CN: Seasonal Affective Disorder
How do you describe it?
You’re out, you’re surrounded by people – but you feel entirely alone. (You know that cliché already). Maybe it’s at a party, or at university, or just on the tube – but there is a sea of people undulating around you, and your body seems like a piece of driftwood, swaying with the crowd, entirely detached from you. A case with nothing in it, dull and lethargic. It is 4pm, but it’s already a thick, heavy kind of dark outside, and the chill in the wind extends itself beyond your skin.
We call it the festive season, right? How jarring.
The clocks have gone back; Christmas lights hang limply off the trees; LED menorahs flicker in windows. Hungry relatives scramble to prepare for Eid. Over Diwali, Rainbow Rangoli dyes assault you. People and adverts swarm around you, begging you to enjoy yourself, or to go home, to buy gifts, to go to parties.
“We call it the festive season, right? How jarring”
‘Eat,’ people say. ‘Drink’. ‘Be merry’.
Yet, no matter how much you try to smile and play along, all of the festivities around you just make you feel much worse about yourself.
‘Why can’t I feel good?’; ‘Why am I angry with the people around me?’; ‘Where has my faith in God gone?’; ‘Why am I crying to this shitty reverb-bass rendition of ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ outside this virtual stranger’s flat-warming? Now everyone is staring and I’ve spoilt the mood’; ‘I’m the Grinch! I’m ruining the holidays!’
During a period when values of family, friendship and general togetherness are mercilessly peddled to the masses, you can often feel even more lost and isolated than you might otherwise. This disconnect seems to unravel the ties that link us to the people we love as the nights draw long. For me, it means that my regular symptoms charge at me with all the intensity of the Coca-Cola van on Christmas Eve.
“Why am I crying to this shitty reverb-bass rendition of ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ outside this virtual stranger’s flat-warming?”
For example: I’ve always hated my birthday because I’ve always been affected by S.A.D., my birthday falling in November. It is my 19th birthday, and I can’t move. I’m sitting in the dark by myself, and executive dysfunction means I cannot bring myself to do anything other than scroll through endless pictures of people I vaguely know at university, seemingly having the time of their lives. I’m vegetating. I am, it seems, the only one without friends. The loneliness of being a new first-year, plus having very few home friends I can trust with what I’m going through, makes me withdraw into myself even more.
I go home to a family who love me, but find it difficult to show it on a good day, let alone when I’m raging and yelling without much control over my temper or mood. I feel like I suck the life out of the house, and like it sucks the life out of me. My 19th birthday is spent alone doing coursework; I make a point of staying hidden between names on social media and between my sheets.
Totally aware that I come across as a sulky teenager (and that is certainly part of it), I quietly contemplate whether any of this will matter when I am dead. It is 4pm and it is dark outside. Entirely blank, I spit out the flame on the candle that says ‘19’. The cake is good, at least.
“I feel like I suck the life out of the house, and like it sucks the life out of me”
S.A.D. is biological. It is not something we can control. Like plants, and most life that exists above ground, we need light to truly thrive. There is a theory that when we were more animal than we seem to believe we are now, S.A.D. helped us conserve energy, ensured that we needed less food, lowered our libidos so we wouldn’t drain ourselves by falling pregnant. It seems that, as a species, we have overcompensated by cramming all of our festivities into this precarious period.
During the festive period, so much of the emphasis seems to be on enjoying ourselves that we forget to actually take care of ourselves. We gorge on food and wine, but we don’t take a minute out to pause and just breathe. We are together, but we don’t really communicate. We decorate, but we don’t create warm spaces.
This year, I turned 21. There was no giant celebration or abundance of gifts. But, unlike every other year, I wasn’t under the illusion that I needed these things in order to feel loved.
“I was celebrating with dear friends who make me want to get better, to be better”
Instead, I was surrounded by a family who love me and, after gut-wrenching talks and work on all our parts, make an effort to show it – even on the worst days. I was celebrating with dear friends who create warm spaces, let me speak, push me to grow, to change; friends who make me want to get better, to be better. People who are the reason I am 21.
Given space, time, taking the pressure off from enjoying myself and letting myself just be –this is the first year where I’ve had the space to work through being S.A.D. on my birthday, and, between slips of light, found myself being happy.
May there be many more.
All images by Roman Drits