Imagine that you’re shining a torch on an orange.
Actually, don’t bother: I tried that and it gets confusing when you’ve got shaky hands.
Imagine Space. The Milky Way, to be precise, because doing the whole thing in one go is quite hard. Zoom in and you’ll find our Solar System. There, you’ll find eight (and a half) planets orbiting around a giant ball of fire (aka The Sun). One of them is made of rock and is blue and green. It rotates every 24 hours as it orbits, and it makes a complete journey around the Sun every three hundred and sixty five (and a quarter) days.
What else do you need to know?
The world isn’t sitting on its bottom in Space. Actually, there is no ‘up’ and no ‘down’ in Space. But, if there were, it wouldn’t. Imagine it being on a pole: a bead on a necklace if you like, and it isn’t straight, but tilted.
This is where the problem lies.
The Earth’s tilt means that, for part of every year, we’re tilted away from the Sun. Lots of people think that this means we get less light during this time, but it doesn’t. What it means is that the light is diffused over a larger area – less specifically trained on us. It also means that the time we get sunlight for each day is shorter.
Autumn and winter.
For so many people with mental health difficulties, entering winter is like entering a tunnel. We know this. We are told this. Even for those of us lucky enough to have missed out on wintertimes filled with depression, it makes sense: it’s dark and cold and you’re mainly shut up in your house for whole weekends at a time.
Christmas – the beacon of light in the darkness for so many – can also be a grim time if you’re frightened of food and socialising, or if someone you would love to spend Christmas with has died. When something is exciting for everyone else, finding it difficult is lonely and incredibly isolating.
The received wisdom for those suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder (its clinical name) is time spent in the sunlight and also use of a lamp (the Independent’s rundown of those available on the market is here), as well as common treatments for depression, including talking therapies and medication.
That, even if I do say so myself, was an extraordinarily long preamble. Sorry.
I find autumn very difficult. I don’t think I am affected by the change in light intensity itself, although I think you would find it difficult to find anyone who doesn’t miss the summer as the winter progresses. What I do find exceedingly hard is that a lot of bad things have happened in autumn.
I’m not here to list them, because that would be both unfair and boring. What I am here to say is that that I always try to stop the feelings from happening. Truth be told, the bad things that happened are not going to happen again; most of them happened a pretty long time ago now. I don’t feel depressed in the traditional sense of the word but, every year, as autumn begins, I catch a smell, or a pattern in the light, or I’m standing in the shower and the shadows fall in a particular way on the frosted window, and I am back there, reliving those experiences and those times in my life.
What I am going to say is this:
If this is you – if there is a time of year that is difficult for you, or you find the drawing in of the nights and the dropping temperatures difficult, take comfort in the immensity of Space: for millions of years, the winter has been and gone and the summer has come again. Be kind to yourself. If you are sitting alone, wondering how you’re going to make it through another cold, miserable winter, be kind to yourself. If you’re beating yourself up for feeling this way yet again, be kind to yourself. There is so much room in life for self-compassion, despite a media that generally would prefer us to eat less, exercise more and hate ourselves more generally. Get help: you are worth it. Do something that will take your mind off what is in your head; talk to someone about what you’re struggling with.
But most of all, remember:
The autumn, and the winter, will pass. What happened in the past is not happening now.
There ends our journey into Space.