By Kimberly Zapata
I love cool, early morning runs, the sound of leaf blowers and iced PSLs because they can only mean one thing: the start of hoodie season, pumpkin beer season and football season. The start of “Hooray, I don’t have to shave my freakin’ legs” season, and the unofficial start of the fall season. But there are things I don’t love about fall—things I can’t stand and things that scare me, truly scare me. With the cooler weather comes the dark mornings and darker nights. With the cooler weather comes depression. With the cooler weather comes suicidal thoughts.
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression (also known as SAD) which affects people “during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight.” Much like other types of clinical depression (major, manic, bipolar, postpartum), SAD is characterized by feelings of guilt, emptiness and hopelessness, and it results in a decrease in energy, sleeping problems, eating problems and a general loss of interest and joy in everyday activities. The name SAD implies this type of depression is somehow less intense than its persistent, year-round counterparts, but don’t be fooled: Seasonal affective disorder can be just as difficult and just as terrifying.
There isn’t a particular day when SAD hits me. One day things are fine, but by the next day, my arms feel a little heavier; my body feels a bit weaker. I am not sad, per se, but I am drained and empty. My mind races, and when the end-of-summer mania (my last bout of productivity) ceases, I—a shell of my former self—am left wondering what comes next.
I want to stay in pj’s all day. I want to stay inside and bury myself in oversized clothes and oversized comforters.
I want to hibernate. I want to hide.
When I was young, I loved the fall and even winter. It was a time defined by costumes and candy and, of course, Christmas. Christmas toys. Christmas break. A big Christmas supper spread complete with canned cranberry sauce and homemade mashed potatoes. But now, as the cool Canadian air begins to settle across the Northeastern United States, I find myself going out less and hiding more. And the holidays? With the holidays comes anxiety—the anxiety of fake smiles, fake hugs and fake conversations; the anxiety of endless get-togethers; the anxiety of knowing there is no way out; the anxiety of knowing I have to perform and pretend instead of being Debbie-fucking-downer.
I don’t want to feel this way. I want enjoy pumpkin picking with my peanut and our annual trip to Santa’s Workshop, aka the Staten Island Mall, but I struggle. I struggle to be present. I struggle to smile. I struggle to speak without collapsing into a heap of tears.
So I pull away. I cancel plans. I start projects I know I will never finish, I open books I have no intention to read, and I become an expert at dodging any conversation about me and what I am doing. (In fact, I become an expert at dodging all conversations, letting calls go to voice mail and politely declining any and all “social events” I can.) Because what I am doing is sad, what I am doing is pathetic, what I am doing isn’t “fun to talk about.” I am sitting on my ass doing nothing, worrying about everything and crying. I am thinking about dying.
I close the curtains, crank the heat and hide.
I grab my leopard-print robe, mismatched slipper socks and my black bandana, and I hide.
My seasonal depression is real—as real as the bouts of depression I battle with year-round—but unlike other depressive episodes, this one is timed out. While I cannot see it coming, I know it is coming. I can feel it coming, snaking down my back on a breeze. I know that sometime between September and October every year, it will take hold. While you would think knowing would make it better, it doesn’t. I am stuck just waiting. Just waiting on long days and longer nights. Just waiting, to quote Annie, for the sun to “come out tomorrow.” Just waiting for it to end.
© 2016 Kimberly Zapata, as first published on Scary Mommy