Beth Burnett

Storyteller

On the heels of my friend Sonya writing about her experience as a woman of size, I was inspired to post today about the importance of taking care of one’s emotional, mental, and physical health regardless of body size.

I am naturally unmotivated and I work from home. I’m an online college instructor and a writer. Since my work calls for me sitting in my chair and since I’m generally kind of lazy anyway, forces conspire to keep me pretty inactive. On top of that, I get seasonal depression (which, I guess, is new and improved over my regular depression) so the need to hibernate, stop showering, eat a lot of crap, and spend a lot of time playing Spider Solitaire is real.

This year, though, I decided to get the upper hand on SAD instead of sinking deeper and deeper into it and finally realizing sometime in February that I’ve been in a deep depression for months, my house has fallen apart, and I haven’t eaten anything that doesn’t come out of a package since the last time it was over 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

beth and joy in the rainAs soon as the temps started to dip here in the Okanagan Valley, my wife and I started putting Vitamin D drops in our coffee. One small, tasteless drop in the coffee every morning to help supplement what we’re missing from the lack of sun. It’s actually a great thing we started this when we did because immediately after, it rained here for three weeks straight. It SEEMED like three weeks straight. It might have let up here and there. But really, I’m surprised we aren’t all covered with fungus at this point. It rained so much our cold weather gear didn’t dry between walks. That’s a lot of rain. But I digress.

We have been taking pretty hearty walks twice a day since we moved to BC (end of May) but we made a promise that we would continue to do so even when it was super cold. We sometimes use guilt in the form of our senior dog to get us out on very cold days. “Look at him. He has one thing left that he enjoys in this world. How can we deny him?” So we giphy-1walk and walk and walk. Through the woods, up hills, by the river. The dog gets to sniff deer pee and eat grass and we get to enjoy nature and physical activity. On good days, these walks are the highlight of our day – the air is crisp and clean and the exercise ramps up our appetites for our hearty winter soups and stews we tend to gravitate to in cold months. On bad days, we stomp around in too much winter gear shivering and saying, “This is GOOD FOR US” through chattering teeth.

Around the same time we started the D drops, we also started light therapy. We got these Verilux HappyLights. I’m not sponsoring that brand and I don’t know enough to know if they’re better than any other brand – these just happen to be the ones we bought. Every morning, before anything else, we pour our coffee and sit with the lights for half an hour. We do it at the same time every day, so it has become kind of a ritual.

giphy-3Which leads to what I think has been the biggest point of self-care over the past couple of months. We’ve started getting up at 5 AM every morning. Hear me out on this. Joy works at 5 AM on two of her work days. On another, it’s 6 AM. Then 8 AM. Then 11 AM and noon every other weekend. We were getting up at 4 some days, and 10 some days – I always felt exhausted. Finally, I said if we had to get up that early some days, we might as well do it every day. I choose not to get up with her at 4 AM on her early days, but I set my alarm for five AM every day. This has a couple benefits. First, I’m on a regular schedule which has me tired and ready for bed around 8:30 PM, when it’s already dark anyway. Second, getting up at five AM seems to have given me new motivation for getting my work done. I’ve finally finished my seventh novel – a sequel to Coyote Ate the Stars that I’ve been dragging on for over a year. I’m caught up on grading in all of my classes. I’ve recently completed a flash fiction contest! I’m kind of on fire right now. Part of me thinks that my body is saying, “If you’re dragging me out of bed at 5 AM, you better make it worthwhile.”

I know everyone’s mileage may vary and my depression isn’t the same as your depression. But I will say that the combination of upping my D vitamins, getting on a regular sleep schedule, having daily physical exercise and time with nature, and the happy lights has made a huge difference already. I know it’s only mid-October and we have a long road until next spring. But putting in a routine right NOW while I’m still on top of things feels really hopeful.

Though–my house is still a mess.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Self-Care for Winter Depression

  1. Bethany Styer says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on self care as we enter the dark winter days. I have also developed SAD on top of my clinical depression. I’ve been taking Vitamin D year round and trying to get myself on a better sleep schedule (I’m a night owl.) Somewhere in the basement I have a Verilux Happy Light that was given to me by a friend whose doctor warned her off it because of her eye condition. I waited too long last year and didn’t have the oomph to bring it up and use it until it after the Spring Equinox when it wasn’t necessary any longer. Your mention of it is my reminder to get down to the basement and find it now! Hopefully that will give me the will to go on . . . and the desire to go on in better condition through physical exercise. That’s the one I have the hardest time with as I have bad knees and am in poor physical condition. Reading your story gives me hope that I can find my own way to health in the season ahead. I love the picture of you and your wife and the video of your dog gliding through the snow at the end of his leash. That made me laugh out loud and cheered me immensely!
    Best wishes to you.

    1. Although the dog is not mine, the rest is absolutely true. I hope you find your light! I know how hard it is to get out once you’re already dug into the depression. Even with all these steps, I can still feel the claws. One thing that helps is telling myself that I only have to do ten minutes of an exercise. Even ten minutes of walking in place or chair yoga is perfect. I am rooting for you. ❤

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