For many of us, winter is the time in which our seasonal depression presents a cold, sweaty hand to that of our more perennial depression. Vitamin D and sun lamp at the ready: Here we go again. But of course, this year is different, and there is a far less familiar presence in the form of — you guessed it — a pandemic. A third hand.
This is where I obligatorily acknowledge that this has been an incredibly difficult year for many reasons, but in part for a pandemic that has driven us all indoors.
I wonder if anyone else felt a twinge of guilty relief when they learned that they didn’t have to take on the city anymore? Did anyone notice withdrawing from friends and family, knowing there was a little something extra behind the “precaution,” or was that just me? Suddenly time spent alone in the dark rewatching Desperate Housewives was the responsible path forward, and without anyone to suggest differently, why not? I watch as that third hand performs the tasks that I had trained the others to forget, seemingly drawn to the very urges I had been learning to curb for years.
When we think public health our minds go to immediate bodily care… but it also includes mental health, emotional health, and community health. 2020 seems to surprise us daily, and if we are going to cope with it effectively, it’s time to fess up to some of the lies we have been telling ourselves since March.
“We have to isolate.” While we do have to responsibly distance ourselves from others not from our households, that does not mean we cannot have community. Focus on differentiating precaution from social withdrawal, and identify creative ways to connect with the people you care about. Big ups to postcards and cooking with a friend over Zoom.
“We’re not supposed to go outside.” While seasonal depression tempts us to chalk it up to some lingering evolutionary urge to hibernate, staying inside all day is not normal nor is it suggested by the CDC. Just a few minutes outside daily can improve self-esteem, feelings of calm, and connection to our body and surroundings.
“There’s nothing I can do about it.” So much of this year has reminded us that we are not promised as much autonomy as we have gotten used to, and this slips easily into feelings of hopelessness. While there are a lot of macro- issues that make the micro-experience feel insurmountable, we can regain feelings of control by supporting ourselves and others around us. For ourselves, think about establishing daily practices and routines; for others, think about offering emotional, monetary, or other forms of assistance and remember that your actions have impact.
At the intersection of communicable disease and feelings of depression, it is more important than ever that we spend time noticing what we’re doing, and how it’s serving us if we are to build healthy practices. We deserve coping skills that acknowledge our context and enable us to feel well in spite of it. Doing better begins with acknowledging where we can do differently, and where we might be holding on to familiarity.