of bed by if I want to avoid feeling like I’ve wasted the day (even if all I do is go lay on the couch under a cozy blanket and continue to read or browse Twitter/Imgur on my phone).
So right now, as the sun vanishes behind grey clouds and empty days, as the temperature falls and my desire to leave my places of comfort falls with it, I am being extra careful to make sure I’m monitoring my mental health. Especially with all of the holiday disruptions to my routines. I may not feel guilty for avoiding most of my biological family this year, for the first time ever, but that doesn’t really mean I’m free of biological family-based emotional impact. There’s still plenty of little emotional mines I can step on while navigating the season since all the marketing BS themed around the holidays implies that being away from your biological family is some kind of crime. Which, you know, is a pile of shit. Toxic people deserve nothing.
I guess if you’re feeling pressured to see family at the cost of your mental or physical well-being, you have my expression permission to tell them to A) Get Fucked, B) Get Rekt’d, C) stick a holiday ornament where the sun don’t shine, D) talk to you after they’re vaccinated, E) [Free Space], F) talk to you once they’ve addressed [insert unhealthy behavior here], G) talk to you when they’re willing to compromise, H) Any Combination Of The Above.
Hope that helped. If it gets real bad and you’re not sure you can do it yourself, tag me in. I will absolutely tell anyone to leave you the hell alone until you’re ready, in written word or verbally. I’ve got a decent mic for recording stuff (so many unfulfilled podcast ideas), so I will absolutely get savage in an appropriately “Seasons Greetings” way.