Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

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.

  • plurabelle

    God.

    I just got asked not to return to my outpatient psychiatry program because my level of real “made the other patients feel sad.”

    Since my poor sad overachieving ass has been qualified as one of the smartest brains of my time (and that’s just my ass!) by someone I respect, I have to believe there’s something out there for me.

    But what, fuck? My husband has been locked in the bathroom, crying; the “world renowned’ programs I’ve consulted refer me back to one another; and my, god bless her, therapist has promised me that she and I between our doctoral degrees and education will figure out a treatment program for “women like me:”

    Women like me with:
    GREAT insurance
    living in the eastern corridor
    great, supportive partners
    no kids/dependents
    no job/responsibilities

    IF I AM BEYOND HELP WHO ISN’T???

  • abi

    Oh Heather, this so much. I’ve always attributed my difficulty with September to my mom’s death in September 1991 — but you’re right that there’s also a kind of skewed-ness, a not-quite-fitting-right, to September, and it helps to know there’s a reason. Well, “helps” isn’t right, because it’s doesn’t lessen the drowning feeling, the emotions sliding out of control, out of grasp — but affirming, anyway.

    Thank you for writing this, and thank you for how open you’ve been about your depression for all these years. Your words have given me strength at times that I’ve really needed it. Thank you.

  • J. Bo

    Wow, do I know this song by heart…

  • deirdre

    thank you for posting this.

  • Heather_R

    Is that what’s going on?! Thank you, Heather. Think I’ll be reserving any major changes until later next month. Right now, warm baths and herbal tea…

  • Mommaschmoop

    Just remember that it will cycle back soon enough. You won’t be sad forever, even if it feels that way at the time. When you can’t control the crappy feelings, try to think about the little things you can control – breathing, eating, other basics. The minutes will continue to go by until you have reached the good part of the cycle. Also, I try to remind myself that the fact that I tend to feel bad way more often than my friends and family makes me appreciate the GOOD days more…albeit few and far between. The happy days mean more to me because they aren’t expected, and I know better than to assume they will continue with any regularity. They’re like a surprise gift when they come around, which makes them even sweeter.

  • The Bold Soul

    Gosh, it’s like we’ve all heard about seasonal affective disorder, but as with a lot of other commenters (commentors?) here, I’d never given any thought to those transitional months when the seasons change so radically. We live in Paris and winters here are filled with days of grey skies when the sun doesn’t really appear until 8am and disappears by 5pm (we make up for it in summer with super long days of sunlight until nearly 11pm), and so we loathe the winters. Just yesterday I mentioned to my husband that I realized it now gets dark at 8pm and it isn’t really dawn yet when we get up at the usual time, and we both felt sad about that loss of light. Neither of us is affected by SAD the way some others are, but nonetheless, we do feel sad about the change of seasons. I do have a migraine today and I was chalking it up to monthly hormones but perhaps it IS light-related as well. Hmmm. Thanks for this post, Heather.

  • ltlepaw

    It’s beyond ironic that you post this today.

    My sister attempted suicide on Tuesday. They believe she was unconsious for two hours. She had taken pills at a park, and ended up under a bridge, partially submerged in a river. Somehow by the grace of whatever being, she’s okay (if you can call it that) with no brain damage.

    I’m beyond lost, I don’t know how to help her. We had an abusive father that she’s never gotten over, and I feel so helpless as to how to help. I decided to just say fuck it, I don’t want him to define who I am, but I’ve never been able to get her over that hurdle.

    This is the third attempt, and the closest she came. I’m so afraid that the next time will be real and for good. She’s checked herself into a psychiatric hospital, but since it’s voluntary, she can uncheck (is that a word) at any time, and she’s already talking about it because she hates it. Anyway, thanks for letting me post. I feel like I have to be the strong one, and can’t really vent to anyone, but I guess the anonymous internet doesn’t really mind.

