“Hey, Critter!” I say. “I’m so glad you’re here. I need to tell you…” But I can’t finish, because my imaginary raccoon raises a paw to stop me.
“It’s gonna have to wait,” she interrupts. “Something has come up.”
My words catch in my throat; it’s not like Critter to show up with an agenda. Our little chats are usually about whatever is frying on my sweaty little mind. That’s how I like it.
I feel annoyed. And confused. And then a little worried.
I frown at her a moment, my mouth pressed tight while I spin the wheel to see which reaction I will be going with. I’m ready to open with a windy “Oh-no-you-didn’t” tirade, but the pointer stops on worried.
“What’s going on?” I ask. Oh God, please don’t say you’re leaving. Don’t leave. Don’t leave!
Critter tilts her head at me.
“All of a sudden, you look constipated,” she says. Then, she sniffs three times. “But you smell fine.”
“Just tell me what’s happening,” I say. My forehead is getting prickly.
“We’ve got to get ready,” she finally says. “We need a plan.”
“What for?” I ask, my voice squeaking like a pubescent boy’s. I knew it, she’s leaving. My imaginary friend is leaving me. Jesus, that’s pathetic. I’m pathetic. Oh god…
“Winter.” she says, looking into my eyes as if that explains everything. “Winter is coming.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask, with an eyebrow raised hard in the universal expression of WTF. “This isn’t Game of Thrones.”
Critter rolls her eyes at me. Like I’m the one being an idiot.
Then, she narrows her eyes and sighs, like she’s trying hard to swallow-back some sarcasm.
“What does winter mean to you?” she asks.
My stomach drops. For me, winter means dread. The darkness and heaviness that plague me all year swell hideously when the weather shifts in the fall. Winter means I lose the sunshine, fresh air, and easy activity that sustain me. They are replaced by cold drafts blowing on my nervous sweat. Windsheild-scraping, parka-wearing and bundling up my thrashing-mad children. It makes me want to cry and go back to bed.
I have no idea why anyone ever decided to settle the northern parts of the world.
My body hates winter because shivering for seven months in a row sucks snowballs. My brain hates it because it feels like drowning and starving at the same time.
When I picture winter, I see the dirty grey sky looking all blurry because I am peering up from underneath the ice.
It makes me shudder.
“I’ve been trying so hard not to think about it,” I say quietly. “I don’t understand why you brought that up.”
Critter’s face softens.
“I know,” she says. “You didn’t want to ruin the summer with anxiety about fall. But we’ve got a problem. Fall’s here. Winter is coming. And we don’t have a plan.”
Suddenly, I understand. I run my hand through my hair.
“You’re right,” I sigh. “I need a plan. Crap – I can’t believe I haven’t started preparing.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Critter soothes. “Let’s start now.”
Those three words have saved my life repeatedly: Let’s Start Now.
So here goes.
Disclaimer: This list contains affiliate links, which means I learned how to play around on Amazon and create buttons for some of the stuff I wrote about. If you make a purchase through these links, Amazon will send a small fee to the Critter and I. My furry friend has asked that I spend it all on cat food. The wet kind. Although that’s probably not going to happen (sorry, Critter, that stuff stinks), we are grateful for your support! Also, full disclosure: making these links was really fun.
My Winter Depression Survival Plan
When I don’t commit to a plan, my lows get out of control; I sabotage myself and act like a dick to the people I care about.
No more burning bridges and sinking deeper into the cycle of messing up, hating myself, and throwing good things away. I can’t wait until spring to feel human again.
Making a plan helps. It makes it easier to get moving and do the work I need to do. I feel more confident knowing I won’t have to try to come up with solutions after I’ve slipped into dysfunction. It will be easier to get up and try.
Having a plan also helps me win the argument against the voices in my head. They tell me to stop acting, because I don’t really have a problem, and nothing can help me, anyway. I know that stuff is garbage, but it gets to me. My best chance to beat it is to get a head start.
- Reach Out
- Take Care Physically
- Seek Pleasure
- Find True North
- Reaching Out
At least once a week:
- Call, message, or arrange a visit with someone who can handle me, and talk about my struggles
- Let them empathize, relate, and share their strategies
- Take their caring and encouragement in
- Thank them and appreciate our connection
At least once a week:
- Reach out within a Facebook group where people share some of my same challenges
- Share something that is giving me heartburn
- Encourage at least one other person
- Share stuff that helps
- Celebrate each other’s wins.
At least once a month:
- Check in with my counsellor
- Ask for help with the biggest thing that is weighing me down
- Commit to feeling what is there and saying what I need to say
- Open up to one new task that helps me handle my fear, despair, and exhaustion in a new way
2. Taking Physical Care
- Every morning, use the UV light for Seasonal Depression
- Every day, take brain-support supplements (fish oil, Rhodiola, and 5HTP)
- Every two months, check in with the naturopath to monitor and adjust dosages
- If this stops helping (or if side effects get out of control) talk to my doctor about going back on antidepressants.
- Set an alarm to chide me when it’s time to turn off the computer, TV, and phone.
- Turn my stuff off at bedtime, even if I still have work to do.
- Make sure I finish all my chores and prep for the morning before I flop into downtime
- Bribe myself as extensively as necessary to finish those chores
- Build a Netflix-watching nest out of snacks and blankets
- Have one good book beside the bed to entice me away from the TV What I’m currently reading
- Do yoga and progressive muscle relaxation, and listen to guided meditations when I’m too wound up to sleep
- Get serious about weaning the baby
- Schedule exercise around all the crap I have to do
- Multitask as much as possible (take the jogging stroller on errands or to the park; ride bike to Starbucks for writing mornings, workout at the playground while the kids play, make an obstacle course for all of us in the living room, etc.)
- Go to at least one interesting fitness class per week all by myself
- Buy groupons for classes I can’t normally afford
- Let my embarassment about being out of shape motivate me to work on my weak spots between classes
- Let my sense of impending burnout motivate me to get to drag myself to class
3. Seeking Pleasure
Feel Better Music:
- Flight of the Conchords
- Tragically Hip
- Of Monsters and Men
- Bob Marley
- Otis Redding
- The Rolling Freaking Stones
No more than once a week, indulge completely in something that I usually have to avoid: chocolate, cheese, or anything with ICING
Lose myself in stories that make me feel like the world is twisted and beautiful enough to fight for:
- The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, and Talking Dead
- Game of Thrones and Song of Ice and Fire
- Anything by Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Yann Martel, Alice Hoffmann, or Lawrence Hill
- Re-reading the Harry Potter series
- Massage – as often as our health plan will allow
- Painting my nails
- Getting the wherewolf waxed off my face
- Date night
- Girlfriend visits
- Starbucks writing sessions, runs and bike rides all by myself
4. Finding True North
As needed, I will bring out writing, film, and webcasts by people who help me find my bearings:
- Deepak Chopra
- Elizabeth Gilbert
- Ekhart Tolle
- Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Patton Oswalt
- Daniel Tosh
- Amy Schumer
- Kristen Bell
So that’s me; now what about you?
Whatever it is that triggers you, Dark Little Critter wants you to face your villain standing up.
Make YOUR survival plan. Do what works for you. And yes; blasting the Stones while you squeeze fudge sauce onto a bowl of peanut butter and bacon bits IS therapy, if that’s what lifts you out of the gutter.
Think about what gets you out of bed, and write it down. All of it. Make it happen as you schedule each day, week, month, and year.
Turn back to it when the manure hits the propeller. Adjust when it’s not working.
And always remember, you are the author of this Choose Your Own Adventure. You are the only one who can rub the genie’s lamp (or any other part of him) and arrange for the day to be saved.