Fall is trying so hard to arrive. Yesterday the temperature never climbed out of the sixties and while it is supposed to be warmer today, I’m hoping the air keeps the crisp freshness I woke up to. There’s something that just feels comforting about slipping into long sleeves again after summer’s end, something about the way the cuffs of my sweatshirts gently curl around my wrists and hands that just feels more secure. Fall has always been my favorite season, even if it is not always the kindest to me. I love to watch the leaves change color, to hear them crunch under my shoes on the sidewalk after they fall. When I was a kid I loved to jump in raked piles of them, to toss them up into the air and watch them flutter back down around me even if this meant more work raking them back up again. I’ve always loved the cold, crisp air of the fall, sleeping under greater numbers of blankets in a fight to keep the windows open in my apartment just a little longer.
Fall for me is about bolstering reserves, building things up to survive the long months of winter. Maybe because I grew up in areas where winters were long and harsh, I am used to equating winter with battle. And these days, winter is just that. Within my brain, winter often becomes all out war. The days grow shorter and I begin to lose myself gradually until there is no sure footing to climb out of a deep, seemingly endless pit. I sleep more because it feels like that’s all I can do, but sleep is no refuge from the war, filled itself with nightmares and its own unique horrors. And I realize this makes it sound like I don’t fight. I do. I fight until I just can’t anymore, until I am numb and bone weary, until every last reserve that I set aside in the fall has been consumed. I fight until the only thing I can do is burrow in and try to hold on until spring rides in to my rescue, if it brings rescue at all. But every fall, every fall I try to find new tricks to make those reserves last longer and go further. Every fall, as I start to decline, I continue to store for the worse days that I know are coming.
It helps that I know what some of my triggers to collapse are. It helps that I am so familiar with my depression, though after so many depressive episodes it would be difficult not to. Treatment resistant depression is fucking awful and I don’t get many periods of complete remission. Medications help, therapy makes a huge difference, I’ve done group programs to learn skills for coping with overwhelming feelings and urges to make my life more manageable but no one can really prepare you for life when the best for what you can hope for on average might be someone else’s mediocre. It helps that I know that I usually get worse in the winter because I can plan for that, but I can’t depend on winter being the only time I have an episode or that things will get better when winter ends because my brain doesn’t work that way.
For me, there are things that always make my life more manageable. How much success I have with following these things, especially when I am depressed or triggered from trauma symptoms, are varied, but there are specific things that I have found make a difference. Waking up earlier in the day rather than sleeping in until ten or eleven AM make me feel a little more mentally alert and less fogged over. Eating regularly and often enough that my body is getting balanced, adequate nutrition helps keep my blood sugar from spiking or dropping, both of which make me more emotionally unstable. Getting out of my apartment and outside makes a huge difference. My partner knows that something is going wrong immediately when I start resisting leaving home. My agoraphobia is a lot better than it used to be so my usual resistance to going out is much lower now. When I start inventing reasons why we shouldn’t go someplace, or my answers revert to agoraphobic ones, something is wrong. I see a therapist once a week. When my life is unmanageable, I see her twice a week. Exercise. I hate to get up and move when I’m depressed and I hate to be told to get exercise, but when I’m not in the middle of a depressive episode, going for a walk makes me feel better! Hot showers. Deep breaths that fill my lungs with air because I tend to hold my breath or breathe shallowly. Watching something gentle and calming on TV. Drawing, if I can feel at all creative. Listening to music, though it can’t be depressing music that drags me deeper. Petting the cat who these days is almost always willing to be affectionate.
Next week I have my first session of trauma-informed yoga. I’m hoping that this will be something to ground me in my body and help me through this winter. Between this and the other tools I’ve gained over the years, I’m hoping to make it through the winter without a hospitalization. In the years that I’ve been back on the east coast, I have yet to make it through the winter without being admitted to an inpatient unit. The header image on this site is from a piece of artwork I made in art therapy at the hospital I was in over Christmas of 2013 (the holidays are a huge trigger for me). The hospitals are always my fallback plan in an emergency, but I would really like to not need to use them this year. I would like for my work this fall to be enough to prepare me to get through the winter without needing an admission. For now though, fall is beginning and I am beginning another year’s journey of making preparations and readying myself for what is to come. And today, I am enjoying my long sleeves in the process.