Writer’s list helps battle seasonal depression
by Mick Rhodes | email@example.com
I once counted myself among the lucky few who strode through life, high above the depression and anxiety that can ebb and flow for so many of us.
But the fact of aging, coupled with the heartbreak of parenthood and a painful, protracted divorce, combined to wear me down over the past decade. I’ve never been debilitated, but I have been down to the point of wondering how and when the heavy fog might lift.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a sadness that can begin or end when seasons change, often tied to winter, when the days are shorter and the weather gets chilly. I know lots of folks who go through this, me included. Others get cranky when the days get long and hot in summertime, of course, but the holidays are here and the sun is setting at what seems like 3 p.m., so let’s talk about winter.
This sadness makes sense, of course, with the avalanche of holiday cards and social media posts featuring presumably functional, happy families in matching sweaters reminding us of what we’ve lost, or at the least that we don’t ever want to be photographed in matching sweaters.
The lucky ones gather with family and loved ones over the holidays and exchange gifts, share meals, and reconnect with old friends. But some of us just can’t; many don’t have the means, and of course COVID is re-raging in some parts of the country, again making travel a potentially life-threatening proposition. Others still are estranged from their families, some by choice, others by circumstance. And some are simply alone.
I grew up very, very lucky. We weren’t rich, or even middle class, but we had health, a home, a family, and food on the table. It didn’t occur to me there were people in my own town who had none of these things.
In adulthood, I began to see and understand this disparity in happiness. I see it in me, my family, and in our community. And it’s only heightened around the holiday season.
Therapists tell us making lists of what we’re grateful for can help jump start the old serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin in our brains, those life-affirming hormones that retreat when we’re depressed.
So here’s my list of things for which I’m grateful. It’s not complete by any stretch, but I do believe I’ve hit upon many of the big ones, and it helped me feel better to write it. I encourage you to make your own:
• I’m grateful for my four children and two grandchildren. Even though, as an excellent recent piece in The Atlantic pointed out, they don’t always make me “happy” per se, my children do give me a sense of purpose, that I am doing something good and important with my limited time here. And yes, they often do make me happy. But let’s be honest: kids can, and will, break your heart.
• For my fiancé, Lisa, who’s taught me how to love and be loved, and what true kindness looks like. I’m graced to have her in my life in an unusual season: I’m 58, and by most measures should have already either found my spot or accepted my aloneness. About eight years ago I mounted an unlikely late-inning comeback, thanks to her.
• For my extended family. Once large and loud, we are now small in number. Though I miss so many, I cherish our wacky little clan. I include my loyal, soulful close friends in this category, as they’ve become family too. This “family you choose” option has been a powerful force for good in my life. It’s of special value for us only children, whose parents and nearly all other remaining immediate family relations are gone.
• For food and shelter. I am housed. As I age I am reminded more and more that sometimes a few bad breaks — geography, a missed paycheck or two, illness — can be the difference between a roof and a bed, and the streets. And this fact is unfortunately becoming more and more stark as the wealth gap continues to widen between the haves and have nots. My late mother left me her home. Without this loving, sustaining gift, one that will reverberate through generations of Rhodes to come, my entire life would look different. I’m aware my situation is rare, and I’m forever grateful to my beautiful mom for allowing me this privilege of relative financial peace.
• For my health. Lately I’m reminded of how lucky I am just to be alive, at age 58. Dear friends have moved on recently, some around my age, and I feel fortunate to be here. I also feel lucky to want to be here. This is certainly not always the case, another unfortunate fact of life as we get older.
• For access to healthcare. It’s really a privilege to even pontificate at all on Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression and anxiety. Many people have no access at all to physical or mental health services. I’m extremely lucky to have both options available to me. Some would argue I need more of the latter than the former.
• For art. I don’t know where my precarious mental health would be if I weren’t lucky enough to be paid to write news and feature stories, profiles, opinion and investigative pieces and obituaries for the COURIER. It’s a privilege, using my modest skills to create things that did not exist prior to me pounding them into shape in my tiny kitchen office. I’m also a songwriter and performer, and though the monetary rewards are well south of modest, writing and playing music are monumentally, intangibly beneficial to me. Having something you’ve made cause someone to close their eyes and move their body, or otherwise connect to the message contained therein, is an indescribably gratifying rush, and a true cornerstone of my mental health. I am honored to be a small part of the tradition.
• For my privilege. I’m white. I recognize it’s at the very least in bad taste to say it so bluntly, but let me explain: I don’t get chased and shot by groups of self-styled enforcers as I jog down the street; I don’t get pulled over by the police when I’m perceived to be in “the wrong neighborhood,” or murdered by same for passing a fake $20 bill. Being white in America is a major advantage in every economic and social category you can name. It’s not right, but it’s true. I’m ashamed of most of our country’s history when it comes to race, and as the events of the past two years have made clear, the phony baloney trope of white supremacy, overt or unspoken, continues to permeate every strata of American life. I hope we can do better.
Finally, I’m grateful for songs, thrift stores, dogs, cats, tacos, Ventura, Desert Willow Ranch, Pappy and Harriet’s, Tahoe, old smelly vintage guitar amps, guitars, vinyl records, movies, coffee, good whiskey, and long drives in any direction.
As I said, this is only a partial list. Maybe I’ll add to it next Thanksgiving. For now, I wish you peace, and I hope you are able to recognize and enjoy whatever blessings your life may offer.