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Mama M.: Beating the Winter Blues

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Dear Mama M,

As the holidays are getting near again, I get so depressed. I don’t know why, but I do.

Do you have any advice to help me get out of the seasonal depression?

I don’t want to take medicine, and I really don’t think I need therapy. I just want to get through it with a better attitude. I actually don’t think it’s possible, but any ideas you have would be appreciated.

Sincerely,
UNhappy Holidays

______________________________________

Dear Unhappy,

I am extending open-hearted compassion for your struggle.  The winter season can be incredibly tough for everyone, in different ways.

What could be a valued time of introspection and loving kindness, instead feels like a capitalistic debacle.  We don’t seem to be able to avoid the looming and often emotionally charged family dynamic, not to mention the cheesy Hallmark expectation to be joyful.

You are among the majority who suffer during this time, sweetheart. This is a tumultuous time, sugar, filled with obligations and bizarre shopping rituals, so try to give your self some love.

I also want to say out loud that the fact that you took the time and energy to write in to Mama M means there is a part of you that remains outside of the struggle. You have an internal witness who is receptive to support. 

This is a good thing. I spent an entire day on the couch at Thanksgiving reading old New Yorkers, and nothing bad happened to me.

According to the National Institute of Health (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686645/), seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects 6 percent of the U.S. population.  Another 14 percent of the adult U.S. population suffers from a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, known as winter blues.

Personally, sugar, I like the expression “winter blues.” It normalizes it somehow and adds a dash of color.  I think if we were supposed to be happy 365 days a year, then we would not have such complex emotional systems. 

If you are suicidal, unable to get out of bed, have feelings of worthlessness, changes in appetite or changes in sleep patterns, these can be symptoms of major depression, and I urge you to get help. 

Really, sweetie, please do not suffer alone; there is help out there for you. (sciencecafesf.com/2009/04/07/resources-for-depression/).

But, if you are experiencing malaise, a general sense of fatigue, hopelessness and/or judgment for your emotional state, then perhaps a shift in consciousness is your medicine. First, take a minute to be very honest about your baseline emotional state, because this will normalize what is typical for you.

Who are you? What is your natural temperament? Your constitution?  If you are a pretty joyful, social, energetic person who dips into the blues in the winter season, perhaps this is your body giving you permission to lie low, recharge, and learn more about yourself.

Depression, when brief and mild, can be a gift to your soul — which, believe it or not, is desperate to evolve.

Evolving is hard to do without self-reflection.  Modern life tends to be crammed and happening at the highest speeds. There is so little time in most of our lives to do “Nothing.” Doing Nothing has enormous benefits for you, sweet Unhappy one.

Doing Nothing gives you time to align with yourself, to become congruent with the person you want to be, to find peace in all of your emotions. 

We, as humans, spend so much time running from discomfort and running toward “happiness.” But what if all the emotional states had equal weight? What if everything you felt had value?

I want you to find peace, sweetheart. I wish I could remove your suffering. But, suffering can be instructive… useful… it can point you in the direction of love and understanding and knowledge and growth.

Don’t fight your feelings. Lean into them and use them to guide you into change and growth. The feelings are there to stimulate you to do what needs to be done, to change some thoughts and attitudes and behaviors, maybe….

To grow into who you are supposed to become. Sadness is a force that can generate an impulse for change, and that can be a good thing, sugar.

If you are feeling down, and tired, and are trying to push yourself to feel joy or to get into the “Holiday Spirit,” then loving-kindness may be your path.  The part of you that reached out to share your struggle is your guide. Listen to your inner wisdom.

I want to share a poem with you that someone shared with me when I was suffering from the blues and my own beliefs that I should not feel this way. Try to accept that it is OK to not-be-happy right now, and try to welcome the sad feelings in.

Listen to them, hear what they are guiding you to do. It could be that, if you stop fighting the feelings, and if you listen to them openheartedly, you may see a door into a new way for your life to change.

Or you may see that your life is perfect as it is. This poem helped me to find gratitude in the discomfort of depressive thoughts and feelings.

With much respect,
Mama M.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 

-- Jelaluddin Rumi

 

Mama M. and her editor are health providers at UCSF who understand the challenges facing health professionals. This column offers students honest, compassionate advice, wisdom and love. All communication is confidential. Names and identifying information will be withheld to maintain anonymity. Send letters to MamaM.synapse@gmail.com.

 

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