Nicky's Blog

Winter Is Here: Slowing down to fight SAD

For me, it all starts with fatigue.

The darker nights and mornings make me feel even more tired than usual. My head starts getting foggier. Daily routines start getting harder. Before long, I’m getting out of bed much later than I should, forcing me to skip my self-care routines in order to focus on Just Getting Through The Day.

No self-care means no meditation, less yoga, less journaling, less of anything that presents as a barrier to moving forward as fast as I can. If I slow down enough, I might notice the cracks starting to appear.

Of course, the cracks are still real, and eventually start to grow as time goes on. So next comes the search for Instant Gratification. Snacks, doom scrolling, watching TV clips on YouTube, clicking random on my favourite webcomic Questionable Content. Bonus points go to the activities that provoke outrage, either at myself or others. As my therapist pointed out, that produces an adrenaline response, flooding my body with a feeling of strength and power. Who needs to jump off cliffs, when you can get outraged at the next governmental screw up or bigoted Twitter accounts?

Isolation becomes the natural side-effect of all this. I can’t necessarily hide from my wife, but feeling like a grenade I try to reduce the number of possible casualties. And so going out, seeing people, even texting becomes that much harder when faced with trying to answer the inevitable question ‘So, how are you?’.

After a few weeks of wondering where this has come from, it clicks. It’s winter, it’s dark. It’s SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. But knowledge of the problem doesn’t fix the problem, and so I continue on around the loop, painstakingly aware of what comes next at each step, feeling doomed to the inevitable cycle, like Roland Deschain walking through the desert again.1

Ok, maybe that last sentence was a little over dramatic, but in my defence I am still on the loop.

The reality is I’m only as doomed as I believe myself to be. Nothing is permanent, and I have all the tools I need to break the cycle. The next hurdle is my perfectionism.

My perfectionism isn’t just about doing things perfect. It’s an exceptionalism approach: I can do better, and the normal rules and limitations that apply to humans do not apply to me. It served me well when I needed something to latch on to as a kid to fight my burgeoning mental health crisis, but less so in the realm of adulthood, where things stop being quite so black and white and become various shades of gray.

The real issue is that if I can’t hit some pre-conceived level of commitment and results that my perfectionism convinces me that I can hit, I don’t put the effort it. So as SAD takes hold and I have the minimal amount of effort in me to achieve, I succumb to procrastination, stagnation, and then the instant gratification/isolation/doom scrolling loop until I hit the point where I can climb out again.

The instant gratification serves another purpose though. It prevents me from slowing down. Distracting myself with food, Reddit, endless YouTube clips, and a myriad of other digital addictions stop me from succumbing to the uncertainty. It prevents me from acknowledging what my body is already telling me: I'm falling, and if I keep ignoring it, I'm going to crash. Hard.2

But as much as I hate to admit it, there is a middle ground. A phrase designed for situations where the tasks seems overwhelming and your ability to get through it seems suspect at best.

Just Do Your Best.

I don’t really have the words to describe how much that phrase grates on me. The implication that a less than full effort to do a thing I know I’m capable of doing any other time is enough frustrates me. Especially when I have actual verifiable proof to back up that I can do it any other time.

It’s like hitting a personal best at the gym, but having to take time off because of injury, money problems, life, whatever. Then, weeks or months later, you head back and can hit nowhere near that figure. You know you were capable of it, and in the grand scheme of your life it wasn’t that long ago, but your body and reality says otherwise, so tough.

And I’m aware how childish and futile this all sounds, which frustrates me further (I should be above that etc). But in the grand scheme of things, that is all irrelevant. What really matters is simple.

There's a poem Tim Ferriss sent out a couple of weeks ago in his 5-Bullet Friday newsletter (worth a go - there's nuggets between the up-sells) called Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson. It reads:

Act I

I walk down the street,

there is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.... I am helpless... It isn't my fault....

It takes forever to find a way out.

Act II

I walk down the street,

there is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

_I pretend that I don't see it. I fall in again. _

I can't believe I am in the same place,

but it isn't my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the street,

there is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there. I still fall. It's a habit.

It is my fault. I get out immediately.

Act IV

I walk down the street,

there is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Act V

I walk down another street.

Right now, I'm around Act II. Falling into my bad habits, recognising the shape of the hole, but taking my time getting out of it. Only it is my fault, I saw it coming, and I can get out of it immediately if I but acknowledge the truth.

The rules and limitations of others do apply to me. The Infinite Scroll is not an effective tool in the struggle against my mind, and if anything makes the noise louder. Focus on slowing down - reading long form work instead of 140 characters, journaling, meditation, do yoga, whatever. Slow down, be mindful, and of course.

Just Do My Best.

Reading this, you might be going through the same thing as me right now. I've talked about what works for me, but your mileage may vary.

For you, it might be cooking, gaming, reading, walking, running, or you might be reading this and genuinely not know what it is that helps you feel better. Maybe you’re just that far down the hole. That’s ok too, just keep going. You’ll find your way out.

If you are in crisis, there is help available. Google is your friend for your particular country, or else you may find what you need on this Directory of International Mental Health Helplines are Or feel free to reach out to me. I’m not a trained anything really, but I’m happy to listen and talk.

Be good to yourself, be good to others, slow down, and Just Do Your Best.

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  1. See Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Maybe skip the movie though.

  2. I had one such warning yesterday, when my body and subconscious kind of tricked me into taking a nap. I was tidying up in the bedroom, mentally and physically checked out from some unexpected drama that took up my morning. I [picked my wife's eye mask up from the floor, and the surface level thought was 'I wonder if it's as uncomfortable as much as she says it is?'. Next thing I knew, an hour had passed and I was feeling much better.

#mental health