I don’t remember much about Christmas 2014 other than my life changing. Maybe that’s all I need to remember, at least for this narrative anyway.
With every holiday season comes the hustle and bustle of making lists, purchasing gifts, and catching up with family and friends. Schedules are hectic and some level of pressure or stress makes an appearance during this time. For me, the holidays equated to higher levels of stress than I usually experience. Being a mother to a perfect, now 7-year-old boy, like most parents, I am trying to check off everything on his Christmas list. I shamelessly admit that yes, I am one of those parents who may buy a little more than what’s really needed. I never fail to formulate an annual holiday budget but I also never fail to adhere to it, all the while anteing up my stress levels. Nevertheless, as hectic as it gets during the holidays, the shenanigans are also fun. The mishaps, crammed schedules, gift hunting, last minute shopping, undercooked or overlooked dishes, family dysfunction, cheesy commercials, timeless Christmas carols, never-ending photographs, an excessive amount of glitter and red….all of these components plus some is what makes the holidays the holidays and I was okay with that…until 2014 when I was not.
The winter blues, that is what I ignorantly attributed my feelings to.
That year, I moved into an apartment with my husband and son. Financially things were chaotic and limited. A few months prior to the holiday season, we moved out of the 3 bedroom home we were renting after the landlord sold the property in a rush and secretive manner. After 3 years of renting and residing there, rental prices in the neighborhood had risen…while our familial income did not. We moved into a modest apartment, selling most of our furniture because it simply would not be enough space for all of it to fit.
To cut to the chase, I felt like a complete failure. Christmas was approaching, cash was tight, and our peace of 3 years seemingly evaporated.
Looking back now, I remember my son Max, although he was ultimately sad to leave our home, he wouldn’t have cared if we lived in a cardboard box or a mansion. He was genuinely just happy to be with his parents. That is what I love about him, he does not judge me or think any less of me as a parent no matter our family struggles. Instead, he loves me unconditionally and as long as he is with his family, everything else and nothing else matters.
Despite his unconditional love, I could not silence the pessimistic voice in my head convincing me otherwise: I was a failure, who lost our home, moved into a small, ass apartment and barely had any excess cash flow to purchase gifts. It didn’t matter how brightly my son beamed at me, or how my grandmother kept reiterating “it isn’t about the gifts”, no matter how much my husband would say “everything is going to work out”, or my best friend would tell me “you’re doing a good job”, or my mother would praise me for “being a great mommy”…none of their words had any merit to me. All I could hear was the voice, the voice that could only speak negativity, the voice that could only self-condemn, and chastise, the voice that could never be silenced.
Christmas 2014 came and went.
I did not take as many pictures as I had done the year prior nor did I cook a big meal or invite guests over while wearing a keenly curated “Christmas lay”. Nope not that year. Although Max loved the few gifts I did manage to put under the tree, all I could see was an empty tree. “Damn”, I remember thinking to myself, “will I ever get over my winter blues?”
By the end of winter 2014, I started a new position at the University of Pennsylvania earning a decent income, things began to look up. I was out of the rut of negativity that clenched my spirits during the holidays. Things felt normal again…or so I thought.
Just as the the world spins, the seasons change. Welcome, winter 2015 .
The voice was back.
And I didn’t know why.
I was able to buy all of the things my son wanted for Christmas. I was still working at Penn nearing the year mark in a few months yet, the voice was still back. This time it made sure to attack my self-esteem. I hated the way I looked, the size of my nose, the shape of my body- everything! Ultimately, the mirror became my nemesis. I was sure the mirror and the voice were in cahoots. Social media did not help, rather it served as a catalyst for the end goal of the voice- to belittle and break me.
I constantly compared myself to my friends, celebrities, overnight Instagram models. I could not see my own beauty no matter how many heart-eyed emojis were under my photographs or men invading my inbox. One particular line in a poem I wrote goes like this: “self-sabotage, that was my camouflage” and indeed did I self-sabotage. I knew I was feeling the same way as I did in 2014. I knew I felt “off” and I knew something wasn’t right. But, I did not know why felt this way or how to stop it.