  • prudent.law.student

    you live inside my head heather. i hope you know how much it helps to have someone so beautifully articulate the pain and sadness I feel for no reason other than my chemicals don’t work right! And the crushing anger that comes along with feeling like you have everything in the world and still aren’t happy. I read about your work with mothers around the world and i feel selfish and sad. Here I am living a life other may feel creates no room for sadness (married to a wonderful man, doing well in and actually liking law school, two wonderful, happily married parents) but the sadness just lingers. thank you for writing this. thank you for putting yourself out there.

  • sarahfromthenorth

    I’m so glad you know – and that you have a great supporting husband to help you through these rough times. Will it get better, will it fade? I can’t imagine what that feeling it like, it must be awful.

    We lost our friend last Sept 6, he left behind his wife and two beautiful boys, one of which my son plays hockey with. I cannot believe that we did not see this in him, he was so happy and ‘up’ the two weeks prior. It devastates me that he probably wanted help but we just didn’t know :(.

  • mybottlesup

    @Daddy Scratches i take prozac with wellbutrin… well, except for now when i’m pregnant. so you can imagine how much fun i am. 🙂 good luck!

  • wendell

    @DaddyScratches my husband was on Wellbutrin alone as per his GP. Was not working, I told him he needed to go to a psychiatrist, who then added Zoloft (she calls this combo Well Off har har) and it’s been great for him. The psych told him that Wellbutrin isn’t really meant to be taken just by itself…it works better in conjunction with another SSRI.

  • nina-dsd

    For those out there suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I cannot recommend light therapy enough. If you’re not sure if this is you, check out “Seasons of the Mind” a book by Dr. Norman Rosenthal. The dawn-light helps too. Good luck to all of us in the Northern Hemisphere..and southern in a mere 6 months.

  • grapedidit

    I’m so sorry to hear this Heather. I’m pregnant w/ baby number two and realizing that while a lot of people feel happier when pregnant, I actually feel the opposite. I have to remind myself over and over that these days will pass. It’s hard to understand depression until you go through it yourself – I never had this perspective when I was younger.

    Here’s to hoping the change in light screwing with your brain and so many others ends soon!

  • Dana D.

    This year I finally made the connection between the seasonal shift and my anxiety. The shortness of breath and temper, the extreme flight or fight, the worry. It all ramps up hard as August cedes to September. I first noticed it three years ago but had no idea it was seasonally related until it recurred last year – right on time – and then this year. What’s shocking to me is that fall is my absolute favorite season. It feels so strange now to simultaneously love the beauty of the leaves, the changing light and the air … and yet loathe what it means for me.

  • kilawatts

    I just cried at my desk because of this post. You just put into words the feelings I have nagging at me constantly, the ones that make me feel broken and abnormal. And now I feel a little less alone. Thank you.

  • WindyLou

    Well, hell. No wonder.

    Once again, thanks for putting things like this out there. That’s why my anxiety/depression drugs haven’t seemed to be working lately. I’ve been fretting for no good reason.

  • Scott-5×5

    Holy crap. I don’t know if I’m more surprised by wanting to say “Me too!” or by the incredible number of people here in the comments saying “Me too!” We’re almost all saying the same thing: so that’s why! Thanks Heather, for pointing this out. I couldn’t agree more that it’s very frustrating not to have control over it, but there’s some reassurance in knowing it’s seasonal, and that there are all these other people in the boat with you.

  • Amy J.

    After 20 years of dealing with people who have either depression or manic depression, I can vouch big time for the seasonal stuff.

    My best friend got very irritable and sad during the seasonal switches. And, unfortunately, killed himself two years ago in March.

    I get it to a certain degree, but I’m Vitamin D deficient and have insomnia alot, so I know what causes it. I actually love the fall…my birthday is in the fall and I like winter more than summer. But I can feel the change in light…for sure.

    Hang in there Heather.

  • Amy J.

    And I can’t believe I forgot this, but my nephew killed himself three years ago in September!!!

    Wow. Scary, actually.

