do you have seasonal sadness, or are you actually depressed?

How to tell if your perpetual gloom and existential crisis needs delivery, or a doctor.

by Kate Lucey
19 December 2018, 5:45am

via Unsplash

It's easy to find yourself feeling down as the year comes to a close, and easier still to blame it on being overworked, overboozed and having that 'generally everything's catching up with me' vibe, including an annual bout of festive flu. Not to mention that shortly following the season of excess is the traditional season of bleakness and misery; January.

The term ‘January Blues’ exists for a reason; of course we feel blue once we have to go back to routine and don’t get to have 12 mince pies topped with Quality Streets for breakfast and a further six meals a day. Of course we feel miserable packing away a box of fairy lights and replacing them with that weird picture your flatmate likes but you can’t stand the sight of, and hey, it’s also dark all the time so that hardly helps.

The cumulative piles of festive ‘tipples’ (read: pints of Baileys) and a diet of almost exclusively sugar will also have a lot to do with any increasingly low feelings at this time of year. Forget temples, come December my body is a skip. As our systems try to get rid of all the toxins we so cheerfully shove into them, our adrenal glands have to work extra hard. The subsequent increase in adrenaline then makes us feel very on edge and sometimes frantically worried, resulting in every day on the advent calendar being met with a fresh bout of existential crises and crushing doom. Cheers!

If you seemingly have the cloud of gloom over you all the time, though, and not only when you’ve been on a bit of a sesh, it could be more than ‘January Blues’ or hangxiety. People often bang on about being depressed when they’re just having a bad day or feeling sad — and sadness is totally normal and recurrent for everyone. Sadness comes and goes, though, while depression is an oppressive beast that constantly pours blackness over you every single day.

If you’re British, then you likely also have the absolute lolfest of trying to hold a stiff upper lip and just ignoring things until they go away, because it’s seemingly easier to just be quiet instead of saying something or facing the problem -- which never works with anything health related, does it.

“There’s a big difference between depression and winter blues,” says Counselling Directory member Philip Karahassan. “Your outlook during winter blues is that you know you will have good and bad days, and that after time the fog will lift. You know that you will feel better eventually.

“Depression, on the other hand, is an all-consuming emotional state in which you feel hopeless with no way out. You feel that nothing you do will make any difference. You feel alone, disempowered, and in an endless depressive state of being.”

Amy, 31, realised she was feeling more than just the blues when she had “a sudden and rapid decline” in her mental health last year.

“It felt like every bit of joy was draining out of me, but I thought it would pass,” she told me. “I’d hold it all together as best I could during the week, then spend my weekends under the duvet, crying, unable to go outside or talk to another human being. I could hardly be bothered to eat, and was drinking myself into a stupor when I knew I could get away with it -- like blocking out Friday night to get drunk alone so I could spend the weekend recovering without anyone to hold me accountable.”

Alcohol (sadly), of course, has an impact on our mental wellbeing, especially when we’re drinking a lot either to celebrate or to self-medicate. What can seem like a totally genius short term fix at the time (“yaaas espresso martinis, nothing can hurt me now!”) is exactly that: short term. The after-effects can leave you depleted of the serotonin you so desperately need and feeling even more hopeless than you were in the first place.

When Amy started to assess why she was feeling so awful, she thought it because she was struggling with a heavy workload. “As I thought the pressure of my job was mostly to blame, I arranged a 5 week sabbatical in the US with my husband, in an attempt to break myself out of the cycle and reset myself,” she recalls. “But, even when I got there I couldn’t shake the sad, numb, bleak feeling that everything was just going to be absolutely awful forever, and that I wouldn’t ever feel happy again.

“I kept a brave face on things and tried to enjoy it, but it peaked one day when I found myself doing the washing up and just crying hysterically while my husband was at work.”

Juno crying in the car

This is a fairly crucial sign to look out for in yourself, which could mean your festive hangover/January Blues are actually something entirely more different; when you take yourself out of the usual surroundings and your everyday situation, are you still a sad sack of misery? If the answer is “fucking yes”, then what do you even do about it?

It’s annoying and you have to wait in a teeny, odd-smelling room with bad lighting and lots of germ-covered copies of Marie-Claire from 2003, but it’s best to start with a visit to your doctor.

“If this is the case, you are not alone,” assured Philip. “There is a way out and with the help of a counsellor, psychologist or your GP, you can break free from the shackles of depression and get your life back on track.”

“I thought about going to the doctors and asking about anti-depressants,” says Amy, “but I was ashamed and felt like I’d failed to live life on my own or something. And it felt like an impossible task.

“Then I spoke to my work colleagues and they offered to pay for a counsellor that deals with work / career related issues. Though it wasn’t exactly like going to a therapist, she listened, she treated me holistically and helped me see things from a different perspective. Most importantly she instilled in me so much self love and self confidence that it became harder for me to see myself as utterly shit - which was super useful for building back my sense of self worth.”

I mean, what a turn out for the books — and this isn’t a wildly irregular one off, either. Chances are that if you confide in someone, you’ll get the support and love that you need rather than a big batch of judgement.

“It’s not your fault that you feel depressed,” says Philip (and considering he’s a professional psychotherapist, let’s all listen to Philip). “This is a neurological change in the brain that makes you feel this way. It doesn't mean it's forever, but blame is a part of depression which keeps you bound within it, and couldn’t be further from the truth. Speak to someone about how you're feeling - a trusted friend, your GP, or consider seeing a counsellor - it doesn't have to be this way and help is within reach.”

I’ll drink to that. Oh, wait...

If you’re struggling with your mental health, find a qualified local counsellor in your area.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.