S.A.D.

Photo by Bryan Schutmaat

Like all manner of things, I never understood depression until I experienced it firsthand.

I never expected it to happen, because my life has all of the ingredients that could lead to the highest possible happiness. My parents love me, my friends are there for me, I have adequate finances, and I have good food. Not only that, my academic life has been excellent, my part-time job provides well, and my social life is at its best. My disposition is generally happy. There is nothing for me to get depressed about.

Yet it came, and just like the season of its arrival, it chilled me bit by bit until I was enveloped in my own sadness.

Depression isn’t immediately evident. It didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks, nor did its force knock me out breathless. It arrived quietly, creeping up on me like a shadow. And not knowing anything, I succumbed to it until I became a shell of who I was.

The first thing I noticed: I was tired all the time. No matter how much sleep I got, I woke up exhausted. I attributed it to the winter season — colder days, longer nights. This is just bed weather, I told myself.

It was bed weather for three whole months.

The next thing was irritability. In the middle of the winter I was afflicted with insomnia, and no amount of fatigue could keep my mind calm. As a result, I became less tolerant of small matters. I would give death stares to people whose remarks I found stupid. I would make passive-aggressive comments to my friends, until they would take the hint and leave me alone. I removed myself from my group of friends, because I knew that I would snap at them for being their usual selves.

One of my best friends asked me why I didn’t hang out with our circle anymore. I could only apologise because I couldn’t understand the reasons, myself.

Third point: I started having an unhealthy relationship with food. Feeling hungrier than usual during winter, days would arrive when I would binge on carbs. The moment someone made a comment on my appearance, though — be it the friend who joked, “You’re eating again?” or the Facebook comment that went, “Go on a diet, you’re eating out too much,” — I fell into a calorie-counting trap that left me upset, unhappy, and maniacally tempted to regurgitate everything I ate.

Yes, there were instances when I threw everything up in the toilet. I would see bits of kale and cheese from my diet, swirls of greens and oranges and yellows, and I would heave until I my stomach shriveled in pain. I stopped exercising because I was too tired. The toilet was more convenient.

I became obsessed with social media. I wanted to paint the perfect life to make up for the spiraling sadness that I couldn’t get out of. I created the persona of a grossly elated woman who grabbed life by the horns. I curated my profile to get validation, because it was a major source of my happiness.

“I could see why social media is unhealthy,” I told myself one time as I was filtering a picture, “people like showing that they have a good life, even if they’re actually unhappy with it.”

I reached a breaking point in the middle of August. Being with two of my best friends the whole day, I snapped at both of them for acting and joking the way best friends do. I literally pushed one of them away.

It was only when they left that I came to understand: something’s not right with me. I’m not me. And not being able to comprehend the root of my sadness, I broke down and filled myself with pity.

I cried until the evening of the next day.

It was then that I had to acknowledge that something was happening to me; what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. After confiding in my friend, who is a doctor, I was able to understand that I had Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), or winter depression as it is more commonly called. It may be seasonal, but it isn’t a milder form of depression.

I’m okay now. Spring is coming, and along with it longer days and hotter sunshine. These days you would see me on a bench or in the city square, doing nothing but bathing in the sun. I’m eating well, and have started exercising again. I’ve made amends with my friends (most of them, anyway!), and am making up with those whom were at the receiving end of my outbursts. Also, I don’t feel inclined to post everything on social media anymore.

This picture expresses genuine happiness. Taken during the last weeks of winter.

You may ask me why I never confided in anyone in the first place. It was because I didn’t know that I was unwell; to quote Jane Austen, “I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” I thought that I only had a bad case of temper tantrums because of my lack of sleep. I had to get to the boiling point before I realised that something unusual was going on.

Depression is a dementor. It saps away at your energy and positivity, exchanging it with fatigue and mind-numbing sadness. No amount of acknowledgement of your blessedness takes it away. You even begin questioning why you were so blessed in the first place, if you couldn’t even appreciate it.

Please don’t feel sorry for me. Rather, be happy with me, because it’s all over now and I’ve learned so much from it. As ridiculous as it sounds, I’m happy that it has happened to me at such a young age; it expanded my understanding of the inner workings of people. Most important of all, I’m better prepared to fight and conquer depression, should it happen to me again. Fingers crossed that it won’t, though!

There has been a lot of talk lately about mental health, and I’m happy to be part of an age where people can discuss these matters without being afraid of being scoffed at, or worse, misunderstood. All that I could contribute to this topic, though, is this: please, be patient and kind to those who are depressed. They need your love and understanding, and need your company more than they will ever acknowledge.

If I, in any manner, hurt you during this winter season, I’m sorry. You were a casualty in my war against myself. Please, be kind to me, and understand what I went through.