By Brittany Neron
Illustration by S.A.M.
If you’re like me, getting out of the house to attend that “fun social thing” you shouldn’t be dreading but are anyway can be difficult even on the warm, sunny, perfect days.
So each year when winter rolls around, I feel a pang of anxiety about the coming months and the impending worsening of my depression and anxiety. But winter inevitably comes, and we all slog through it one dark, soggy, salty day at a time until we emerge on the other side nursing our cracked, dry skin and squinting in the spring sunlight.
Key to surviving the long, cold winters of Ottawa, particularly for folks living with depression or other diagnoses that tend to get worse in the winter, is to continue going out and doing the things that make you feel like yourself again.
We get it, and we’ve been told this time and time again by our therapists or self-help books, as if it’s the simplest task ever for those of us who are just trying to muster up the energy to take a warm shower.
For music lovers, this means still getting out to see a show every so often, and sweating it out in a warm, damp room filled with other warm, damp bodies.
However, in the winter, you might have to be a little more selective with the amount of shows you’re able to attend, due to nasty weather conditions, or taking important time off to take care of yourself (and moisturize your peeling skin—who knew a butt cheek could get chapped?). It’s also important to acknowledge that with inclement weather, the city becomes exponentially less accessible for folks with disabilities, as navigating slippery, icy and slushy surfaces can put many things off limits.
I don’t necessarily have all the answers—I don’t have a list of great advice that helps me, without fail, to get out and live a fulfilling social life in the winter. To be honest, it’s a work in progress and I’m still fine-tuning this process.
Some things I do find helpful, however, are planning ahead and enlisting a friend to go with you to a show (it also makes bailing more difficult, though my friend Sofia would say I have no problem flaking out when needed), bringing a thermos of hot tea or coffee for the trek to warm you from the inside out, and taking some Vitamin D to replace what you’re usually receiving from the sun in sunnier months.
If you’re feeling sluggish and sad, it can be hard to separate this from depression and heightened winter sadness, but I was incredibly relieved to find that at least 10 per cent of my winter sadness was alleviated by taking one little Vitamin D tablet a day. I keep them on my desk at work because otherwise I forget to take them.
Which leads me to this—for those people like me who take meds, take your meds! In the winter, I’m more prone to dozing off and napping at weird times, and forgetting to take my anxiety meds before bed, and waking up feeling like the world is spinning. Find a way that works for you to remember to take your meds, whether it’s setting a recurring alarm on your phone, or keeping them somewhere where you will see them and be reminded to take them.
However, above all else, remember this—it’s fine if you don’t go. The world will keep spinning. Your friend’s band will play more shows, and I hope your friend understands that your well being is more important than a few hours of fun. When I relaxed my own expectations of myself (usually we’re hardest on ourselves) and let myself miss things without finding elaborate excuses, sometimes just because, it took a lot of pressure off myself.
So, maybe we can’t keep going at the same speed as we do during the summer. Give yourself the time and space to adjust your expectations, and embrace the “joy of missing out” (JOMO). I’m often filled with relief when I finally send out that text that says “I can’t make it,” and I end up filling my night with books, tea, naps, and blankets, because that’s what makes me feel good. This time to myself can be so healing and rewarding, and ultimately allows me to face the next day with more patience and kindness.
And as the least motivating ending possible to this piece (always end on a high note), I want to say that it’s okay that you might not feel completely better when the winter ends. Often, our discussions of how brutal the winter is come with the promise that once the winter ends, we will be entirely happy again and free of whatever ails us. While my depression is certainly worsened by the short, dark days and difficulty to get fresh air that comes with the wintertime, I also feel a pang of disappointment when I’m not magically cured come spring. It’s okay—continue being patient and kind with yourself and giving yourself the night off when you need it, and try not to apologize for it.
Mental Health Resources and Crisis Lines: Family Services Ottawa: 613-725-3601, Distress Centre Ottawa: 613-238-3311, Ottawa Hospital – Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team: 613-722-6914, Mental Health Crisis Line: 613-722-6914, The Royal Mental Health Crisis Line: 1-866-996-0991, Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa: 613-260-2360. Find a comprehensive list at http://www.ementalhealth.ca/