Funky Caves and Seasonal Depression

I get depressed every year around this time, though I don’t call it a depression. I say “I’m in a weird mood” or “I’m in a funk”.

It generally starts around Halloween and ends sometime in January or February, which really sucks since it stretches out over the entire holiday season. You try hiding out from stressful situations during the holiday season.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Texas and I’ve never psychologically acclimated to the snow and lack of sunlight we get up here in the winter.

Maybe it’s because every Fall I catch the cold that doesn’t end.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had rough Fall/Winter seasons in the past, and I just expect something terrible to happen around this time of year.

All I know is it pops up every year. Some years are easier than others. I had an extra rough time last year.

It’s a good idea to practice some self-care when you know you’re about to head into a depressive season.

So, what am I doing to prepare? Oh, you know, just writing about the most horrible things that have happened to me. Because that’s healthy.

At the beginning of Lent this past year, I decided to write a memoir (I know, it sounds too hoity-toity for me, but it’s basically just a short auto-biography of a specific time in a person’s life). I wrote over 30,000 words during Lent. I wrote every day I could physically write.

I pushed through neck spams, which led to those terrible headaches, which led to sprinting to the bathroom before I threw up on the floor, which led to days spent in bed.

I recklessly pushed through painful memories, which led to me throwing a Bible, and telling my kids I needed to change my shirt so they’d leave me alone in my room for five minutes so I could have a little cry, and calling my sister one night to cry about something that did not affect me at all.

I kept trying to write at the beginning of my kids’ summer break, and I finally snapped. There was no way I could sit in the kitchen and write about receiving death threats while my kids were pestering me for just one more handful of Ruffles. I decided the best way to preserve my sanity was to take the rest of the summer off.

It was such a good move.

In July, I read through what I’d written during Lent. It was just awful. It wasn’t even mediocre. The stuff I’m writing now is mediocre. The stuff from before? That shit was standing in the snow with threadbare mittens, staring in the window, hoping Mediocre would throw it a crust.

I know why it was so terrible. I was stressed out about what the people will think. I was writing too fast. I was pushing myself too hard. I was forcing myself to re-experience all of these emotions I’d spent a good half of my life stamping down. I expected myself to experience a billion different repressed emotions at the same time, and then write something beautiful.

By this time I was way too invested to just give up. So, I decided to completely scrap that first draft and start over.

But, first, I spent August binge-watching Doctor Who because I needed to get out of that pit and breathe for a while.

In the middle of August, I took a break from the Doctor and wrote one chapter of my second draft. This time, instead of starting at the beginning and diving straight into all that unpleasantness, I started at the end. I wrote about where I am now, compared to where I was then. The writing wasn’t great (it was still a first draft of this particular chapter), but holy crap was it better that the stuff I wrote during Lent.

After that, I took the rest of August off. I taught my kids how to play Go Fish and War. Then, I had a long talk with one of them about how to lose without causing a scene.

I wrote another chapter a couple of weeks after school started back up. And another chapter almost a week after that.

Some days, I sit down and I can crank out 3,000 words. Some days, I can handle 100. Some days, I can’t handle any.

I’ve given myself permission not to be a martyr to this project. If I’m not emotionally in a good place one day, I’ll skip writing. Or I’ll write about something else that’s not as emotionally demanding.

During Lent, someone suggested maybe I should stop writing if it was bothering me so much.

The thing is, yes, it bothers me sometimes. Sometimes it makes me feel defeated and traumatized all over again. But, sometimes it makes me feel victorious. Sometimes it feels like a song. Sometimes it feels like giving birth to myself (which honestly strikes me as more than a little creepy, but still). Sometimes it feels like a middle finger to the world, screaming, “You tried to take me down, but I’ll still here, bitch!”

My sister and I went cave exploring a few years ago. We only brought one flashlight with us, and of course, it went out when we were about halfway into the Ape Caves lava tube. Luckily, the tube is just a straight shot in or out, without any side passages to wander down. Writing my story is like that. It’s like walking down a dark tunnel, toward a light I know is there. I just have to move slowly, and try not to trip on my way out.

I think it’s a good idea to keep writing through this season of funk I’m heading into. The pain is going to be there no matter what, but you know what? It feels good to do something productive with the funk.

Maybe I’ll write everything down and just bury it in my drawer. Maybe I’ll try to get it published. I’m not going to worry about that right now. That’s the kind of pressure that helped trip me up last time. For right now, it just feels good be productive and use the pain instead of letting it use me.

Don't worry. We made it out of the cave.

Pictured: People who are not professional spelunkers. (Don’t worry. We made it out of the cave.)

 

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