November and December are a couple of rough months for me, but I’m far from alone in that. Even neurotypical people can have trouble as the days get shorter and the nights get longer. It’s easy to cycle down in mood as the days cycle down in length. Seasonal affective disorder is real, and it can even impact people who do not experience depression at any other point in the year.
I’m having a hard time right now, mood-wise. I say that, and yet I have not experienced many of the symptoms that I have come to expect during this season. I am not currently actively suicidal, and passive ideation is relatively low. I say that as someone for whom passive ideation is pretty much the norm; it fluctuates in intensity but it’s always hanging out in the background.
Normally sleep, for me, is a good indicator of mood. It is also a good predictor of mood episodes. That’s why I’ve been tracking sleep as well as mood for the last year and a half. Having the data has been great for me and my treatment team. It helps all of us stay on top of things and to be able to predict and prevent crises before they happen. That is invaluable. And right now, based on my sleep data, I am in a pretty good place. There haven’t been any major disruptions that would indicate a significant mood episode.
But here I am. It’s December. My mood is awful. Everything is a slog. It seems like I have to try incredibly hard to accomplish even the most mundane of tasks. And yet I am accomplishing them. I say that because that is something that both my partner and my therapist keep telling me. I don’t always see it but they do. It’s tough sledding but I’m making it. I’m putting in the work and getting the results. I’m still able to work full-time right now and to keep up with a lot of what I try to do to maintain the house. That’s a huge thing considering the season. Actually, that’s a huge thing on its own, not even taking the season into account.
I keep trying to tell myself this. I keep trying to show myself grace. My mood isn’t where I want it to be. I feel awful and I can’t do everything that I think I should be able to do. And yet this year has been so much better than previous years. I am making progress.
Recovery is an amorphous thing. It’s like that old definition of pornography: I know it when I see it. Actually, it may be the inverse. I don’t know it but others see it in me. Recovery looks different to different people. Recovery is defined differently by different people. I think I have in my head that recovery, for me, should include a complete lack of bipolar symptoms. But that is an unrealistic definition of recovery.
I am recovering. As I stay adherent to my treatment plan, and I have been completely adherent since a crisis last August and September, my symptoms become less intense. I still have racing thoughts. I still have suicidal ideation. I still have emotional regulation issues and severe fluctuations in mood. I have still cycled up in spring and summer and down in fall and winter this year, just like every year. I am still seasonally depressed right now. It’s all still there, it’s just less intense.
I’m not going to be neurotypical. There is no “cure”. I’m bipolar. I’m bipolar today. I will be bipolar tomorrow. Recovery isn’t me no longer being bipolar. Recovery is me finding a way to lead a fulfilling life with bipolar. Recovery won’t involve me not having bipolar. But recovery can mean that bipolar doesn’t have me.
December is still incredibly difficult. It’s probably always going to be. Beyond the normal seasonal cycling there are also autobiographical reasons for me to struggle in December. But I am writing this right now. And I’m doing so after working a full day today and a full week this week. That is, no matter how I feel emotionally about it, a heck of a thing.
I don’t feel good today. I feel awful. I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally. I feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless. And yet I do have hope, if only a tiny sliver of it. Because it has been worse and I’ve made it through that. And it is getting better. Day by day. Week by week. Month by month. Year by year. I am recovering.
It’s not perfect. It never will be. Things are never perfect, not even for neurotypical people. Perfect isn’t a thing. It doesn’t exist.
But better exists. Recovery exists. And things are getting better. I am getting better. I am recovering, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.
I am recovering, no matter how I feel today.
And recovery is a heck of a thing.