Girl Sitting On A Wall And Having A Tough Time

It is said that you cannot cure depression, that you can only get better at living with it. In winter, for me, this is especially challenging here in Pennsylvania. The woods are leafless, and the ground is extra rocky and frigid. I was born here in “Penn’s Woods,” and my parents love to tell the story of how I was born during a huge snowstorm that pummeled the Lebanon Valley and the winding rural roads to our house. However, I am Filipina, my Mom from Manila and my Dad from Ozamis. When the temperature drops each winter, I feel, in my bones, a sense that I’m not really built for this climate. Getting out of bed is a major feat, my sense of personal motivation cannot gain any purchase, like climbing up a wet playground slide. Things I used to rely on to give me great satisfaction, now sadly stop short. I now know these are all common signs of Seasonal Affect Disorder- an episodic mood disorder that can be a feature of depression.

When the cold sets in, I think: I should be traipsing through the open air market in Cavite City, selecting fresh tamarind and the morning’s fresh catch of perch. I should be collecting the delicate blue eggs from the Araucana hens in the backyard coop, with the subtropical humidity allowing my hair to lay how I like it, the scent of rain and sampaguitas in the air.

Alas, this is not my reality. So what do I do? In as chipper a manner as possible, I try to approximate my fantasy. My great aunt, on her one visit to the US, gamely shuffled along behind us everywhere and when we asked how she liked things, she would shake her head, tug her wool sweater closed and say, “Malamig!” (It’s cold!) So when I am feeling like her, I make salmon sinigang, a tangy and clear soup that I serve in big bowls over rice. I will schedule a hot yoga class, where I can exercise in an extremely humid room. I like to take a class with easygoing friends, whom I can laugh easily with.

On days I can nurture myself and intentionally create conditions that my body enjoys, I am being true to authentic parts of myself. I can acknowledge the truth of what I am experiencing somatically and seasonally– and I am not just “living with depression” but I can flourish in my own particular way with it.

Maria Beatty, LPC is a therapist and writer who lives in walking distance from the Wissahickon Woods of Northwest Philadelphia, even though she finds it mercilessly malamig right now.