  • kheliwud

    I have been fighting depression for almost 20 years, my entire adult life. Off and on the varoius meds of the day. And still, mid-August comes, the slant of the sun changes and I am plunged into a deep black pool. I hate feeling this way. But I soldier on, take the chemicals and try to act “normal”. Well, folks, this is normal for me. And since both of my parents have dealt with it as well, I really had little chance of escaping. 2 things made me feel less odd and alone: finding out that my baby brother also faces the same daily battle with depression and anxiety (while I thought he skated along) and this post I read yesterday. While it does not change the strange itch and tremors, it helps to know, I am not alone in the dread of this time of year. Thank you for that. And for your unflinching honesty. Sometimes I even announce that I have a mental illness just to see how others react. Wicked, I know, but some need to have their eyes opened to the fact that we try to function and do not always walk around in straight-jackets. Thanks again.

  • hooha

    holy hell, what a gorgeous post. thank you.

  • j-momma

    Heather, I have so much respect for you and everyone who deals with their depression and other mental challenges head on. I have been trying to be your Jon to my Heather, but I get met with angry resistance and denial. It is very sad and frustrating to see the one you love go through this type of difficulty and do nothing to help themselves and instead choose to blame the world. I am welling up with tears just writing this. I try to help and be supportive but so much of it has to come from that person recognizing something isn’t right and wanting to be better. Keep up the fight, life is worth it!

  • insanelyme

    Ah Ha!

    Thank you Heather for all you share.

    Sometimes I take refuge in the little faces that call me ‘mommy’. They take me away … to a place where depression doesn’t live … at least for a little while anyway.

  • sarahemilygray

    This post was exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thank you.

  • Palesa

    I really hope you feel better soon, Heather. I’ve been on the slippery slope many times with depression and know how sickening it feels, and how hard it is to explain to others. You articulate it beautifully. Which is why we all come back to read you all the time!

    Hope it eases soon. Hang in there. Sending warmth and hugs 🙂

  • Betsy Shaw

    Would it be inappropriate of me to say this post made me happy? As long as I can remember, September has ushered the down dragon into my life, dragging me down further with every passing day and teaching me to breathe fire. Let’s hope October brings lighter breezes. Then comes fucking hunting season.

  • Lauren3

    Love you, H-dawg. Beautifully said.

  • Trina

    You hit the nail on the head with this one Heather. Here I thought I was the only one going through the September BLAHS.

    By the time March rolls around I just want to go away, get out of my skin, get some sun.

    Thank goodness for vitamin D and meds!!! 🙂

  • Meaghan H

    Once again you have put into words the subtle feeling of quiet terror that inches it’s way in from time to time. But, I’ve leaned that it fades.
    Four years ago, in March, I finally went to counseling because I could no longer handle being what I called a ‘protectionist who procrastinates’. It was so much more, and yet nothing I could put into to words – no thing was wrong, but it was all spiraling out.

    That March, reading your blog I finally found the words, but more importantly, I found the courage to finally seek help.

    Thank you. Here comes October.

  • Garden Gnome Arts

    I’m going to pass this onto a friend, I think it will help her to feel a little less alone today.

    Always lovely to read your blog Heather:]

    -Camille
    GGA

  • writtendad

    I first saw your tweet about this earlier this month (or late in August?) and, assuming it related to everyone, I made a point of stopping by the cubicle of someone at work on a daily basis. We’ve never been especially close, but he seemed to be floundering a bit so, with your tweet in the back of my mind, I sat in his cube each morning to chat and see how he was. Turns our he has been struggling with anxiety, depression, divorce, and quitting smoking all at the same time. That all came out over the course of my visits and two days ago he pulled me aside and thanked me for talking to him, for listening to his problems, and for taking the time out of my day. He said it really helped. Maybe he would have been fine without me stopping by, maybe September had no impact on his mood, but your tweet made me do it and he thanked me for it, so I thought I should share that here.

    Thank you from him to me and thank you from me to you.

  • Robyn L

    Cymbalta is my best friend. This is the first September I’ve had without feelings of deep despair.

