I was shaken out of my reverie by my teacher, who asked me what I thought is the most important theme of the poem. I glanced back at the poem and a verse jumped out at me, “All bright and glittering in the smokeless air”.
“The weather,” I replied.
She considered my answer for a moment and then asked me to elaborate.
“Well, by the sound of his words, you can tell its summertime. He’s sitting atop the bridge, looking out into the glistening city of London under a warm sun that’s risen in a cloudless sky. He’s comfortable, he’s cozy, and the sun gives everything a new light. Try imagining what the poem would be like in a harsh blizzard in wintertime. He’d hardly be able to sit on the bridge, let alone get a view from up there.”
The class shared a chuckle. My teacher had smiled and said she liked my answer. Practical, yet romanticized.
“Speaking of winters in London, I came across a morbidly interesting fact. Suicide rates are always highest in the winters – you can actually see bodies floating along the River Thames in the winter… Now who knows what winter depression is?”
This moment has since been implanted in my memory. It holds a special place in my heart, not just because it was a moment of truth, but a moment that changed my life significantly. I had learnt the truth about my mind, the way it works, the way it crashes and turns and morphs into something called the Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Back to my classroom (I guess it’s yours too now), my teacher had suddenly grasped the attention of all my classmates. They’d stopped whispering, and sharing chits, and yawning. I guess this concept hit home for everyone.
“Has anyone gotten this strange sensation of sadness, of loss, or lethargy during winter?” she’d asked.
“Only before midterms,” a boy answered wryly. The class laughed, but I could sense they’d become uncomfortable.
“A change in your mood can occur when the season changes. Most often, when it’s wintertime, you feel a growing sense of hopelessness, you feel isolated, and you become moody. You ask your mom to make you a cup of tea, and she says no. Lo and behold! You start crying, you throw a tantrum. Little rejections make you feel worse than usual. Even if you want that cup of tea very much, you might not have the energy to get up and make it. At the same time, you could be scarfing down chips and cookies and chocolates and all that junk – because it gives you a temporary buzz. You may even want to stay in bed for longer, and it’s not just because it gets cold.”
I had identified with all these things. I asked her why. I asked her how we know we suffer from it. I asked her if it could be helped.
“Sometimes when you don’t get enough sun, your biological clock starts malfunctioning. That could lead to feelings of depression. And then there are some hormones affected by it too, like serotonin and melatonin. A decrease in their levels also triggers depression and affects your sleeping patterns. That’s right, I’m not only good with juxtapositions and hyperboles.” She added a little joke. “You’ll know you have it if this change in mood comes around a specific time of the year. Can it be helped? Well you could try. Go out in the sun more, take some medication, try keeping a positive mindset. Keep yourself busy. Surround yourself with things and people you love. Don’t isolate yourself.”
My experience with it
I finally had a name for the feelings I suffered through every year. I finally made sense of it. It’s been such a big part of my life, but I thought it was something unique to me – a deformation in my personality only I had. But hearing her lecture, I could tell it wasn’t something to be ashamed of. It wasn’t a deformation. It was simply a thing. A state of being.
It was like being stuck in one place as your world passed you by and left you behind. You’d try reaching out but you couldn’t muster the energy to. Sometimes all I wanted to do was stay buried beneath the warmth of my comforter – the only warmth I ever felt. It was like I could hear nothing but my roaring thoughts, feel nothing but a sense of dulling panic that rose and fell to nothingness. Sometimes the sound of a pigeon’s call irritated me, sometimes it was the sound of footsteps. I’d put on a lot of weight eating junk, stuff I’d try burning off the rest of the year. I remember I had a very big fight with my best friend last winter, and it threw me further into this spell. I realized it was a vicious cycle – I got moody, I fought, I turned moodier.
But there is a way to break away from this cycle. There is a way to have a semblance of control over your life. The first stage is always accepting that there is something wrong. Once you identify this problem (don’t create problems – really ponder whether you have it), you can do a lot to help yourself. Stay outdoors more. Delve into a sport, a hobby, and give back to others. Do what makes you feel good – no matter how small or insignificant you think it is. Keep your loved ones around you, and try not to fixate on your problems. A positive mindset, or attempting to have on, really did go a long way for me. It’s difficult changing what’s ingrained. But it’s not impossible. Besides, think of that sweet cup of hot cocoa every night. It really kept me going!