the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Autumnal equinox

Five years ago Jon and I took a mid-week afternoon drive through the Alpine Loop to take photographs of burnt red trees and the sharp shadows of aspens standing in formation, ready to march, waiting for a signal. We stopped for lunch at Sundance, several memory cards full of images telling the story of the mountain’s transformation.

Jon looked at me over my iced tea and asked me what was wrong. I didn’t know what to say to him because, while I knew there was something wrong, I didn’t know what it was.

What is worse? Being sad because something tragic has happened, or being sad because that is all your brain knows how to do? The tragedy will lose its swelling with time, but your brain stubbornly follows you, leads you, sticks it’s finger in your eye when you wake up in the morning and realize, fuck, I’m still alive.

My psychiatrist recently told me that more people commit suicide in March and September than during any other time of year. The rapid change in light, he says, roughs up those of us who have those frayed circuits in our brains, even if we’re medicated. Even if we’ve eliminated the toxins from our diet and meditate on the beach and have hours and hours of raucous sex with the person we love.

At Sundance Jon told me that ever since the day he rushed up those stairs on Stanley Avenue, taking two at a time, and we didn’t leave the apartment for days, he’s watched this sickening descent unfold every September. Neither of us knew then the reason. There had been no tragedy, at least nothing so awful that would have made me feel, there at that table in the middle of the lodge, like crawling under my chair to pull my knees to my chest so that I could muffle the sobbing.

Now we know, and I thought that the knowing would make it easier. And it has in that September will turn into October and October will merge with November, and I won’t be sitting at my desk feeling sad for no goddamn reason. But it’s knowing that there is no reason that makes it even more unbearable. Because as much as a person with depression is sad, we are the same measure of angry that we can’t just stop feeling this way.

Now that we know, I finally have an excuse to look forward to winter.

  • juliemewood

    2011/09/29 at 1:21 pm

    Sorry you’re feeling this way Heather! That’s got to so difficult to deal with! I’m glad you tweeted what you did about it though because for a few days a few weeks ago, I was feeling down. I had no real reason to feel down but your tweet helped me understand it a little more.

    Good luck! Much love!

  • Heather B.

    2011/09/29 at 1:26 pm

    I’ve been having similar feelings though I cannot articulate them as well as you do here. It’s even more difficult being late or just blah in the office where people keep telling me to ‘cheer up’ or wonder why I sit with the door closed. It’s because I’m sad and I cannot help being sad. My brain just likes to do this to itself and hopefully I’ll get through it.

    (I will say at the beginning of the month I was so fucking done with it all but now things are better but not great)

    (basically, I’m right there with you)

  • skoenig1706

    2011/09/29 at 1:40 pm

    Heather, i can’t tell you how much this post helped me. i’ve never tracked it by month (the september and may thing), but it seems to fit. i’ve definitely hit it again this month – that feeling of the world falling apart around you, and you can’t figure out why you feel that way. and choking back sobs more consistently than you’d like to admit.
    your book and your blog have been some of the best therapy i’ve ever had. knowing that i’m not alone with my struggles in depression and with not always loving motherhood makes the world of difference. so thank you for being so open!

  • cameron_barrett

    2011/09/29 at 1:46 pm

    So THAT’S what’s been going on! And here I was, thinking it was just the Red Sox implosion.

  • lindzerlou14

    2011/09/29 at 1:47 pm


    After I was diagnosed with manic depression, I pulled out my old journals, which I’ve kept for about twelve years. I read that every September, I get the same way: my mood changes, I’m sick of the daylight, ready to cocoon in winter.

    I also get the same migraine headache every year, usually within the same three days. (Got it on Tuesday, right on schedule.)

    Just wanted to say you’re not alone in your September blues, even though autumn is my favorite time of year.

    It’s amazing how our bodies can remember, even when we don’t.

  • mybottlesup

    2011/09/29 at 1:51 pm

    sigh. i’m sorry you are going through this right now. typically i loathe septembers both for the reasons you mention and because my family has suffered great tragedies during that particular month.
    for some strange reason, (maybe it’s the pregnancy) this has been a good september though. i’d even say it’s been a strong september. considering i haven’t been able to honestly say that since i was 11 years old, i’m counting it as a victory. i still feel the heaviness though, and i know exactly what it is.
    i get it. and i’m keeping you in my thoughts and sending you some east coast sunshine with extra vitamin d.
    you’re not alone, either… in case you forgot. i’m always grateful when you remind me of that.

