I’ve always faced deep depression in the fall months, but now I’m wondering, how will this unprecedented year affect the darker of my bipolar mood episodes?
It’s about that time of the year again. When the leaves change colors, creating beautiful landscapes. When the heat of the summer is replaced by cool, crisp evenings. When daylight shortens and it gets darker faster.
When school is back in session and Friday nights are filled with local football games. When local carnivals and fairs come to town and take us back to our most precious childhood memories.
But, for me, it’s also when I’m the most prone to the dark grasps of my bipolar depression.
My Love–Hate Relationship with Autumn
I’ve talked about this plenty of times here and elsewhere: I love the fall season, but I hate it at the same time. I love the overall feel of it but dread the potential slowdowns that cause me to become too preoccupied with everything else around me. I remember the good from the past, but I become so nostalgic that I wish my memories and those days would come back. It saddens me.
I also remember some of my bad moments, which also sadden me.
The shorter days make me more feel tired and drain me … physically and mentally.
Overcome by Nostalgia, then Guilt, then Depression
When I get to this point, it makes me question everything about my life. In the past, some have thought I’m just feeling sorry for myself, and in come the comparisons to everyone else who is worse off than me—which is one of the easiest ways to offend me, get cussed out, and get blocked. These people don’t even begin to understand what I’m feeling or going through. Nor do they try.
To be honest, sometimes even I don’t understand why I get this way this time of year. I sometimes feel as if it’s some kind of curse, even though I know that my depression and bipolar disorder aren’t my fault. Sometimes I blame myself and feel ungrateful, which feeds directly into the depression itself. Before I know it, I find myself on a dark Monday evening around 6 p.m., feeling as if I’m nothing more than a deadweight.
In a Trying Year, How Will I Face This Annual Foe?
This year is a bigger challenge, because of everything that’s going on. This isn’t a typical year, what with a global health crisis that impacts nearly every aspect of our lives—including our mental health, some more than others.
As for those events and celebrations that fall usually brings … well, we all know that this year has pretty much stolen or completely changed them. It’s a necessary change that we have to accept and embrace, and—honestly—I don’t want to.
Struggling to Accept Changes, But Staying Proactive
Fortunately, at the time of this writing, I haven’t started feeling the combined effects of 2020 and my seasonal depression … yet. But I’m fearful of what will happen in the coming months, since this year is much different for me, on a personal level, too, than in other years. For example, I have a milestone birthday coming up at the beginning of 2021; and, while that seems trivial to some, since my last milestone birthday ten years ago, my anxiety and depression levels are in high gear as I approach it. 2020 is really bringing that into perspective.
All of this doesn’t mean that I’m sitting around waiting for my depressive episode to happen. I can’t imagine anyone waiting patiently for depression to come over like a 5 o’clock train. I’m doing a lot of things to keep myself busy so that it won’t hit me as hard—if it does hit. There are some years that I got through relatively unscathed, while, in others, I felt as though I was in hell. So, I’m trying my hardest to make this one of those years where I get through with just a couple of scrapes and bruises.
The Exceptions to My Norms
On the flip side, there are rare fall seasons when I’m the opposite of my usual depressed state: manic. The year 2011 was a perfect example of that. I spent most of the year doing some of the most bizarre things I can think of, such as making an impulsive decision and splurging money on a failed project, and doing two TV interviews promoting that failed project. I didn’t calm down till November, when I completely crashed for a couple of weeks.
But that’s more of an exception than the norm.
Preventing or Mitigating Depression Requires Action
The thing is, I have to try really hard to either prevent or lessen the effects of my fall depressions. It’s not as easy as simply not thinking about it. Prevention or management is a very deliberate effort that can sometimes be just as exhausting as the depression itself. It doesn’t always work, because once I start feeling that exhaustion, it’s like the floodgates are opened.
Usually, by Thanksgiving week, I completely immerse into my depression, especially if I have no plans for the holiday and it looks like I’ll be alone. Even though Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday, I remember spending several holidays curled up in my bed, wishing that I would somehow fade away.
So, what exactly am I doing to try to mitigate the effects of my seasonal depression? Well, for one, I’m writing to you. Writing tends to help me channel the feelings that I have, and some of my most important work has been either completed or worked on during the fall. While I haven’t set anything in stone and don’t know if it will happen this time around, I keep thinking about taking a short trip somewhere, where I can embrace my surroundings, much like when I took my trip this summer. Travel has also helped with my writing as well.
I’m known for being a solitary kind of guy who sometimes tries to avoid interaction with other people at all costs, but I have a few people in my life whom I can comfortably deal with, and they help me get through those dark days. I’ve always talked about the importance of having a support system to manage our mental health issues, and this is no different. In fact, for me, it’s probably more important during this time of the year.
Which brings me back to the unprecedented challenges of 2020. I can’t say what will happen to me this year, because it’s not like I’m waiting for that 5 o’clock train. I hope that I miss it. Earlier this year, I wrote about the sense of futility that comes with depression, and how tempting is it to give into it.
Well, right now, I’m fine, and probably the most stable I’ve been in a long time. But I know that stability will only last for so long. What will I do if my fall depression hits, along with the sense of futility returning and amplifying it?
Right now, I don’t know. I hope and pray with everything that it doesn’t happen.
JB Burrage is a writer living in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. A Meridian, Mississippi, native, he served in the US Army for over ten years. He started battling depression before he was a teenager. After years of receiving different diagnoses, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011. For years, he was in self-denial before he finally accepted his diagnosis; he's slowly working to manage it, one day at a time. He’s the creator of The Diary of a Mad Writer, a blog that he uses to discuss various topics, especially mental health. He's a publisher of his own stories and is working on creating online courses. You can learn more about him, follow his blog, and contact him at jbburrage.com.
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