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Lessons I Learned Through Years of Fighting Seasonal Depression

I also started seeing a therapist, which really forced me to confront a lot of things that I had been avoiding:
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I used to blog once a week. Whether I was posting to my own blog or to HuffPo, something was sure to go up every single Wednesday. Then, in December, I completely stopped posting. I haven't necessarily had a hard time writing over these past few months. My journal, which I carry everywhere with me, would attest to how much I abuse it with my feelings. Writing publicly, however, is a different story. The thought of blogging has crippled me for months because I haven't been able to tap into my own vulnerability. Typically, I've never really had a hard time sharing my struggles, my feelings, and my failures from behind the safety a computer screen. But this winter was really difficult. I was depressed for (what seemed like) forever, and I eventually realized that bouts of depression and anxiety are typical for me during specific times of year. Aside from the weather and obvious lack of sun, my personal life always seems to fall apart between November and January.

This winter, I lost one of my best friends. Not to death, as the word "lost" might imply, but to some personal differences that were too big for either of us to work through. At the same time, I stopped using wine to numb my problems (clarification: I'll always characterize alcohol under "My Hobbies," but I no longer rely on it to help me cope and I don't drink nearly as much as I used to). The subsequent sadness that I felt led to a few months of hiding, but that eventually transitioned into working out and eating better and volunteering and doing all of the things that people tell you to do to be happier. I also started seeing a therapist, which really forced me to confront a lot of things that I had been avoiding:

  1. A couple of years ago, I left a lucrative, exciting life in Washington, D.C. to move to Portland, OR for no reason other than I felt the need for a change. Moving to Portland completely changed my outlook on life. I left DC with a lifetime of luck and the attitude that everything would work out for me. It didn't. And Portland gave me the reality check that I needed: The Universe doesn't owe me anything. I learned that personal and professional success depends on constantly carving your own path and trying to maintain some amount of ignorance by not comparing your life to others'. Furthermore, there's no guidebook to handling disappointment besides being grateful for every. single. thing. that you have. Every day. And in every moment.

  • Everyone is so fucking obsessed with happiness. Our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook feeds constantly give us a stream of the happiest version of our friends and articles on self-improvement (ironically enough, similar to the one you're reading now). I became so overwhelmed with feeling obligated to find my happiness that I completely forgot that happiness, for me, is fulfilling my responsibilities and then doing whatever the fuck I want to do. This includes, but is not limited to, watching a lot of television, cooking, going on walks with our family dog, and doing word puzzles while listening to Beyoncé. Indulging in the things that make me happy fully depends on separating myself from what the world is telling me to do. And sometimes, by default, that means taking extended breaks from social media so I can live my life on its own terms.
  • Isolation feels really good. Temporarily. If there's one thing I know about myself, it's that I hate to ask for help. Any kind of help. I want to depend on myself, and only myself. I like this quality because, honestly, it's single-handedly carried me through a lot of my struggles. At the same time, it forces my first instinct to seek aloneness. Last month, I somehow found a way to override this and I reached out to someone who has (somewhat publicly) struggled with depression. And she put everything into perspective: you can sit around and be sad and feel sorry for yourself all day everyday (and sometimes, you NEED to do that for a while), but if you want to break the cycle, you have to work for it. I don't mean to diminish the individual mental health issues that a lot of people deal with. I'm not going to pretend like I have an answer to those uncontrollable and unpredictable forces that I hope I never have to confront. But solving any problem takes some proactivity. And, for some reason, when I heard this, it felt like a new concept. Fighting my depression required me to stop waiting for it to fix itself. Nothing was going to change unless I stopped isolating myself and started taking advantage of opportunities to get out of my own head.
  • True happiness (outside of doing whatever the fuck you want to do, within reason) is about rolling with the punches. I can try to create some stability in my life by planning each day and isolating myself from any outside interference. But, tomorrow, anything could change. I could lose more people that I love, my financial stability (whatever that means for a 28-year-old), my living situation, or my health. My life - as I currently depend on it - could go to shit. But if I can develop the ability to find a way out of that darkness that manifests from my anger and sadness and resentment, maybe some sustainable happiness is possible.
  • The times that I feel the most alive are the times that I feel total bliss (usually, when I'm on a boat in the summertime) or the times that I feel total misery (usually, when I lose people that I love). But if you live your life constantly chasing bliss or anticipating misery, you miss out on everything that happens in the middle of those extremes. Absolutely nothing lasts forever. Every day is an opportunity to feel something new. And although it might not produce drunk-on-a-boat happiness, it's still something that you are worthy of feeling. You have to be open to noticing those feelings during small moments. A glimpse at the mountains, a new mom looking in awe at her baby, appreciating the kindness of a random stranger. They're all moments that get lost in the shuffle; but they can produce fleeting seconds of bliss that can make all the difference between the good and bad days.
  • You will never have the answer. Solving each problem will draw on your experience from solving previous problems, but you will usually find yourself in a situation and wonder how the hell you'll manage pull yourself out of it. And maybe that's why your 20s feel all so romantic and tragic at the same time. Early adulthood forces you to start confronting the heavy stuff on your own. All of it seems dramatic and life-changing. But, as you grow older, you learn that the problems that once felt so important don't really matter in the long run. You lose people that you love. You lose stability. You find that it's hard to meet new people and you cling tightly to the people who provide a little magic in your life. And through all of the confusion and tears and sleepless nights, you learn to trust yourself, you eventually recover, and you begin to appreciate both extremes. Because without sadness, you can't know happiness. And I really believe that allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to experience bliss and misery in every stage of life (in between the times that you're forced to feel it) might not be the path to true happiness, but it's definitely the only consistent way to feel alive. And maybe that's whole point of feeling pain in its most honest form: when we embrace our vulnerability and talk about it, each of us doesn't have to feel so alone.
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    If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.