  • taylor

    2011/09/29 at 1:51 pm

    this must be the reason i asked my doctor to up my meds last week. i’m thinking of replacing all light bulbs in my house with full spectrum light bulbs…this way it is always sunny at my house.

  • Carol Shwanda

    2011/09/29 at 1:53 pm

    I am so sorry to hear that you are feeling sad, but I am very happy and proud that you have the courage to talk about it. You are an inspiration to all and your writing is beautiful. I hope you feel better soon. If not, take a vacation in a warm, tropical place. I know people who suffer from depression and that has really helped them. Cheers and much love, Carol.

  • radiantlisa

    2011/09/29 at 1:54 pm

    I’m right there with you, sister, waiting for my new light box to arrive.

  • iampinkdog

    2011/09/29 at 1:57 pm

    Hearts and Hugs, Heather. Hang in there…

  • Barstool Babe

    2011/09/29 at 1:57 pm

    I used to go into a deep depressive episode every May. Then last September I got so bad (even with my meds) that I actually asked my doctor for sleeping pills because “I just want to go to sleep forever.” Needless to say I didn’t get the pills but did have several appointments during the month with both her and my therapist to pull me through the crisis. Now I have to watch out during both May and September.

    Thanks for the information. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one going through this cyclic process.

  • xmyrin

    2011/09/29 at 1:58 pm

    Because as much as a person with depression is sad, we are the same measure of angry that we can’t just stop feeling this way.

    I don’t think anyone has described how I feel about depression so accurately. This is exactly it for me.

  • waitimaprincess

    2011/09/29 at 2:09 pm

    I’ve never thought to look at the time of year. I always hear about Mercury being in retrograde affecting moods, but I’ve never bothered to find out what it actually means. I’m so used to wallowing, so used to being inexplicably sad, my husband has occassionally commented that no matter what he does to make me happy I don’t know HOW to be happy. But it IS particularly worse at this time of year. I also know that the whole loss of suns fucks w/my mind b/c I hate being cold. I will say this though, which I’ve told no one else (and feel wholly free to distribute it to you, Internet people), is that I’ve finally asked for…medicinal assistance. There, I said it.

  • dooce

    2011/09/29 at 2:11 pm

    @waitimaprincess that is so brave of you. Thank you for sharing that.

  • librarianjess

    2011/09/29 at 2:14 pm

    Echoing everybody else in saying: thanks for this. I have both going on right now — depression + a bad, heartbreaking breakup. The fear that This Despair Is Going To Last Forever is overwhelming some days, particularly when suddenly there is no one’s beloved hand to hold.

    Goddamnit, now I’m crying again, hold on.

    Anyway — thanks. And also, you hang in there too. We’re all here for you.

  • lori.ann.mcvay

    2011/09/29 at 2:23 pm

    THANK YOU! Geeeze! I could not figure out why the heck I have been feeling so ridiculously awful (not to mention having an unarticulated need to devour every sugar-laden, chocolatey goodness in the world). In spite of meds, the weather wins. Awwww crap! At least I know what it is now!

  • reJoyce

    2011/09/29 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks for a beautiful, wonderful, accurate post. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. I think the struggle between knowing that “nothing is wrong” and the anger that you can’t stop yourself from feeling so sad is constant. My psychologist used to ask me, “Would you be happier if you were hospitalized with a broken leg?” And the answer was a resounding “yes!”

    You’ve worded the struggle between sadness, knowledge, and anger better than I ever could and I appreciate that, because it will help me share how I feel with those I love most.

  • SerenityNOW

    2011/09/29 at 2:28 pm

    I have similar feelings around this time and I have only just come to the conclusion that it’s my brain thinking it’s time to get all anxious again because school is starting. I was an anxious kid and September brought lots of change! that I didn’t like! Even the smell of school bus exhaust brings me right back to those days.
    I also hate the feelings of guilt that accompany the depression. I have a great life! People who love me! How dare I feel “blue!”
    You described what many of us cannot. Thank you.

  • Mindy Lee

    2011/09/29 at 2:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing that. A light bulb just went off in my head. All of these years I’ve never understood why I always get so sad. I LOVE fall. I love the upcoming holidays and the big meals and the time to be with my family and friends. And big steamy cups of soup. I blame the change in seasons in my desire to cocoon, be alone, and be quiet. When really?