I began to withdraw. As a Virgo, I very much enjoy alone time away from people to think and rejuvenate however, I am still social and outgoing when the time calls for it. Rather quickly, it seemed as if my interests for my favorite things became a chore. I stopped doing things I enjoyed and being around my usual friends and family. I would commit to an obligation, be really excited about it, sometimes I even got all dressed and ready to go out the door when the voice would taunt me and convince me otherwise. It would put myself down and give myself a bunch of different reasons why I shouldn’t go. I was constantly comparing my life to others in a negative light.
On the outside, I deceived people by appearing as if everything were normal, like I had it all together but in reality, things were only beginning to dismantle. As if shying away from friends, relatives and obligations weren’t enough, the voice started following me to work.
Over time I became unhappy there, getting out of bed in the early mornings felt like such a tiresome burden. I lied to myself that I would be happier elsewhere and the voice gave me all the reasons to justify this.
One random day I decided not to go back to work, and I never did. I quit and walked away from an organization as prestigious as Penn. To jump back to astrology for a minute, also as a Virgo, I am a hard working, dedicated, and successful person at whatever challenge is put in front of me or I choose to undertake. To quit a job was completely uncharacteristic and shocking.
Up until recently, I regretted that decision but I had to make peace with it & let it go in order to move into a different, higher level of healing. I could not hold onto things I did during those times before I knew more about who I was during those times.
As in the words of my homie Shakespeare, “What’s done is done, it can’t be undone."
After the Penn fiasco, I retreated to my apartment and somewhat transformed into a hermit-in-the-making. Christmas Day of 2015 passed and I slept my way into the 2016 new year. Winter was now in full effect and I hated the dull, gray skies and lack of sunlight. The frigid temperatures and the color of the snow when its gets all mushy and charcoal from shoe prints and tire marks impacted my mood. I did not go outside much.
Oddly, I would instead take multiple showers a day, sometimes 5-7, just sitting in the bathtub letting the water spray down on me. I remember feeling if I took a shower I would finally get the energy to get up out of bed, get myself dressed presentably, and moving. Immediately after showering, I would feel a tinge of hopefulness and energy but both were fleeting feelings. Sitting on my bed with a towel draped around me, the tiredness would pompously return. It became a continuous, dysfunctional seesaw.
The only thing I managed to do was just enough to get through my day as a mother. Max is always my saving grace, my beacon of light, promise and redemption. He singularly gives me all the motivation I need to always strive to be a greater mother and woman. Although I would manage to take Max back and forth to school, while home, getting up and ready to leave felt as if I were carrying 10 cows on my back.
Like the others before it, the winter of 2015-16 was coming to a close. It felt as if a century had gone by. Socially I was withdrawn. I didn’t tell many people at all what I was feeling. One of my best friends who is also a Virgo is very perceptive. She would see a pattern in my behaviors and would check on me until I responded or if I stayed away too long. I love her for that. Another one of my best friends would force me to get up, out the bed, dressed cutely, and would style my hair, changing my cut or color a lot of times to boost my mood and confidence. I love her for that. To most of the rest of world, I just seemed distant or “M.I.A.” as many people called it. If only they knew. As my friends began to dwindle in numbers, marijuana and sleep became my best friends.
Maritally, things were also falling by the wayside. Arguments were plenty. It’s as if we were sitting in separate boats, starting off right next to one another, slowly but surely we began to drift in opposite directions. In the beginning, the drifting was so subtle , neither one of us noticed. Overtime the space, although modest in size, became more than noticeable. We tried to drift closer again, but our boats would not budge. We then tried to stop drifting altogether and stay where we were, but the sea of our marriage was never still.
Eventually, one day we woke up and space between us was far too wide to conquer.
The “I am a failure speech” was on constant syndication thanks to the voice. It was my husband who first mentioned to me about seeking outside help. It happened during one of our many arguments, “you really need to go see somebody,” he barked, “you don’t do nothing anymore, all you do is stay in the house, and take a bunch of showers all day listening to sad music."
He was right, he was absolutely right.
