When most people think of Australia, they picture golden beaches, blue skies and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. But for those Aussies like me who live at the southern end of the country – life is a lot more varied than that.
In Melbourne, down the bottom of Australia, we have four distinct seasons: Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. We go from 40 + degrees Celsius in Summer all the way down to crisp four degree days in Winter. Weather tends to dominate a lot of our conversations – and most of the time we’re either complaining it’s too hot or too cold.
But would I swap our seasons for a life of constant warm days? Probably not.
Seasons give a nice rhythm to life… with plenty of positives to outweigh the negatives. Right now, we’re suffering through frosty Winter mornings and icy evenings. But I’m loving the freedom to get into my flannelette Pyjamas as soon as I get home from work. And I’m spending my evenings learning how to knit and crotchet while curled up in front of a good movie. There’s something about rainy days that seems to justify taking things a bit easy.
Watching my kids playing in piles of leaves with their cousin (below), I started thinking about how the seasons are a good metaphor for my moods.
Autumn reminds me of anxiety and the first signs of depression. There’s a sense that – despite the lovely weather – there’s bleak times ahead. Like the leaves falling off the trees, there’s an impending feeling of gloom – like things are about to fall apart. I need to force myself to look around and see the beauty that’s still there… in the colour of the leaves, in the people who care for me.
Winter’s cold, dark, bleary days remind me of the dark pit of depression. No matter how hard you try to wish it into being, there’s a lack of sunshine – or joy – and you crave warmth and comfort. But like the bare branches – not dead but merely dormant – there is still life within me. I just need to get through this season.
Coming out of a depression, is a bit like defrosting after a long Winter. New buds appear on branches – just as tiny shoots of joy and hope start to appear in my life. I look around and notice life again – feeling for the first time in a long time that I want to spend time enjoying my friends and family. Happiness has crept up on me… bringing a smile to my face again and making me – like the trees around me – fruitful again.
Mania is hard to describe, but if I was to liken it to a season it would have to be the long, energetic, fun-filled days of Summer. Just like I’m often taken by surprise with a nasty sunburn while having fun on the beach, so to mania is something that creeps up… disguised by seemingly endless energy and ideas. And I end up needing protection and help to get through this season.
Living with mental illness, I’ve learnt that I need to be prepared for all seasons. I wouldn’t venture out into the blazing sun without a hat – or the snow without some gloves. So I can’t expect myself to face the ups and downs that come with bipolar without some form of protection – in my case, medication.
Coming to terms with this – and acknowledging it – frees me up to get on with living life. There will be ups, and there will be downs, but life will move on – and each season will soon pass.
Do the seasons have an impact on your mental health? If so, what do you do about it? Would love to hear!