Friday, 22 September 2017

Mental Health & The Change In Seasons

Today is officially the first day of Autumn, the first day of my favourite season. Despite not having much of a penchant for pumpkin spiced lattes or being that huge of a fan of Hallowe'en or particularly suiting the colour mustard, Autumn is undeniably my favourite season. I find it peaceful and effortless. But every time as we approach my favourite time of the year, I feel a slight sense of dread come over me for what will inevitably follow. See, I'm one of those people who's mental health is affected, often on quite a large scale, by the change in seasons and what follows Autumn is sure to bring my depression to it's knees.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is something I know a lot of people like to joke about. It's one of those mental health conditions that people think they don't know anyone who is affected by it. It's the lighthearted punchline, the condition we all claim to have when we're in need a holiday or feel their sun tans fading. It's thought to be rare and as a result, we have such a set idea about, largely due to how it's portrayed in the media, that we find it impossible to envision people actually living with it.  I've never spoken to a doctor or any health professional about the prospect that I could have SAD, I don't think I have it, but I do know that how my moods change and how my depression and anxiety manifest themselves in more frequently and more intensely during different seasons. If you don't experience this personally or know someone who does, it might sound bizarre but it's not uncommon. I ran a Twitter poll as research for this post, asking my followers if the change in seasons affects their mental health and 70% of people answered yes.

I'm at my most steady, plodding along through life with the least ups and downs during Autumn and Spring and usually find myself struggling the most in Winter and Summer. Perhaps it's the calm nature of the transitional seasons that keep me floating by and the heightened pressures of Summer and Winter that cause me to feel less in control. For me, it's nothing to do with the weather or the number of hours of day light, which is another reason why it's so hard to talk about seasonal factors that affect mental health. Even if it's glorious sunshine outside, the fog in my mind and the thunder storm in my brain will rage on regardless. For me, it's the social expectations of each season. Summer and Winter are the seasons that we are all meant to love. The seasons we are supposed to schedule our whole year around and build up to. From childhood, we associate Summer with long days of playing outside, family day trips, holidays, beaches, barbuques, no school, relaxation and we associate Winter with Christmas, indulgence, time spent with family and friends, gifts, food, snow and once again, no school. But as adults, these expectations are never quite met, despite the same expectations to love every second of them being placed upon us.

I fall victim to what each season expects of me and when I can't meet these impossibly high expectations, my mental health and moods take a turn for the worst and I struggle to 'keep up'. I've never had the 'perfect Summer body' nor am I yet entirely comfortable enough to accept that I don't want or need it. I haven't been on a beach holiday since I was 17. I'm now approaching 27. I've enjoyed a cold fruit cider in a bustling beer garden with friends on a hazy Summer's evening far less often that I'm lead to believe everyone else is, I don't particularly suit or like florals or pastels all that much, I can take or leave barbeque food and I would even go as far as to say that I don't even really like hot weather very much. Summer to me is that fuckboy you always give one more chance to, who promises they've changed, who you keep expecting better of, who you want to be the man of your dreams but never quite delivers. Or to use a more accurate metaphor for me personally, that conventionally attractive man I'm told, as a woman, I'm supposed to fancy, but who I never quite get the appeal with, who I wonder if I'm seeing the same thing everyone else is seeing. Summer to me, is Channing Tatum, quite frankly. Or Tom Hardy. I don't quite get it but I still feel like I should and it's that pressure and that fear of missing out and fear of not living up to the expectations that the season places on us all that affects my mental health. 

Then there's Winter. Or as it's less commonly referred to as but what it's pretty much became, Christmas. Christmas is no longer a day you see, it's 3 months. Sometimes 4. I love Christmas. I love December 25th. I don't love the weeks and months surrounding it. It's a lot of the same pressures and expectations of Winter that affect my mental health too and the subsequent inability to live up to them. I feel myself at this time of year slowly filling with waves of dread that once again, I'll become overwhelmed by the season and that it'll reek havoc with my mental health. I find that weight that makes it impossible to get out of bed in the morning all the heavier, that band around my lungs as I try to regulate my breathing and calm myself down all the tighter and the thoughts in my head all the foggier. I struggle to immerse myself in the full spirit of Summer and Winter, so often hide away, which in turn leaves me feeling even worse and less a part of it all. Nothing highlights the fact that I am very much an introverted person more than my inability to meet the social expectations that each season places upon us all.

I find the calm of Autumn and Spring easiest to deal with. There's fewer expectations and rules about how I should feel about the season. My mental health is greatly affected by the season and I find it all a little easier to regulate and deal with during the frankly less exciting seasons, the quiet seasons, the peaceful seasons. This year though, I'm finding comfort in the fact that I've discovered this, as its something fairly new to me, and that I now know that a lot of other people observe changes in their mental health along with changes in the seasons. For now though, I'm going to try and enjoy my favourite season for the here and now, build as solid a foundation as I can with my new revelation ahead of the season that shakes up my brain the most and try and develop some ways to regulate the impact.  

Do you find the change in seasons affects your moods or your mental health? How do you deal with it?

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