A not-so-happy holidays

My struggle with seasonal depression

jacklyn
The Spectrum

Christmas, family, snow? More like finals, seasonal depression, no. 

Winter welcomes some of the best, and worst, times of the year. Students especially find themselves caught up in the holiday hubbub, with 18- to 30-year-olds being the prime targets for seasonal depression.

Appropriately acronymed SAD, seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs during specific times of the year. It is estimated to affect 10 million Americans, and even more suffer from mild forms of the disorder, according to Psychology Today.

Lots of factors can lead to someone developing SAD. It can be the gloomy weather, the thought of being alone for the holidays or even the stress of spending time with family. Many times, people don’t realize that these things are actually depression. 

I’ve experienced seasonal depression every winter for the past five years. And every year I try to play it off as stress from finals week or by joking about how often I’ve been dissociating lately. 

I tell myself “It isn’t serious! It’ll be gone by spring! I’m just being dramatic, that’s how I am!”

Since my life is essentially an everlasting cliché, it makes sense that Christmas has been a dichotomously wonderful and terrible time of the year for me since my parents got divorced. Shortly after my parents’ separation in November of 2006, my mom’s friend and her three kids moved in with us, as they were also facing difficult times.

Then my childhood dog, Sammy, died. This all happened within the two months before Christmas and sent my little 8-year-old heart into overdrive. 

Although this series of unfortunate events started my tumultuous relationship with the holidays, it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I started to feel genuinely depressed once the first snow of the season glossed over the autumn leaves.

I never saw a therapist because I didn’t want my family to know.

I’ve continued to stay silent about just how serious my seasonal depression is and allowed it to silently ruin my holiday season year after year.

Most commonly, I can be found staying indoors, ignoring work obligations, neglecting my workout regime and eating more snacks than any 20-year-old girl should realistically be able to consume. 

This is greatly due to the financial and emotional stress that is involved with me being back in my small hometown for the holidays. 

When I am home I feel like I run on other people’s time, rushing to fit in visits with each family member before my two-hour trek back to Buffalo. It’s great to see everyone, but it deters me from my typical schedule which adds to the anxiety of the season.

My theory is that if I avoid the depression, I can have a good Christmas, and if I face the disorder, I’ll destroy Christmas. It’s like “The Grinch,” but my heart just keeps getting bigger and there’s a lot more crying.

Another game I like to play is “I spent two years as a psychology major so I don’t need to see a therapist.”

My mom likes to say that I think I know everything, and I think she’s right. Especially when it comes to my own mental health. Why would I waste my time talking to someone else about my problems when I’ve already thought them through by myself?

But the reality of the situation is that SAD should not be taken lightly. It is just as real as other mental health disorders, is very common and routinely treated and I likely won’t destroy anyone’s Christmas by going to a therapist.

In fact, the world will probably be a happier place after I see a professional. 

I believe everyone should see a therapist at least once in their lifetime. There is so much to be learned from speaking with a professional about mental health, especially since it is something that is nearly impossible to see objectively. 

Now I need to take that understanding and apply it to myself. 

It’s easy for me to tell my friends and family to reach out and get help because I care about them and want them to live their best and healthiest lives. But for whatever reason, I can’t seem to motivate myself to get help, even though I know it’s the right thing to do. 

Self-care is just as important and bringing myself to see a therapist this holiday season is a step I need to be ready to take.

For students who experience SAD, UB provides various free mental health services on campus. There are also local services and plenty of hotlines and professional online chat services to help to cope with all kinds of mental health issues. 

So if you’re like me, please do yourself a favor and reach out to someone this season. Because everyone deserves to have a support system during the most emotionally ambiguous time of the year.

If you are struggling with a mental health emergency, call University Police at 716-645-2222. If you are in need of non-emergency mental health services, contact UB’s Counseling Services at 716-645-2720.

Jacklyn Walters is an assistant news editor and can be reached at jacklyn.walters@ubspectrum.com