Let Light Pierce the Darkness

I talk about personal power a lot on this blog. A firm believer in mind over matter, I think you have the capacity to create joy in your life when you shift your thinking from rigid and negative to positive and flexible. Many times you can decide for yourself how you react to life’s unpredictable forces. You have the luxury to choose whether you’ll find the lesson in every situation or mope around in defeat, the ability to acknowledge that while not everything in your life is going the way you desire, you are generally in a good place.

Sometimes, though, it can seem that despite your efforts to be optimistic, you just don’t feel right, just don’t feel like yourself. You know you need to wake up on time for work or for class, but those extra five minutes of sleep–I’ll only snooze once, you tell yourself–become wasted hours. Slowly, the things you love to do lose their appeal. Feeling lonely, you paradoxically shrink away from family and friends. You hope for each day to finish quickly, which only means that the cycle of lethargy, loneliness, and confusion will begin sooner. That’s not the thinking of a happy, positive person, you tell yourself. Yet, you can’t escape those feelings. As a proverbial winter bears down on your spirits, you hate to admit it to yourself, but you can’t lie anymore: You’re depressed.

This is the revelation I’ve had to cope with for the past few weeks. I cope with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. When the trees disrobe, the temperature drops, and the sky remains dark more often, I want to crawl into a hole. Few things help for more than a moment–not getting my nails done, not wearing a nice outfit, not even going on a trip. I’m cranky and confused. My weight rises. My patience shrinks. I want to cry for no reason. I’m going under. But when spring hits, I’m usually better.

I think about the days before I let cognitive behavioral therapy change my world, dark days when I was very angry, pessimistic, covetous, and self-hating. I think about how my self-worth was so low–non-existent–that I thought no one would care if I were to disappear. I used to think I didn’t have a right to even live on this planet. I was so depressed that I lost a major scholarship and withdrew from school–I shudder at those memories of my former self. Combine that with SAD and you’ve got a real mess. So admitting to myself that I’m in low spirits has been very disconcerting because I try to think and act in ways that boost my well being. How could I be unhappy when I write a blog about happiness, feeling good, thinking positively, etc.? On paper, things are going very well for me, but smiling has felt like lifting a 300-pound barbell over these few weeks. Does that make me a fraud, a weirdo, a head case–or just human? I’m betting on the latter.

Depression can be painful, no doubt. It can rob you of everything you’ve worked for, leaving you feeling powerless and empty. Changing your thoughts sometimes isn’t enough. Sometimes it’s not enough to tell yourself to “snap out of it” or just slap a smile on your face. Sometimes, you need more help. If you’ve been feeling despondent lately, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does my low mood have a pattern? Once a month, once a year, a few times a year?
  • Am I grieving something? It could be anything you’ve lost: a loved one, a job, a significant other, etc.
  • Have I been eating a nutritious diet? Do I get enough serotonin-boosting exercise?
  • Does anyone in my family deal with depression or other mental health concerns?

After you’ve considered these questions, you may feel more empowered to not only be honest with yourself about your despair but to get help for it. Hopefully, you’ll see that you’re not abnormal: According to the CDC, an estimated one out every 10 adults reports depression. So despite what nasty, nagging voices in your head may say, you most likely aren’t “losing it.” You may feel down, but–especially in the case of SAD–you don’t have to be down forever. And while medication may be beneficial in more severe cases of depression, it’s not your only option. In my case, for example, exercise really helps. I can’t say that sweating is a panacea for everything, but when I look back over the last few winters, I see that my SAD was a lot less oppressive when I worked out a few times a week. Exercise–go figure–is one thing I haven’t done enough of this winter.

If you know something just isn’t right with you, don’t let another minute pass without finding out what that “something” is. You don’t want to lose your job, your loved ones, or your sense of human worth because of a temporary slump. I’ve been there, and it’s not pretty. Don’t think for one moment that you’re stuck with feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or powerless, because if you look closely at your life, you may discover that those feelings are just an illusion. Do your research. Speak with someone. Reclaim your essence. As trite as it sounds, you can look forward to your spring. You can’t precisely control everything that happens in your brain, but you can control what you put in it. You can overpower over depression and take back your thoughts. The hardest part, often, is resolving to do so.

5 Ways to Kickstart 2013

Yes, I’m sixteen days late, but I’ll say it anyway: Happy New Year!

Having rung in 2013 with the flu, I needed some time to get my head straight. Now  that I’m back to good health (minus the annoying throat-clearing, anyway), I’m ready to share a bit of wisdom with you. Here are five ways to kick this year off.

1. Get pumped. Just as life can’t survive on this planet without the sun’s energy, neither can you meet your goals without a well-powered body. Feeling sluggish? Analyze your diet, sleep habits, and overall health. Iron deficiency, for example, can thwart even sincerest of plans, and so can five hours of sleep each night. To get the best out of yourself, make sure you’ve got all the energy you need. That reminds me: I need to make a trip to GNC, stat.

2. Try new things. I’ve wanted to learn to play bass guitar for years, and I finally got my wish over the holidays. Sure, I’ve spent a lot more money than I thought I would on my hobby, but I’m loving that I have a new outlet through which to express myself. I’m challenging my brain and my body. Now if I can just get my fingers coordinated, I’ll really be making beautiful music.

3. Connect. What is life without relationships? Not much, I’d say. We need other people. This year, strengthen connections with the people around you. Call a relative you haven’t spoken to in years. Make small talk with an elderly person at the bus stop–you’d be surprised at how happy he or she will be to talk to you. And know when you need to break connections, too. People who abuse, denigrate, or drain you aren’t worth keeping around.

4. Get real. Few people like to admit when they’re wrong or when they need to change something about themselves. Imagine how confident you’ll feel, though, when you learn to be honest about your shortcomings, to be real about your not-so-good points. Spending too much money? Have a bad habit of  committing to something before you’ve thought it through? Admit it. When you do so, you gain the power to change yourself. You want that kind of power.

5. Express yourself. You’re unique. No one can express you other than, well, you. So raise your voice. Express the complex, intriguing person you are through your style, your words, your art, your music, your rhythm. You can never be anyone else, so why not let who you are shine through?