Winter blues and seasonal depression have always been common, but it’s been increasingly severe over the past year.
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It’s early November when I first begin to see the signs of burnout in my friends and myself. Daylight saving time, when the clocks fast forward an hour, has just ended, and the already shortened daytime has become a mere sliver of the light we received during the summer. Late autumn and winter have blurred into a montage of sad faces all around me.
One of my best friends falls asleep in U.S. History. She lands face-first into a worksheet about abolitionists, and I can sense that she’s barely processing her surroundings as she struggles to take in the comparisons and contrasts between David Walker‘s and Frederick Douglass’s fights against slavery. She’s slept in class before, which, at this point, most of us have, but she’s done so several times in one week. Her eyes lazily blink open when the period ends and she escapes out of the classroom to some other equally uninteresting room in the school. As the bell rings shrilly above us, I ask her how her sleep was, if she enjoyed her nap. She rolls her eyes. She says she’s tired. She describes it as “seasonal depression.”
During fourth period, the senior sitting next to me describes her mood as gray. Her feelings are colored like the weather, and I see the mix of exhaustion from college apps and the dullness of New York in her eyes. When we stand to draw diagrams about gastrointestinal disorders, she sits on the radiator and looks out the window. “Seasonal depression has really hit me hard,” she says. She manages a smile, but the girl sitting behind me says she relates and I see the smile falter as the two are quiet in their mutual understanding. The dark weather is perpetual. It’s difficult to feel normal when a barrier like that is always there. I observe my friends as I try to understand the seasonal swing of their emotions.
And then I begin to understand. There’s a moment the day after my birthday when I collapse and can’t find the strength to do anything. Earlier in the day, I woke up at 6 a.m. with barely any light filtering through the blinds. When I return home at 6 p.m., it’s already dark outside. So I stumble to my bed, fall into the unmade sheets, and feel drained. I can’t pull myself together enough to really do anything but sleep away my sadness. There’s a strange emptiness in the cavity of my chest. My mother visits my room only when I begin to cry and hands me a mug of hot water and strokes my hair. “It’s the weather,” she says comfortingly. I know it’s true, but I can’t quite find the words to explain why. In the midst of my tired, hazy mind, I can’t piece together why this winter has been more difficult to adapt to than the ones before. I can’t figure out a solution.
There’s an inherent science behind winter blues that directly links mood with seasonal changes. The influence of sunlight on the human body is a study that has been covered time and again. In short, though the specific cause is unknown, the change of seasons does affect circadian rhythms, serotonin levels, and the body’s regulation of melatonin. Combined, these make up the factors of a seasonal bodily disruption that we dub “seasonal depression” or “winter blues.”
But seasonal depression has hit harder than ever this year. I’ve seen many of my closest friends go through burnouts that have been exacerbated by the weather and shortened daytime. I, myself, find it increasingly tiring to pull myself together as the world attempts to return to a supposedly normal sense of life. In the moments where I am closest to falling apart, I blame winter—the cold, the frost, and the bitterness that make up the backdrop to the worst part of the year.
Truthfully, the lack of sunlight only serves to worsen the stress that students endure. As the winter goes on, I find myself looking to my friends, other kids who relate, to ease my feelings of loneliness and emptiness. There’s peace in numbers, security in relating. When you look up advice on treating winter blues and seasonal depression, basic advice is given: drink water, eat enough, rest as needed. I reiterate that advice to my friends, and they do the same, and in this way, I feel our winter blues may have a solution in solidarity.
My mother once told me that winter is charming because it will always be followed by change. It is inevitable that there will eventually be light, but it is nonetheless hard to break away from the mindset of perpetual dark days and sadness. I understand the difficulty; I’m someone who often feels as if she’s falling apart, with the darkness as an aggravator. But as we all return to a normal sense of life, with the cold behind us, we are shifting closer toward brighter days and change. That is something more perpetual than winter blues: the inevitable passing of it.