Everyone loves fall, right? The pumpkin spice, that quote about how October is the most glorious month of the year, the sweaters, the boots. I get it. I am fully onboard with the autumnal love. But this year, fall has brought with it an apprehension for the coming months that I have not experienced before.
In 2015, my sweet youngest child and only girl was born. The first year of any child’s life is really difficult, as all moms know. For me, somehow, the second year is harder. That’s when you ramp it back up in the rest of your life. Somehow people forgive your really awful wardrobe, unwashed hair, mismatching socks, and lack of ability to show up anywhere on time when you’re toting along an adorable infant. But then they get older, you go back to work, people stop offering to hold your tiny baby (because she’s not so tiny anymore) just so you can do the dishes, and life settles back in. For me, that time coincided with the onset of fall and winter last year. We live nearby Chicago, and if you don’t know, the winters here are long and hard and really, really cold. People actually hibernate around these parts. I don’t see my neighbors from November until April. The sun rises early but sets around 4:30pm. And when it’s daytime, it’s typically overcast. Now, before last year, the extreme winters did not bother me any more than the next gal. Yes, it’s annoying to have to dress like you live in Antarctica and that your commute is lengthened by an hour whenever it snows, but that was about as extreme as it got for me. Last year, however, I began to feel truly affected by the darkness.
In the moment, I didn’t think about it. I was just plugging along at life, doing the working mom thing, trying to balance and DO IT ALL. But each day got a little harder than the last. I found I needed to sleep more and more to even feel remotely rested, I was snippy with the kids and angry with my husband, my mood was low most of the time, and I could barely find the energy to get what I needed to done. Now, I’m the person who can fake it pretty well, even to myself. I kept telling myself that it was just a phase, I had three kids and a time consuming job and of course I’m tired. This is normal. Just power through. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. It didn’t really hit home until that first really bright, warm spring day in March when my mood changed almost literally overnight that I realized what I had gone through wasn’t just a phase or circumstantial.
I began to realize I was dramatically affected by the darkness in my environment and it had become a rather dark time for me personally. I did a lot of talking and listening and reading after that. My husband, friends, the internet, books, bloggers, all were great resources for me. I found so many recommendations for how to ameliorate the feelings I had been experiencing for the past few months. For me, some pretty dramatic lifestyle changes were enough to get me through and better my mood and outlook on life. I began setting myself a different schedule, rising earlier and going to bed earlier to stay closer to the sun. I began exercising again, which I had stopped doing since having my daughter. I began adding things I love to do and had been neglecting back into my daily schedule, like taking more pictures and just reading for fun. I began eating healthier and we did a Whole30, which majorly opened my eyes to how what I was eating dramatically impacted my energy and mood. I did some delegation of tasks so I didn’t feel so overwhelmed. I began to look at each day more intentionally to seek out fun and enjoyment with the people I love. And mostly, I started being more honest with myself and the people around me and welcoming the honest truth about myself from others. I had been hiding under my “I CAN do it all” persona and ended up doing most things not very well.
Thankfully for me, the summer months brought a wonderful reprieve of sunshine and, along with all the changes I mentioned above, I have been able to reset and rework and revamp and am feeling pretty darn good these days. But as the weather changes, the days get shorter, and the sunshine hides behind the clouds with more regularity, I find myself getting nervous about the winter months and what they have in store. I feel prepared but am willing to admit I may need more help to get through this coming winter. My plan is to continue what I started last year by:
- sticking to a daily schedule to help with circadian rhythms
- exercising regularly
- eating healthy
- playing outside with my kids at least three times a week
- writing regularly, whether here or in a journal
- talking regularly to my husband and my friends and asking for honest feedback about how I’m doing
- doing something fun for myself everyday
- organizing and planning as much as possible to make life go more smoothly
- using essential oils in the house
- possibly using a sunlight lamp or sunrise simulator
- taking more Vitamin D
- and last but probably should be first on the list – asking for HELP
So here’s the thing. I’m still working through what this means for me. I work in the mental health field and have for my whole career. I have family members who deal with mental health issues. I know what the signs are and what kind of help is out there. I’m not offering a prescription here for what you should do should this story sounds familiar for you. Some people experience true Seasonal Affective Disorder and need to seek professional help quickly in order to keep themselves and their family healthy and well. Some people can make a few environmental modifications and experience relief. I want to encourage you to seek help outside of the internet if you’re experiencing these symptoms and to work on your self-awareness so that you know what you need. Be in community with other people in real life who can help you. I don’t want to say I have this thing beat because it could always rear its ugly head again in January. I think it’s more important to say that we’re all on a journey and that with more self-awareness brings more ability to care for ourself so that we can experience the joy that fall and winter brings.
Here are some resources I found helpful in my research journey:
NIMH – has a great list of resources
I would love to begin a dialogue with you about your experiences. Drop a comment or send me an email.