    It’s just depression.

  • crivens

    2011/09/29 at 2:30 pm

    Oh thank god. I just spent the last week and a half desperately obsessed with the band Tokio Hotel FOR NO REASON (well, other than that they’re fairly attractive and their music doesn’t completely suck). Now I know that although I am clearly still insane, at least there is a scientific explanation.

  • RyantheGirl

    2011/09/29 at 2:34 pm

    Really glad to have read this post… the weather really messes with me every year, but sometimes I’m too busy to notice that that’s what the problem (at least in part) is. Sending the link to this post to my SO… 🙂

  • norwego

    2011/09/29 at 2:34 pm

    I’ve been feeling bummed out for a few weeks now, and turning it into anger at people I’m not normally angry with. I’m not diagnosed with depression, though being even only slightly self-aware, I know I have mood-swings that aren’t the same as most people I know. I didn’t think about it being seasonal. I figured people were just being thoughtless or mean, or I was being thoughtless or mean, and it was a natural reaction to that.


  • Stormwhisper

    2011/09/29 at 2:44 pm

    I always associated September mood changes with school starting, but now that I’m not in school and it persists, that explains so much. It wasn’t something that I gave much thought to, but now that I look back, it all makes perfect sense.

    It certainly explains why my depression and anxiety have been going haywire over the past few weeks.

  • Ruffian

    2011/09/29 at 2:54 pm

    My decent into depression starts in the fall too. My mom passed away on December 14, 1984 ( I was 14 years old). I cannot deal with the months leading into fall and winter. No matter what I do, I cannot stop the cycle. I’ve done everything. I even moved to Florida because I thought the sunshine would help. Not really. It must be an internal clock deep inside my head that triggers this unshakeable grief.

  • Plano Mom

    2011/09/29 at 2:55 pm

    Way to go, @waitimaprincess. For me, off and on, for many, many years. Don’t be afraid to say something if the med isn’t working for you. There are several options, and as Heather and others have pointed out, different meds for different brains.

    Heather, you and Jon have helped me more than you’ll ever know.

  • solaana

    2011/09/29 at 2:56 pm

    Holy crap. You seriously just kind of blew my mind here. March for me has always been the worst month of the year – I lived in Chicago for a decade and by that point in the year I’m a wreck, even after I started taking medication. I’m hoping the birth of my brother’s kid will make it suck less, because really, as it stands now, March and February can go straight to hell. This year though, or this month, has been rough. It doesn’t help that I moved to a place where the only people I know are related to me (which is fine, but that’s exactly 4 people and they have their own lives), also that I just fell off a freaking treadmill and hurt my ankle so I can’t run and generate…serotonin, is it? also Pottermore won’t load for me so I can’t even make a simple potion (this is the most upsetting one in this list of white whines), and oh I have no job – I’ve been a crazy ass wreck, and my parents (oh, with whom I’ve been living) were getting worried. So that’s nice to know, that it’s kind of a seasonal thing and not really my fault at all.

  • Yolanda

    2011/09/29 at 3:02 pm

    I have been miserable for weeks. Completely immobile and filled with self-loathing. Three years ago, my mother-in-law attempted suicide in this very month. I’v never made a seasonal connection to the sadness before today. I always thought it was some leftover perfectionism from all the years I spent in school. And that there was something about getting to September that always made me feel every ounce of my not-good-enoughs. Like I’d just went back to school shopping and once again was going to show up with the wrong kind of jeans. But it may be the sun? A relief, yes. But I don’t know if it will stop making me feel like the only thing I am capable of in this world in failure.

  • OKMom

    2011/09/29 at 3:15 pm

    So sorry so many of you are going thru this. I don’t suffer from depression, but my 39 year old daughter has suffered for years. Hers is worse this time of year as well. Heather, when you came back from Sundance that year you posted pictures of your trip. I have used one of your Aspen pictures as my wallpaper since then. Everyone who sees it asks where I got it. I tell them my friend Heather took it and direct them to your website!

  • Phoebe Fay

    2011/09/29 at 3:18 pm

    I had a freak out the other day – panic, anxiety, frustration and tears over a stupid label in Word (damn you, Microsoft!). After, I commented to my husband that this was the first time it had happened in about six months, and I didn’t know why. Now I’m thinking that September is as good a reason as anything else I’ve come up with, and I feel better. I can view it as a bump on the sun and not as the beginning of an endless descent.

