My Winter Depression

Real talk time: I’m going to ramble about how this season affects me.

November and December hits me hard every year, and it’s been worse since I moved to Seattle. There’s something about the Sun going down hours before I leave the office that kills my productivity in winter. It first starts with feeling tired in the evenings. Then it turns into feeling guilty overall, which affects working on weekends. All that turns blossoms into general lethargy.

My first winter here was brutal.

I’m not good at media consumption restraint. I just got Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I’ve played it for around 100 hours already. Why? Because the bright lights on the TV keep me awake. Because killing monsters and falling in love with a narrative is like a salve for the bad feelings with lethargy. Because “fuck it, what’s another hour?” becomes “fuck it, what’s another day?” and then I start to slide on my life plans and commitments.

It’s not video games. Before I got DA:I, I was doing it with the TV show Supernatural.

Whenever I redline myself—work 60+ hours over numerous weeks—I crash for about the same amount of time. I was due crashing after the honeymoon this past October.

I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like getting nothing done, but my tricks to shift myself into a work mode–namely to go outside and work on my laptop—don’t work in dark, below-0 weather. Instead, I start to emotionally hibernate in a warm house.

I also feel like my work is shit this time of year, which doesn’t help feel motivated. Because I’m tireder than in summer, I’m slower. And I feel like I don’t churn out the same quality. Never mind that intellectually I understand that I just need to get stuff on paper in the first place in order to revise it. Emotions suck.

I know tricks to get myself going, but the ignition is the problem. That motivation is hard to get fired up about when I’ve spent an hour in nighttime traffic. That’s where having allies is key, allies who will help get you ignited, but also know when you need a break.

But even those of us who make themselves visual about depression are encouraged to be quiet about it. People would rather is have been depressed rather than talk about depression in the moment. We aren’t apparently inspirational while we’re struggling. We’re “downers.” We’re “too sad; didn’t read.” When you work publicly, when your income depends on your presence, admitting to depression feels like asking people to not hire you or pledge to you. When that makes the difference between my cats eating or not, being quiet about this fundamental aspect of my life seems like a good idea.

It’s not, but that’s the rock/hard place of depression and a public presence.

Yeah, I have a light therapy box. And I love it, but try not to use it too close to bed. Yeah, I take Vitamin D. Yeah, I know how to make discrete to-do lists that make large jobs seems accomplishable. Yeah, I take medication for my mental health conditions. During the day, I’m rocking out—and that almost makes the feeling at night worse, because I have a contrast to immediately draw on.

This Thanksgiving break was my turning point this year, I hope. Instead of getting all the work I thought I would get done, I played video games and watched TV. I binged for days, and now I feel like I’m full. I will still eat (to follow the metaphor), but it is time to diet.

Put the butt in the chair. Be okay with slow productivity. Walk away from the TV. I did that last night for 90 minutes, and it felt good to get a few things done. I’m holding onto that feeling.

The thing about summer is that I can move fast enough to ignore the self-doubt. That, I suppose, is really what this boils down to: I move slower in winter, and that gets me stuck in a tar pit of despair, of distrust of myself.

(Please don’t comment with “answers.” I’m not asking readers to solve a problem. I’m just sharing myself.)

– Ryan

Photo from commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Snow-Field-3938.jpg


11 Responses to My Winter Depression

  1. Josh Roby says:

    I’m putting a reminder in my calendar across the months of November and December that says, “No Sunlight; Reduced Productivity.” Just so I can not schedule myself summer-normal deadlines and give myself time to disconnect, destress, and attend to winter/holiday needs. We’ll see if it pans out next year.

  2. Jesse says:

    Thanks for this. I can relate.

  3. Sarah T. says:

    Thank you for being visible and for sharing, even with the rock/hard place it could put you.

  4. Mikael says:

    Thank you for sharing, Ryan. Some of us do read, and do find realistic and relatable accounts of struggles to be inspirational.

  5. Scum of Dunwall says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m dealing with same problems.

  6. gapb says:

    Basically, what they said. Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to remember it’s not just me.

  7. Pedro says:

    Finally, we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel…

  8. Javier says:

    Thanks for sharing this Ryan. I honestly admire your work, and knowing a little about the man behind that incredible work is both inspirational and heartwarming.

    Here in Argentina I feel this same end-of-the-year rush which leaves me stressed out, and along with the holidays it can be a real challenge. Fortunately, we can enjoy the long,hot days of summer here. Come to my country one day and you’ll have a place to crash and plenty to see and enjoy. :)

  9. Scum of Dunwall says:

    It’s repost time!

    Winter has began. Fight it.
    Gloom is a disease. Cure it.
    Snow is your body. Shape it.
    Carrot is your nose. Stick it.

  10. Jack Graham says:

    I love Seattle, but yeah, the Winter early sunset thing has come up as a giant negative every time I’ve thought seriously about relocating there. On the up side, living there during the summer was awesome! I found myself incredibly productive when it didn’t get until after 21:00.

    It’s always good to hear more people talking about this, and about how they cope with it. I was undiagnosed for so many years that I went through a lot of my life thinking that I was just lazy and umotivated. So yeah, as a client/collaborator who likes the work you’ve been doing, I sure hope other industry folks who read this take it to heart that you’re talking openly about a challenge you face, not waving a giant “don’t hire me” flag.

    My day job boss got up during our weekly staff meeting and gave a little speech about depression and his experiences with it after Robin Williams died. It was kind of a brave thing to do. People need to keep doing it until it’s not a brave thing anymore, but instead depression is just a fact of life, a common complaint (like the common cold or migraines) that everyone understands.