“In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” ~Albert Camus
I long for summer.
Yesterday it was relatively warm and the sun was shining. I could taste spring. I could imagine summer. If the sun ever came up this morning, I never noticed because the sky was so gray and gloomy
Today I had to haul the bucket of recyclables off the front porch and down the driveway. I should have been grateful because the sheet of ice that landed me on my rear just a few weeks ago was gone. Instead, I focused on the piles of dirty snow and the shovels, the ice pick, and the buckets of sand.
I squinted and all I could see was gray and white, no color.
I feel melancholy.
Melancholy — such a beautiful sounding word in spite of its definition.
Definition of melancholy courtesy of Princeton University’s WordNet
- a feeling of thoughtful sadness
- a constitutional tendency to be gloomy and depressed
- a black bile or humor that was once believed to be secreted by the kidneys or spleen and to cause sadness and melancholy
The melancholy I feel today won’t last. I just have “cabin fever” or the “winter blahs.” I know that about myself.
But you may have more than cabin fever if every year during fall or winter you lapse into a depression that you can’t seem to climb out of until spring or summer. You may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to the National Institute of Mental Health symptoms usually build up gradually in the late autumn and winter months.
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
- Afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentration
- Increased appetite with weight gain
- Increased sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness
- Lack of energy and loss of interest in work or other activities
- Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
- Social withdrawal
- Unhappiness and irritability
The exact cause of SAD isn’t known, but there are some theories tied to not being exposed to enough natural sunlight and getting too little Vitamin D. Some people have had success with light therapy and/or taking vitamin D supplements, while others may need an antidepressant and a knowledgeable therapist. Symptoms usually get better on their own as the days get longer and sunnier.
Understanding depression – its causes and symptoms and how best to treat it can be overwhelmingly complicated. Lack of sunlight isn’t its only cause. It’s usually a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors. What is vitally important is that if you’re feeling sad and you know in your heart something is wrong, you need to ask for help.
Symptoms of depression
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyable, including sex.
- Decreased energy, fatigue; feeling “slowed down.”
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
- Trouble sleeping, early morning awakening, or oversleeping.
- Changes in appetite and/or weight.
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.
- Restlessness or irritability.
- Persistent physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain that do not respond to routine treatment.
I am certainly not an authority on depression, but I do know you can’t get the right treatment if you don’t have the right diagnosis. I also know that too many people who struggle with depression don’t get the support they need.
If you only have a dose of melancholia because of the endless-seeming winter, all it may take is a little humor to shake your blues. That’s what worked for me today when my daughter read me a passage from Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck.“I’ve lived in good climate, and it bores the hell out of me. I like weather rather than climate. In Cuernavaca, Mexico, where I once lived, and where the climate is as near to perfect as is conceivable, I have found that when people leave they usually go to Alaska. I’d like to see how long an Aroostook County man can stand Florida. The trouble is that with his savings moved and invested there, he can’t very well go back. His dice are rolled and can’t be picked up again. But I do wonder if a down-Easter, sitting on a nylon-and-aluminum chair out on a changelessly green lawn slapping mosquitoes in the evening of a Florida October—I do wonder if the stab of memory doesn’t strike him high in the stomach just below the ribs where it hurts. And in the humid ever-summer I dare his picturing mind not to go back to the shout of color, to the clean rasp of frosty air, to the smell of pine wood burning and the caressing warmth of kitchens. For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?”
A good laugh. A thoughtful message. Exquisite writing.