    And keep running. Even if you’re still sad, you’ll feel like you have a purpose each day with a measurable accomplishment. xo

  • ellapritch

    Hi Heather, thank you for sharing because I think there’s such a stigma surrounding depression, and seeing such a successful, beautiful, funny woman being 100% honest about her struggles and not being ashamed to take medication or do whatever is necessary to feel okay is refreshing, and could possibly save a life. (helloooo run-on sentence, oops). My husband committed suicide six years ago. He was too proud and stubborn to seek out help and thought he should be strong enough to ‘fix’ himself. Such a shame, so sad, not how things should’ve turned out at all. As I read in a book shortly after his death…”suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” So true.
    Hang in there, girlfriend. This is my very first time responding. I promise subsequent replies won’t be so heavy!

  • Pandora Has A Box

    It’s so helpful, in managing depression, to get a handle on how seasons affect us. Autumn has never been an issue for me; it’s my favorite time of the year, hands down. But spring? My god. “April is the cruelest month” indeed.

    Also, thank you for making it clear that one can do every thing “right” (therapy, exercise, diet, meditation, banging bongos naked in your back yard) and still…and still…and still…be depressed and need medication. The only reason I’m alive today is because I did everything “right” and then got onto medication. When the brain chemistry turns on a dime, nothing else will help.

    Thank you, thank you.

  • Jeni

    Just wanted to throw my hat in the ring and thank you for putting in to words so perfectly what this effing depression feels like. And of course, for helping us feel not so alone. xo

  • Mr Seitz

    Could you possibly be a member of the those of us that suffer from S.A.D.? Seasonal Affect Disorder. I know it sounds like a made up illness. I am from Michigan, and feel it come on about this time of year myself. To the degree that you describe, well, no. I am just reminded that I hate winter, when Autumn arrives. Kind of takes from the joy of Autumn. I really like the seasonal change from summer to Autumn. But you can have winter. Dark all of the fucking time. Cold, shitty sloppy weather. I have found that a trip out of state, to someplace warm and sunny helps. If that’s not in the cards, lot’s of light, and brighter colors in your home will help too. Even a trip to a nice hotel, with your spouse, to enjoy the Jacuzzi. (Better yet, if you have the means, a Jacuzzi, right in the back of the house might be a better option!) Nothing like slipping into a 103 degree bubbling caldron, and out again in the freezing weather, to dive into your warm home, laughing and enjoying an adult beverage in a big warm towel to shake off the winter blues. Just knowing you can do that over and over again as you wish, must help. Truth is, as we all get older, winter really does blow. Sunshine is essential in the health of ones mind. Feeling it on your skin, covering your eyes when it’s so bright, is all part of the human condition. We like the sun. We like to be warm. It’s why we migrate south..

  • varway

    I feel very lucky not having this happen to me, but I wonder and have to ask….does this have to do with where you live? Is it related to weather? Does this affect people who live in cold, wintery, snowy places more than it does people who live in more temperate areas?

    Seems to me (putting on my amateur psychologist hat) that this might be more related to coming in and out of winter (harsh winters, with lots of snow and cold) than we might think.

    Oh, and full disclosure, I live in San Antonio, a place with very little harsh winter activity.

  • kelmochel

    I do not suffer from depression, but I have loved ones that do. And now -gulp- I am a mother. I have two girls. The 21mo old has been a CRABASS for 3 days straight. We live way up in the mtns in CO, and all us local mamas keep talking about how the seasons changing are affecting our kids, but this post takes that understanding to a new level. The more I can learn about how different people (kids included) are influenced by seasons changing, the better. Many thanks, and take care. All of us high country peeps will find solace in bitching about the copious amounts of snow soon enough (and we’ll love it – we wouldn’t keep living here if we didn’t).

  • iwasawriter

    OMG. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you mentioned this. I had no idea, and for about 2 weeks now I’ve been wondering just what the hell the problem is. I’ve always been able to make the February/March connection, but this makes so much sense too! After three years of reading and never leaving a single comment, I went through all the registration just to tell you that you helped me today. Thank you!

