Self Care

In My Metafeels: On Seasonality and Feeling S.A.D. 

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Yellow gingko leaves backlit by the sun, against a blue background

Right now, I’m listening to Yaeji’s “When In Summer, I Forget About The Winter”.

The refrain goes:

“When in summer, I forget about the winter
When I’m happy, I forget about the blue
When I’m in love, I forget that I was lonely
When I realize, I’m a bit forgetful”

There are only a few days of fall left — winter solstice is Dec. 21 — but it’s only now feeling like summer’s just coming to an end. All the sunny weather I was enjoying in my slice of SF microclimate the last half year has finally parted for cloudier, colder weather, and reports from SF Gate and the SF Chronicle tell me it’s getting really, really cold throughout the Bay.

I’ve been thinking a lot about seasonality, specifically finding peace in the acceptance of it, in the ebbs and flows of living with cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar disorder. The ups and downs would leave me feeling unnerved by feeling like a drastically different person across days, weeks, and sometimes months.

When I began to accept that this cycling would be a part of my life, and that I was still me across these different states, it became easier to learn how to care of myself with flareups in symptoms.

Meta-emotion refers to feelings and thoughts about feelings, of our own, or of others. It was used by researchers to describe parental reactions to children’s emotions, and I’m curious about how our meta-emotions shape how we parent our child selves, how we cope with, grow with, learn from intense emotions, especially in the context of caring for mental health.

In the same way accepting the seasonality of cycling allowed me to meet myself as I was in my experience of bipolar disorder, this winter I hope to pay attention, with less judgement, to how seasonal affective disorder manifests in my life, so that I can better care for myself (and hopefully loved ones, too) with this change in the seasons (and feel a little less guilty for my dependence on the sun!).

“We are no different than flowers and plants,” Erin Raftery Ryan, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Westside Los Angeles, said to the LA Times. “If we don’t get enough vitamin D, oftentimes we too will wilt.”

Watching houseplants and trees alike wilt, yellow, or shed their leaves altogether, remind me of seasonality in our natural world; it’s what drives birds to migrate and bears and humans alike to hibernate.

“Hibernation is an adaptive process which is designed to protect individuals from the challenges of winter time, particularly as it relates to energy regulation,” Dr. Robert Levitan of University of Toronto explained to NBC’s Better.

Accepting seasonality as a given, there are things that are (more) in the my locus of control, like the foods I eat, how much I sleep, who I spend time with, how often I reach out for help, how I give myself permission to relax amid busy days. Some things I’ll be trying out to care for myself amid the winter weather:

Cleveland Clinic recommends exercise programs, social time, and light therapy.

The Bold Italic rounded up 5 hikes around San Franciscothough going out on any walk, even if around the block, is a win to me in maintaining my mood.

 

Everyday Health and Healthline recommend foods like berries, leafy greens, salmon/rainbow trout (among other lean proteins like chicken or turkey), whole grain carbs, beans, and eggs.

Because music is something that grounds me to the present and helps me remember a particular season, here’s a playlist I made amid last week’s gloomy weather:

This post touches on ways to care for your mental health, but is not a substitute for help from a licensed health care provider (you can find local providers through Psychology Today’s directory. Sliding scale and low cost options in SF also exist, as found in these resources compiled by University of San Francisco and Open Counseling.

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

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Jessica Z

Jessica Z

Listening, dancing, writing (in that order, mostly!) -- a product of the internet, always excited to talk about digital/algorithmic agency, fate, and selfhood, and looking for ways to contribute to cultural and artistic community/infrastructure in San Francisco and beyond. Say hi online (www.jyz.digital) or in the crowd of an upcoming show!

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