Oh, autumn. That time of year when the rolling hills of my old-ish Kentucky home become so fiery beautiful that my heart aches. It's my favorite time of year, and yet it brings with it the return of an old friend I'd rather not have visit.
Seasonal Affective Disorder.
As far back as my sophomore year in high school, I've struggled with feelings of despair that strike on the first truly cold, dreary day in October and last until roughly President's Day. That first bad day is always the worst--I wake up knowing before my feet ever meet the chill of my bathroom floor that that day will be different. Worse, without reason, than the day before. But probably not as bad as some of the days to come. It's not a great way to wake up, really.
I think Cate Blanchett's opening voice over in The Fellowship of the Ring best (and most geekily) explains it:
The world is changed.
I feel it in the water.
I feel it in the earth.
I smell it in the air.
Much that once was is lost...
Okay, so maybe that's a little over-dramatic. But not by much.
I've learned some ways to get by. After all, S.A.D. isn't as bad as its cousin, depression. I've had both knock on my door, and depression is the Cousin Eddie to S.A.D.'s Clark Griswold. One of them you may not enjoy having stay at your house for an extended period, but you can get through it with only your newel post damaged by the end of the vacation. The other is going to park his R.V. in front of the house, let his dog destroy your kitchen, and kidnap your boss.
So I can deal with Clark. I get out and run on rare warm, sunny fall and winter afternoons. I keep lights on in every room of my house, even in daytime. I meditate. Yet the thing that helps the most flies in the face of convention a bit and is generally met with raised eyebrows.
On my darkest days of the winter blues, I simply wallow in it.
I might have a "Sad Songs" playlist on my iPod. And you may find me listening to it while blankly staring at a wall on some random afternoon in mid-to-late October. If you do, do not worry about me. Or pity me. Or pray for me.
For in that moment, I am much, much happier than I look.
Allowing myself to go to my sad place and listen to droopy music and think morbid thoughts for a while does more for me than a dose of Prozac or a shot of bourbon. I let my mind wander to the darkest corners of my imagination without judgement or worry. And after a while, I feel cleansed.
A high colonic for the soul.
And it's even proved to be productive. For the last 3 Octobers, I have set a day or two aside to update my own funeral plans. Seriously. Scratch that one right off the old "To Do" list. (I really hope you can make it to my memorial, because it's going to be amazing.)
Yesterday I felt the first twitches of winter sadness and pulled up my "Funeral" file. While meandering through the dark night of my own soul, I overheard a news story about, fittingly, the dignity of death. Apparently the family of a deceased service member wants to put up a large Sponge Bob tombstone in the cemetery marking the final resting place of this young woman. The cemetery does not find it entirely appropriate. Controversy ensues.
I listened to sound bites from both sides of this argument, and could see the cemetery's point of view. Because one of my favorite dark-days activities is cemetery-walking, I can understand the desire for beauty and solemnity in a place where the living go to visit in their own way with the dead.
On the other hand, I think we take our own mortality way, way too seriously.
The reason why I ultimately wallow in the morbid is that there is a hair-thin line between the tragic and the comic. Spend enough time in the shadows, and eventually you wake up to the humor of it. It's why there's such a thing as gallows humor. And why The Addams Family was so popular. And what makes the cemetery scene in Steel Magnolias a brilliant movie moment. A situation can be so bleak that it eventually becomes comedy. Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion, too, Dolly Parton.
So while a huge cartoon character as a grave marker is not in my written final wishes, I smile to think that it was in someone else's.
And in that smile, I find the humor I need to turn off the sad playlist, close my funeral document, and rejoin my family in the land of the living where I hunker down to fight through another winter.
I'll get through. The sun will shine again, the days will get longer, the flowers will bloom.
But for now, I will find time to stop and enjoy the darkness.