  • aunty_del

    Thank you!

    I’ve had that irritable, dissatisfied with everything & nothing, blah feeling in spring for years, so regularly that my ex-partner called it September-itis (I’m in Australia). Now that I know I’ve probably had mild depression for years it was probably worse at that time of year; even now that I’m on antidepressants it’s a bit worse.

    Have even sent this link to my ex, with a Eureka! note.

  • mrscunning14

    Many warm, loving hugs to you. Hang in there.

  • 2bdboys

    My Dad committed suicide in March 1979…i never knew that little statistic either. I doubt it would have been easier to know that all my life, but wish that he had known it was going to get better if he just made it around that corner…

  • Karyn

    it’s like you’re in my head. thanks so much to you and to your commenters for helping me feel a little less alone and crazy.

    http://karyninny.com/2011/10/03/empty/

  • swilliams38

    This is just what I needed. Thank you.

  • Crazy Card Lady

    Yep I hear you Heather! Love the choking feeling I get out of the blue sometimes. Damn Cosmos!

  • Bonnierh

    Heather, this post inspired me enough to get me over my writers block. I hope this its ok to do this and I gave you credit! http://twentysomethingfails.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/moments-of-weakness/
    p.s. I love you and your family and have followed this blog for years! You are an inspiration in so many different ways 🙂

  • Jenny Hatch

    Heather,

    Cyclical Depression is also related to Trauma.

    I was gang raped in 1989 and had no memory of it for twelve years. All we knew is that every April I would have a mini meltdown accompanied by tons of emotional distress, including depression and panic.

    As each year clicked by I became more and more agitated the closer I came to remembering the assault.

    A whole Cottage Industry has been instituted around the notion of False Memory Syndrome, and frankly I did not believe in repressed trauma all during my twenties.

    When my brother died in 2001, it triggered my memories to begin coming into my concious mind. As I have healed these past ten years from the Gang Rape as well as Family Pattern Sexual Abuse, I have learned that the year anniversaries of traumas are key healing times. Five, ten, fifteen, and twenty year anniversaries are also big memory triggers.

    But perhaps the greatest triggers have occured when my children have reached certain ages. My son Ben who is almost nine has provided the most profound healing opportunities. As he reached certain key ages starting when he was eight months old, my body and mind would recreate certain scenarios and attempt to reconcile the trauma. I dreamed so much during this time, and my dreams were always helpful in pointing me in the right direction as to where healing was to be found.

    I pray as you move through whatever cyclical pattern is happening in your mind, that you can make it safely through to the other side.

    God Bless!

    Jenny Hatch

  • irritableblogsyndrome

    Thank you so much for sharing that piece of information about suicide rates being higher in March and September. I lived in WA for 12 years (recently moved to Vegas thank goodness) and September was so painfully hard for me because I new it was the beginning of nine long months of constant rain and no sunshine. March is right around the time of year I would start to lose it because of being the dark and rain for so long. We started to schedule trips to CA during that month so I could cope. Thank you again for being so candid in sharing your ongoing battle with depression.

  • colagrl

    After waiting for a long time to find the right thing to say – this post pulled at my heart the other day. My father died from depression 16 years ago (which is longer then eternity every passing year). He had a sun light and he took meds but one day he just couldn’t go on. I know how the fall seasons just dragged him down. Christmas was just so depressing because he didn’t want to get up out of bed.

    And though I don’t suffer from depression – not being able to see the sun, feel the warmth on my arms, my face… and in my heart; it brings me down too (remind me again why I allowed my husband to move us to Denver??). I know it will get better – as you do too, it just seems like forever sometimes and then I’ll bask in the warmth of my Jeep in the Spring.

    Maybe this was why I had that crazy notion to buy a Jeep after all these years! Maybe my dad should have gone one too! I enjoyed the summer so much this year driving with a soft top on the Jeep (next year – NO TOP on the JEEP!) with the wind in my hair, the sun on my arms and the music loud. Really loud. My own natural sunlight on wheels…

    How many days till Spring??