  • Chenny555

    2011/09/29 at 4:19 pm

    Thank you. For this post and all the others that make the rest of us feel less alone. February/March to me is what September is to you. Winter has been entirely too long and I start to feel like I just can’t endure any more cold, darkness, or sadness. And the guilt and anger that go along with the sadness and, consequently, the fights I pick with my husband make it a rough time of year. This past year was particularly tough because I was pregnant, hormonal and filled with even more guilt for feeling sad when my life is filled with so much good.

    Hang on. It WILL get better.

  • TalkingofMichelangelo

    2011/09/29 at 4:19 pm

    I’ve been lurking for a few months now, but I want to comment now. Thank you for writing so openly about your depression. It’s always nice, and also a little weird, when you see others feel just the same as you do. Like…oh, I guess I’m not so crazy…or maybe I am, but at least other people are in this crazy boat with me! 😛

  • mommica

    2011/09/29 at 4:37 pm

    The seasonal light changes in Alaska are pretty drastic and can mess with even those who are not depressive. I’m not sure how effective they are for people prone to depression, but have you ever tried an SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamp? I know a lot of people up here who swear by them.

  • kidsmom

    2011/09/29 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I needed to read this right N O W.

    Here’s to medicated depressives and September!

  • full contact knitter

    2011/09/29 at 5:23 pm

    Thank you for this. I really does hit home. My therpaist recently told me the same thing-that it’s the changing of the season. Usually it’s the winter to spring that hits me harder, but this season has been affecting me in the past few years as well. I try to sleep more, if I can, and have hot tea. If they have Starbucks in your area (who doesn’t at this point), try a London Fog (they also call it an Earl Grey Latte): it’s Earl Grey tea, steamed milk (or soy milk) with foam and a shot or two of vanilla. Really, it’s like a hug from the inside. And isn’t that what we all need to give ourselves once in awhile?

  • jaimalaya

    2011/09/29 at 5:33 pm

    That’s interesting. I’ve actually never thought of that. I get into a funk every spring and fall, but I mostly contribute it to the changing weather and sinus infections and that may very well be what’s wrong with me. I can’t seem to wake up all day long and all I want to do is lay around. I have no energy for cleaning the house or parenting my children. But I wonder if it does have something to do with what you said.

    Something to think about.

  • kristanhoffman

    2011/09/29 at 5:45 pm

    I don’t think I experience these May/September issues, but I wanted to say “thank you” all the same. You’re helping people, and it moves me.

  • Ezza

    2011/09/29 at 6:07 pm

    I live in Australia, so we’re in the Spring equinox at the moment. I’ve had no sleep for the past two nights and finally gave up and took a sleeping pill which ironed me out for about sixteen hours. I couldn’t get in to work today.

    If anybody gives me crap on Monday I’m going to waft a fart in their direction and say “Equinox!”

  • lagringaloca

    2011/09/29 at 6:17 pm

    Thanks for this, Heather. I always appreciate your being able to write so honestly and openly about your own struggles with depression. I was on Zoloft, then off, then on Prozac, then off, then started having some recurrent depression issues, then punched my husband in the arm, and now I’m on Zoloft again. It was a struggle for me to admit I needed pharmaceutical help but it’s good to feel normal again. Hang in there! Time passing is sometimes an advantage 🙂

  • alondrace

    2011/09/29 at 6:22 pm

    Yesterday I was told my friend took his life the day before. I don’t know how to make sense of it. I guess this is a start.

  • panduh

    2011/09/29 at 6:42 pm

    I am trying so very hard not to become one of those statistics. Struggling.

  • wordsupmixed

    2011/09/29 at 6:44 pm

    been there, almost killed myself. I finally broke 40 yrs worth of unipolar depression. I did it with light as documented here . follow the dawn therapy referneces.

    40$box, 2$ lightbulb and 40yrs depression gone.

  • Janice

    2011/09/29 at 6:47 pm

    Thanks Heather, bravo @waitimaprincess…. Interesting to me is that I’ve had depression my whole life and never thought of the seasons being part of it. I was 44 when I decided the only solution was a permanent one. Obviously that didn’t work and then I searched out a support group. What I didn’t think through was people’s interpetation of ‘Survivors of Suicide’ wasn’t the same as mine and had a room full of people yelling at me because they couldn’t yell at their lost loved one. Ten years after that unfortunate little incident, I don’t have a support system and that’s just fine right now. It was those support people who were not so supportive when things were bad. I don’t talk about it much these days, except on to the Internet 😉 I view my depression as a companion that I travel through life with. I know how close it can get before I need helps and I do have resources for help. Like many other I thank you for your willingness to share so much of yourself and allow us a place to share also. And now the companion can just go suck it.

