It’s dark by five o’clock in the evening.
You can’t walk anywhere without your toes starting to freeze.
The air outside fills your lungs with a sharp pain.
Family and friends have returned home and you’re left by yourself.
The bustle of the holidays and of last second to do lists suddenly slows.
And you’re left feeling empty.
Does this sound familiar to you? It’s certainly been my reality for the last little while. Coming back to work at the beginning of this new year with little to do and even less to look forward to has certainly been a fallout that has hit me harder than I ever expected. I’ve definitely always been prone to some unhappier feelings at this time of year, I’m just not sure they have ever hit me so hard. I was so busy and had so much to look forward to every day during December that coming back to January and finding things at a slow pace both at work and in my personal life was a major letdown. And it was one that really sunk in a little deeper than I ever should have let it.
So why share all this? Well, as always, this blog is an honest reflection of my journey in life to be healthier and happier. I would be a complete fraud if I only showed the good times. My life is not all motivational speeches and delicious eats. It’s a mixture of ups and downs, and feelings that are felt deeply, whether they are positive or negative. It’s important that I share this, not only for myself, but for those of you who might feel it too. I want you to know that you are not alone.
I think often times when we see someone thriving after struggling with mental illness for some time, it can be easy to dismiss that issue as something that happened in the past. But more ad more I’m beginning to understand what happened to me is a larger part of who I am and not simply a singular event. I may not be that bad now, maybe not ever again because I’ve learned better coping mechanisms and I’ve learned to seek out help when I need it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still there. Coming to understand things this way has actually been helpful, it’s allowing me to really comprehend the darker times when they come without much warning and explanation.
For those of you who follow this blog, you may have noticed the lack of post last week and the delay in this one as well. There was supposed to be a post last Sunday. It was supposed to be all poutine pizza and lightsaber battles but then Blue Monday came early for me. I spent the weekend in a misery that I couldn’t quite put a name to.
It’s just the weather. It’s the time of year. It’s because you spent too much time alone this week.
These suggestions from my mother didn’t add up in my head to equal the immense amount of pain I was in. I couldn’t see them cumulating in a desperate desire to not exist, and it was that inability to link a direct cause to the effect that made me angry. Because if I didn’t understand where it was coming from, how could I do anything about it?
It took some time but eventually I came to see that my mom was right. I couldn’t find a direct cause because there was no singular thing making me feel that way, it was a combination of factors. Just as I started this post; the weather, the darkness, the lack of plans, and the letdown from being so busy for so long, had led to major crash. For me, this time of year is especially difficult because I find it harder to get out and do things which gives my mind too much idle time.
Recognizing all this is great and important, you should try and stay in touch with your feelings and the way they affect you. But it’s also important to recognize that there are things that you can do. So what does that look like?
Well here’s what I did; I allowed my parents to force me out of the house last Sunday even when I wanted to stay in bed. A few hours of shopping, movies, and a late lunch date gave me the chance to get out of my head for a little while. It didn’t instantly make things better but it forced me out of the corner of my mind I had crawled into. From there, I had the mental strength to go into work on Monday morning with a brave face. We had staff training on Indigenous Culture that ended up being more helpful than I could have ever imagined. I was able to release some of my negative energy, and I was given some useful tools from their teachings that would help me move forward.
You see, when teaching some of the stories behind the medicine wheel, the facilitator noted that at the different times in their creation stories they were given the gifts they needed at that specific time. This idea allowed me to reflect on my journey through mental illness and mental health in a new way; along each step of the way I’ve been given the gifts I needed. Sometimes was therapy or weekly trips home to be with my parents, most recently it was the chance to be part of an organization that truly meant something to me and gave meaning to the work I put into my schooling. And now, the gift I needed was the clarity to be open with myself about what was going on and how this part of me is always there. It’s not just something I experienced once upon a time ago, it’s a piece of me.
Emotionally, I was able to open up and really allow myself to feel what my mind wanted me to. I was able to acknowledge the unhappiness and trauma. I began to understand that too much idle time was not good for me and that I would have to do something to change that or to manage my reactions when stuck in that situation.
On the practical side I made plans; I busied myself at work, I made a date with friends and family to visit them at home, I had Matt take a night off so we could spend some time together. I opened up to my boss about what was going on and was able to get some support at work to make things better moving forward. Lastly, I did a crazy spontaneous thing and booked a three day vacation to Disney World with my best friend.
So, obviously my exact plan of action isn’t going to work for everyone and it might not even be possible for some of you. But I hope that it at least provides some ideas. Whether it’s taking yourself out for coffee, heading to the movies for a few hours, or facing the cold to get some fresh air, I hope you’re able to find ways to pull you out of those January blues. Remember; it’s okay to take a day and to feel your misery, as long as you don’t allow yourself to stay there forever. Create a plan, see what works, and slowly but surely things will get better. If you can’t run away to Disney World, bring the magic to yourself instead.
I encourage you all, if you’re struggling right now, to take a moment to step back and really look at your situation. Don’t just push it down. Don’t ignore the feelings, don’t pretend they don’t exist. It will not do you any good in the long run. Get yourself the help you need. There is help out there and it looks different for everyone. There is no shame in admitting that something is wrong, it’s one of the strongest things you can ever do.