Relief. I felt relief when he said those words even if it was born out of a quarrel.
It took me a few weeks but eventually I got there. I made an appointment with my family doctor to discuss what I was experiencing. I detailed my inner thoughts, my anxious emotions, and patterns of sleeping too much to not being able to fall asleep at all. Furthermore, I told her about the multiple showers and how the last couple of winters I experienced similar feelings ranging from worthlessness to despair and defeat. I listed my chief complaint as “the winter blues.” The doctor asked me specific questions:
“Have you had at least 2 consecutive seasons of the same feelings?”
“Have you ever had feelings or thoughts of harming yourself or suicide?”
“Thank God, no, never.”
“Have you lost interest in things you use to enjoy?”
“Do you feel better during the Spring and Summer seasons?”
“Yes, actually I do.”
The doctor asked me a few more questions and came up with a score based on my answers.
“SAD. I believe what you are describing are symptoms of SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder.”
It was the first time I ever heard this term. Seasonal depression is another name referring to SAD. “It is very common with about 3 million cases per year. Most people with SAD experience symptoms during the fall/ winter seasons while there are those who experience SAD during the spring/summer, although far less common. SAD is commonly mistaken as simple winter blues because of the similarity in symptoms,” the doctor explained. “However, it is a real form of depression differing because symptoms usually occur during the same time period each year. I want you to begin a medication.”
I left that day with a prescription for Wellbutrin XL, the contact number of a local, in-network therapist, and an appointment to follow up in 3 months.
Initially, I was in denial. I wrote everything off to high levels of stress mixed with pressure. I was well aware of the stigma surrounding depression and medication, especially in the black community. To many people, I am “the strong one,” the person people call to vent to, ask for advice, trust to fix a problem, etc. Being known as constantly strong and put together is not necessarily the best reputation to have because most times people forget to ask if you’re okay and when you do fall off the bandwagon, it feels as if it is scrutinized much more. Because of this, I knew I could take care of my feelings, I had to.
I filled the prescription and tossed the bottle all the way in the back of my hallway linen closet.
The seasons were changing again and the sunlight and warm weather were the only things I knew would guarantee I would chipper up. I did feel like myself for some time until, as expected, my mood began to go south again.
To sum it up, 2016 was a tumultuous year, as if I did not have my share of those already. By the grace of God and the determination I know lives inside of me, I managed to somehow finally graduate college that summer. Shortly thereafter I reached my breaking point in my marriage and separated from my husband. That was one of the hardest, lowest points in my life. My soul so badly needed a fresh start so I broke my lease and moved back home with my family. When the 2016/17 winter came around I wanted so badly to say my separation was the reason why I was feeling down, but other aspects of my life were getting back on track yet I was still feeling bummed most of the time.
I was happily employed again, gifted with a new car by my employer, and Max began kindergarten. Naturally as a woman, I missed being in my own home but I was taking necessary steps to ensure soon enough I would be. Despite any positive things that were unfolded, I could not help but feeling like a robotic zombie: up all night, moving as if I were on autopilot, taking a million showers again, sleeping during my free time.
Christmas 2016 ended up being spent at my sister’s apartment. Max opened his presents there, and of course, the voice was in full effect jesting me. Later that Christmas evening, I went to the ER and learned I was having a miscarriage from a pregnancy I found out about only a few days prior. Mentally, I was exhausted. I hit an all time low and what followed was a 3 week period of deep withdrawal.
This time I refused to stay there. I was not a turtle and therefore could not live in a turtle shell.
I reached into the back of the hallway linen closet and retrieved the bottle of Wellbutrin.
I survived the 2017-18 Winter/Holiday season.
Situations transpired that were far from ideal but unlike the couple of years prior to this one, life did not break me. I felt as if I were more equipped and armored after my diagnosis to deal with life. Yes, I took the Wellbutrin during the winter months to prevent depression and yes, it helped. I did not have the same feelings this past holiday season or winter.
I still take showers although now I take about 1 or 2 a day- ha ha! I am more aware of myself and my actions as well as my triggers. Above all, writing has been the most therapeutic to keeping me of sound mind.