  • wrongweek

    2011/09/29 at 7:04 pm

    You have no idea how much I needed to read that. It was like getting a big Internet hug. I have spent the last week in tears and anger for no good reason thinking some pretty scary thoughts. What makes it worse is my husband is currently deployed and I have a four-year-old who depends on me. It is nice to know I am not the only one feeling this way and that I’m not totally alone in the world. Because honestly, most of the time it seems exactly that way.

  • wendell

    2011/09/29 at 7:11 pm

    Have you thought about a wake up light?

    Philips Hf3470/60 Wake-up Light, White

    They also make them that help w/ mood, although I think that model should help. I need to get my daughter one of these, she is bipolar and has problems around this time. But seriously if you have SAD, then I know the light really does help.

  • OldDogNewTits

    2011/09/29 at 7:29 pm

    I certainly experience my share of unexplained lows from time to time. Seasonal, cyclical, hormonal – who knows? And, after twelve years of exclusive ‘momming’ to the extent that I even served TWO terms as a freakin’ PTA president, I have made the executive decision to return to my writing again. It’s therapetic … and cheaper than meds, right? I really hope everyone here adapts to the changing season and experiences more highs than lows in the future. Maybe I can make you laugh a while. Please come visit I just put a pot of coffee on and I think there’s some leftover pie in the fridge. Help yourself!

  • Shan Last Shreds Of Sanity

    2011/09/29 at 7:37 pm

    It’s very surprising to me that suicides are more prevalent in March and September. While I don’t like that March signals the end of our far too short Winters here and the beginning of 9th level of Hell temperatures (which I hate), September is glorious for me. Shorter days, cooler temperatures and the holidays all await me. My favorite seasons are Autumn and Winter. Both of those signal a time for reflection and the hope & promise of new birth.

    But I’m really weird. I get very bitchy in Summer. And I have struggled with depression & postpartum myself. I have a great fear of becoming a bi-polar like my crazy ass alcoholic mother. And that fear has paralyzed me at times.

    I’m sorry that the change of seasons affect you so. Have they associated this with SAD? The time change screws me up for almost a month each season. If that makes you feel any better. LOL

  • Caro

    2011/09/29 at 8:08 pm

    Here’s Robert Sapolsky, author of ”why zebras don’t get ulcers. ” in a fantastic lecture. I’ve found his work very helpful in dealing with my own battle with depression. I’ve suffered since I was 17.

  • Elgoodo

    2011/09/29 at 8:26 pm

    Yep, you touch a lot of people. I didn’t want to get out of bed for the past two days — my meds didn’t seem to be working and I was trying to work out how to take the next step, which I could only articulate as Not Wanting to Be. I figured my weekend plans were useless — I wouldn’t be there. Fortunately I have a boyfriend who helped me get out of bed and convinced me that I would be OK — we would be OK. I know not everyone has that support. I had no idea about the September effect, though. So interesting. It makes me feel even less alone. Thank you, again.

  • Daddy Scratches

    2011/09/29 at 8:44 pm

    Count me among those who suffer from depression, and make me the captain of those Team Depression members who get knocked on their asses by the transition from summer (yay!) into fall (boo!) and (gulp) winter (fuuuuck!).

    Watching my beloved, overpaid, underachieving Red Sox crash and burn in epic fashion last night hasn’t helped.

    I already take Wellbutrin every day. Anybody know if there’s something else I can take WITH Wellbutrin to help combat seasonal-affective disorder? I mean, like, besides heroin. Something legal, is what I’m saying.

  • Guacaholic

    2011/09/29 at 9:13 pm

    Thank you for this. Your post is what I’ve been thinking for so long but have never been able to succinctly articulate. I got married last fall and couldn’t understand why beneath all the joy, there was still such dank and oppressive sadness. When I started looking at my depression history, I put two and two together and the seasonal cues were just so blatant.

    This year. This year I will be better. I’m pregnant with my first child and due in the winter and she deserves me to be there for her. First step? Buying a freakin’ SAD lamp.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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