Chacos column: Trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps during the gray months of winter
Enjoy the Ride
“Want to go on a hike or ski the best powder we’ve had in years? Want to go to the movies or go out to dinner? Want to get a massage or go bowling?”
Lately, the replies I give are all the same. “Meh, maybe another time.”
Winter can be a long, dark time for many. And, until recently, I just didn’t understand.
Watching friends and family slip into months of mild obscurity seemed like they weren’t trying hard enough. I would silently berate them for acting moody and sullen, wishing they would spring to their feet and join me on adventures.
Age is a contributing factor explaining why I’ve slowed down but doesn’t fully explain my apathy. The dark, cold, gray months also factor into my decreased energy, but this doesn’t completely explain my lethargy either.
When I decline an evening out with my girlfriends, I blame family needs or increased work demands and then wonder why my couch and a cup of tea sound more enticing. Smiling or laughing feels like too much work, so I’d rather stay home.
IS IT THE ‘D’ WORD?
Since I was raised to tackle any obstacle and then work diligently to overcome it, I’ve grown up struggling with the word, “depression.” To me, this was a catch-all phrase for being lazy. Now that I’m residing in the second half of my life, my vantage point has shifted, and I’m starting to see something else.
Scanning my adrenaline rich community that works hard at perfection, I wonder how many of us are silently suffering in some way. Some of us try to keep up with the giddy, vacation crowd who drop endless amounts of cash. Staying on par with other locals can be just as hard as we try to acquire the newest skis or try to remodel a home. Holding two or three jobs takes its toll, and natural support systems take years to mature. Over time, who wouldn’t fall into bouts of depression?
Now that winter is waning, many of us can look forward to brighter days. Unfortunately, saying goodbye to winter also means we’re heading into a season for people wanting to end it all instead.
Years ago, I wouldn’t have given this much thought because I wouldn’t have noticed the trend. I was too busy living a dual-income-no-children lifestyle. I didn’t care that I lived in a dingy, basement apartment driving a car with a rusted-out bottom. My only goal was to have a good time and surround myself with like-minded folk.
Now, I increasingly ponder my web of responsibilities and expectations and know they weigh on me more heavily as I get older. They must weigh on others as well, as the mounting tears from co-workers and friends quietly tell me. I don’t want to think about depression, but I see it all around me. I’m beginning to understand.
For me, I’ll try to power out of my malaise by getting outside, exercising more and beating it the only way I know how. I’m self-identifying my disorder, with help from Google, as seasonal depression that will cease when the blanket of snow and gloomy weather lifts. If I’m still overwhelmed and down this summer, damn, I’ll call in professional help.
For others, depression takes hold and spirals out of control. Getting out of bed becomes epic. Apathy, agitation and thoughts of suicide creep inside. Going to work gets harder, and putting on a smile feels ridiculous. Loneliness and helplessness increase, and there doesn’t seem to be much point in carrying on anymore.
Sitting across from a friend recently, I bore witness to some disturbing signs causing me to take notice. I offered a hug, I listened, and I told her not to give up. Then I vowed to become better equipped to deal with depression in the mountains, with my co-workers, with my friends, with my children, and with me.
WHAT CAN I DO?
Taking a class by Mind Springs Health gave me some tools. Asking questions, they said, seems counterintuitive, but this really helps. I always thought that asking about suicide planted the seed or gave him or her permission to go through with it. Not so. Asking if someone needs help dealing with life’s stressors or to ask if they plan to commit suicide are, indeed, the right things to ask.
This line of questioning means you are seeing and that you are observing that something may be wrong. Acknowledgment is powerful, I learned. Even if you don’t feel strong enough to hear the answers you don’t feel confident enough to handle, there are people and organizations that you can connect with for help.
Lastly, I was charged with having to pay attention. Warning signs may not always be obvious, but chances are they are lurking in the periphery. I learned what to look for, and it solidified what I observed with my friend. Even though my head told me to mind my own business, my heart pleaded for me to do something.
Depression and suicide will find a way to touch all of us. In our small, tight-knit community, it hits hard. Every single time.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 if you or someone you know, needs help.
You can also text HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis support in the United States.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair. Andrea can be reached at www.andreachacos.com.