I chose the pen name, “Writer_Dye” because as I was drowning in my mental sunken place, writing pulled me free, resurrecting me from the darkness, and giving me life once more. Figuratively I had one choice, I write or I die (hence, writer_dye) therefore I chose to write. I write everyday.
I also practice positive affirmations. I now guiltlessly reaffirm my own uniqueness, talent, and beauty especially when I am really being self-critical. I use to have a hard time accepting compliments from others, I am now learning to do so. I use to walk with my head down, glued to the floor. Now I walk with my head eye-leveled, and on really good days, I walk with it high, chin up.
I am working on comparing myself to others less and less. As I am approaching year 30 this upcoming September, there is a sense of normal pressure I am feeling, but I am not letting it take me off my path of positive health- no! I am instead using it to empower me and inspire me to set new goals and begin new projects.
In regards to social media, I know it is not a true representation of what a person is really going through in life, so there is no need to compare myself to internet personas.
I am enough for me. I am enough for me. I am enough for me.
December 25th, 2017, Max opened up his Christmas presents under a beautifully lit tree in our home. Last summer, we moved to Ambler, PA and Max began a new school in a top-rated school district which he undeniably loves. He is thriving and as a mother, I can not begin to describe how elated and safe that makes me feel. On a whole, we are happier and stable.
As for my marriage, I can not ascertain its future, but I know God has the final say. In addition to writing and therapy, physical exercise has been a crucial component to my health, allowing me to burn stress and calories.
Being honest with myself, seeking professional guidance, and making necessary lifestyle changes allowed me to find my way back to me, allowed me to be healthy.
Few people know I was officially diagnosed with SAD or that I do have to occasionally take medication. Those who do know have been supportive and not at all judgmental. I love them for that.
By the way, I have not grappled with the voice in over a year. *Snap, Snap, Amen!*
As a society, we have to break the stigma of “crazy”. There are far too many people who are suffering in silence who have yet to be diagnosed. We have to support embracing our emotions and having open dialogue about our feelings. As humans we all experience the spectrum of emotions but we do not experience them identically. The mind is so powerful yet so complex. Just because one person’s mind reacts differently than another’s mind does not make them “crazy.”
Collectively, we have to do a better job at understanding what makes us different and accepting people who deviate from societal norms. We must erase the ignorant misconceptions of mental illness and create an environment that is welcoming and open. Just asking someone how they are doing or if they are okay from time to time can make all the difference for someone suffering. In today’s world, it is far too easy for us to get lost in us. The world has become more vain and self-indulgent. We have to step outside of ourselves and our world and do a better job at checking on our neighbors.
I am a private person. I do not share many of my hardest moments in life with those few who are not in my inner, closet circle. Today, I decided to share my story because it is overdue that we destigmatize mental illness and stop calling sufferers “crazy”. People are dying because of such stigmas and societal backlash. Many people will meet me or see my picture and be surprised to learn I have seasonal depression…good, because mental illness has no face.
There are many types of mental illnesses or conditions that people successfully live and cope with including anxiety, bipolar, OCD, narcissism, ADHD, etc. For most, treatment options usually include a medication of some sort and this is also okay. God gave us knowledge and the ability to learn and create. If medication is needed to help a person feel better than so be it. We have to stop making people feel that being prescribed a medication regime is a a bad thing. There are also other treatment options including holistic ones that can help people as well. It is important to find out which works specifically and best for you.
I hope that by me sharing my story you may feel brave enough to reflect upon yours. If ever you are feeling unlike yourself, it is okay to talk about your feelings or ask for help. The last few years have been a learning process for me but also a period of self-growth and enlightenment. I am me. I have not changed because of my diagnosis. The person I am inside is still the same person. I know there will be periods of pain in life and that is also okay. Learning to cope with the ups and downs of life is most pivotal to staying healthy.
Sometimes I have to remind myself to slow down and simply breath. And I do. There are still those days when things are stressful and I swear I can never catch up with myself. When those times come and life feels like of speedball of stress, I like to silently recite one of my all time favorite quotes:
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”