This post is not meant to advise or provide solutions for other people. It’s personal reflection on my experience with SAD and how I have come to live with it. As we come into a southern hemisphere spring, I can feel my energy changing…
I don’t know when I realised that I had such immense swings in energy from season to season, but it was years ago. I didn’t consciously think about it – I just accepted that during the winter months I would move slowly and accomplish little and in the summer I was like The Everyready Bunny and hyper-efficient. The past two years have been different – I have become conscious of the process…
Last year I became consciously aware of the concept of using winter as a natural drawing-in time: a time of reflection and self-examination, a time of allowing the SAD to come, permitting myself to have a rest and not to fight my body and brain. I was in the middle of writing WHY PEOPLE DRIVE YOU CRAZY and it was difficult to get even one sentence on paper some days. It wasn’t so much because of the workload, it was because I realised, while I was writing, I wasn’t a Butterfly (bright and bubbly) but an Owl (quiet and reflective) – and for whatever reason, I had been forcing myself to be someone who I wasn’t. My social-face is the opposite to who I am. And I just hadn’t accepted that before.
That’s not to say I’m not loud and exhuberant when I’m with close friends – but I also need my quiet times and if I don’t feel emotionally supported during social events, I just want to run away. There’s more to the temperament than this but this aspect, for me, is key. Realising it was pretty overwhelming and coupled with my reduction in energy anyway, it made for an interesting winter.
It wasn’t that I sat around crying or contemplating my navel, I just sort of froze.
This year it was even more intense. I had read Peter Levine’s excellent book In An Unspoken Voice and all of the other reading I had done over the past seven years all clicked into place – it was like 1000 lightbulbs went off in my head.
Once the first draft of All About Tantrums was finished. I decided to really use the winter and the information from Dr Levine – and see what happened. Ha. Not sure whether to recommend that or not.
Basically, instead of focussing on how I was feeling or trying to intellectually assess my SAD or to fight it or stop it, I focussed on the sensations in my body, allowed them to bubble through me as they wished and then accepted the memories and daydreams that came with them. In other words, rather than be ‘ego’ (mind/intellect) led, I allowed myself to be ‘soul’ led. YIKES. Big stuff. And v.e.r.y. unpleasant. Very. Unpleasant.
I learned that when I imagine scenarios with one person – those scenarios are reflections from my ego. She is my ego image and shows me where and what I fear. Every time I imagine a scene with her in it, I am now alerted to what she is saying – and can accept that message is about part of me and nothing to do with her. (Interesting that she’s since moved away.)
I learned that I hadn’t processed the sadness I’d felt after a romance I’d had 20 years ago. I learned that I had rejection issues, which went right back into my childhood and I had jealousy issues as a result of the emotional disconnection from that sense of rejection. I learned that I can be horrible to people. And that sometimes those people are my children. I learned to accept more of my shadow side than I have ever accepted.
I am yin and yang. I am a bitch sometimes and I am a sweetie. I do say the wrong thing, and am learning the power of silence. I do fear rejection and become mindlessly jealous, I also know I have the capacity to love deeply and intensely. I enjoy the company of other people and I have to have time alone. I am easily overwhelmed and take on too much responsibility. I can be dogmatic and I can be patient and accepting. And the great, awesome, wonderful thing is: these are not just intellectual and ego based understandings. I ‘know’ it all in the cells of my body and it’s OK.
I actually revisted all the horrible, uncomfortable sensations associated with each emotion and went through them again – but this time consciously. I wasn’t just overwhelmed by the sensations, I wasn’t just the sensations, but I could feel the sensations and understand them. This is what Levine calls Containment, and I found it to be transformative and powerful. (And extremely uncomfortable.)
Then I picked up a book I haven’t read for 18 years or so: Women Who Run With The Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It’s a bit flaky in the beginning, but it is also a real gem of a book. Reading it now, in my 40s, was a very different process to reading it in my 20s (not long after the break up of *that* romance). What she says about fairytales is so close to what Levine says about trauma processing that it reinforced for me how much we have lost in the west.
By just pushing the happy, happy, joy, joy side of life we are stopping ourselves from experiencing true happy, happy, joy, joy. Our feelings are meant to be fluid. We are meant to accept the sensations we would call negative so that we can also feel the sensations of extreme pleasure. In effect, we stop ourselves from being happy by forcing positive thoughts and running from our shadows. It is only in the dark we can see the light, and all that jazz.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s been a foul winter. I wanted it all to end and just go away. I didn’t enjoy it one bit. But I am different because I accepted the drawing-in and used it. I actually, physically, can feel good sensations more than I could last autumn.
Oddly, I feel more fragile and stronger, I feel more vulnerable and more accepting. I still want to force things to happen in the external, but I am truly learning to accpet and focus on what’s happening inside my body more.
Will I allow the SADto come again next year? Will I give myself permission to stop and allow more of my shadow to be processed next year or will I medicate myself and avoid it?
I just don’t know. For now I’m pleased it’s spring-ish. The house is cleaner. The car is cleaner. And I can begin blogging again.