Leaning In to Winter Blues

Ah, February, the month of international depression. The time when winter gets real, when seasonal adjustment disorder (SAD) becomes more than just a funny acronym, and when New Year’s resolutions get thrown out the window. It seems to be a good month for a slump.

And sometimes, a slump is just the thing. Depression can seem like a looming spectre – something to be afraid of, to dread. But honestly, it can be a gift. I know it sounds crazy, but we all have phases of ups and downs in life, and the downs don’t have to be so miserable.

Maybe you’ve been pushing yourself really hard all month, taking on new responsibilities or relationships and getting exhausted – you feel yourself draining, emotionally and physically, heading for a collapse or an explosion. Notice that. You can keep your eyes open, stay aware of where you’re heading. It doesn’t have to be scary, doesn’t have to have power over you. It might feel like you’re falling, but you can catch yourself.

I’m always telling myself to “stay woke” – my words for staying aware, maintaining mindfulness, not sleeping on myself, on my emotions or moods, not forgetting that I need tending to. Because it’s when you forget, when you ignore yourself, that depression or anger or sadness will blindside you like a tsunami and sweep you along with it. But if you’re watching – if you’re staying woke – you don’t have to drown. You can just ride the wave.

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I’ve learned to take depression as my body or mind telling me to take a break. I have a natural tendency to be really hard on myself, to push myself and maximize the use of all my minutes, so when I start to feel dull, I listen. I step back, watch a black and white movie, take a bath, and allow myself to enjoy the dullness instead of getting swept up in a pity party of malevolent coping mechanisms and lies.

You don’t have to listen to depression. It might tell you terrible things about yourself and the world and the people around you, but they are not true. Make lists of truths about yourself – you are capable, you are worthy, you are strong, you are beautiful, you are exactly where you need to be. One phrase I really like – the universe is for me, and so is everything else. I got it from my favorite Youtube yoga instructor, Adriene – it might seem a bit abstract or even unbelievable, but repeat it to yourself along with some deep breaths. Say it out loud. Speak it into existence. Write these truths down and hang them on your wall, say them to yourself in the mirror. Carry them in your pocket. Just because you’re depressed doesn’t mean you are worth any less.

Depression is hard, but, if you’ve experienced it before, you know that even when it seems like it will last forever, it does end. You’ve seen the clouds break and felt the sunshine beam down on you, you’ve climbed out of the pit and stood on solid ground. You’ve done it once, so have faith – you can do it again.

Trust yourself to navigate the caverns wisely, take solace in the existence of light. Even if you can’t see it right now, it’s still there, and you’ll make it out alive. Maybe even better for the experience. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and before you know it, depression isn’t quite a friend, but at least a frenemy that you don’t mind seeing now and again because you are prepared for it – you know how to treat it, and you know how to make sure it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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So welcome, February. Bring on the depression. We can handle it.

Love, calm, & care –

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Turning Trauma into Beauty

Have you ever looked in the mirror and been displeased? Do you say mean things to yourself? Apologize for taking up space? Constantly berate yourself for the slightest faux pas? These are signs of self-loathing, and maybe that sounds extreme, but the prevalence of these symptoms leads me to ask – why do we hate ourselves?

In writing about the journey of self-love, I’ve been thinking about what the root causes of self-hatred are. Personally, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of traumatic events and words that all shaped themselves into an ugly mass of depression. As I speak with other people about this, the same rings true. The culprit: trauma.

What is trauma? Trauma is something beyond your control that happens to you. Be it rape, an abusive relationship, or the death of a loved one, it creates a victim – you. This can be hard to accept, and it can also be easy to get stuck in. While recognizing your own victimization is a necessary part of healing, living in the victim mentality is not healthy. That mentality has no movement, no growth – it keeps you stuck, stuck in the mindset that things happen to you, that you are powerless.

And we hate ourselves because we become consumed with this thing that happened to us – the ugliness of it – and we take it on. Internalizing that hideous thing occurs when you allow it to define you, and, naturally, you hate the trauma, so you start to hate yourself. But you are not your trauma. Maybe someone raped you, but you are so much more than the girl or guy who got raped. Maybe someone verbally abused you, constantly looking over your shoulder, criticizing every move, but you and I are so much more than the girls and guys who were in abusive relationships. We are survivors – strong women [or men – humans]. And our lives are not defined by the bad things that have happened to us.

Yes, those things happened, and we’ll always carry the things that happened with us. But what will you do with it? Will you let it be a burden, weighing you down with every step, every look, constantly defining your perspective and yourself? Or will you turn it into an asset? Because that is possible. Turn that weakness into strength. Journal, talk to a therapist, explore the roots of your trauma, dig up all the dirt and clean it out.

We reflect what we see in the world and in ourselves. If, when you look at yourself, all you see is the trauma – the ugly thing that happened to you that you have no control over – you will believe that you are ugly. But this is not true. What about your ambition, your strength, your wit, your cute fingers, your bright eyes, your thick hair? Look in the mirror. Smile. Look outside, look at other people, look at yourself and find the beauty in these things. Think of it as a treasure hunt at first, and then, as you practice, the colors of the world get brighter and you’re like Alice in Wonderland, constantly looking around in awe and even checking yourself out in the mirror. Because we live in a beautiful world, and there is beauty in every single one of us. You just have to find it.

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