It's getting cold outside and my weather app says there might even be snow in a few days. Worst of all, because of Daylight Savings Time it feels like the sun is going down pretty much right after lunch. Around this time every year I start to feel a familiar combination of sadness, lethargy, and frustration. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and it actually runs in my family.
But this post isn't just about my mental health. I think that stuff is important (and my husband is a counselor so we talk about it all the time), what I want to talk about though is how something like SAD impacts my creative output, and what I have done to cope. Lots of creative people out there suffer from SAD, and if you are one of them I'm hoping that by sharing a tiny bit of my personal experience I can help you figure out your own.
The first thing that I have figured out that has helps me cope during the winter is trust. It used to be that I would force myself into my workroom for long hours during the winter. I wouldn't make much but I had this nagging belief that if I went too long without making anything that I would somehow "lose the magic touch," that I would no longer be able to make the things I loved to make. Eventually though I realized that for all those hours I was only making a few hats, and they weren't up to my standards of quality. I had to let go of this fear. What I found out was that even if I took a day off (or even several) that when I returned my fingers would know what to do. That creative part of myself was still there. I learned to trust it and to trust myself. That creativity was a part of me and wouldn't just vanish. Sometimes I still have days where I push a little too hard and hold on a little too tightly. But when I realize I'm doing that I just disconnect and come back later when the time feels right. And it usually works out better than I thought it would.
The second thing I have figured out that helps is that I really need to be careful to engage in good self-care. For me in the winter that means going out to do fun things as often as possible, even if I don't feel like it. Making plans with friends, going to greenhouses and florist shops, and even spending a little extra time in the produce section at the grocery store are all examples of what I've done. There is a real temptation to isolate myself or to stay buried under blankets. So instead of pushing myself to sit in my workroom, isolated and miserable, I push myself to do whatever might help me get out and get moving. This doesn't cure my SAD, but I do find I tend to have a few more hours a week in my workroom than I used to where I actually making things that live up to my standards, even though I actually spend less hours in my workroom overall.
The last thing I've figured out that helps is to just accept that SAD is a reality for me. That doesn't mean that I resign myself to it or just give up. It means that when I am depressed in the middle of winter that I just let myself be depressed. I accept it and know it will pass. And (more importantly) it means that when I'm not depressed that I make plans to cope ahead, figuring out what I can do now while I feel okay that will help me when I don't feel okay. That means that I save big but unnecessary projects (like redesigning my website) for the Summer months when I'll have more energy. I also pre-make some hats during the warmer months so I have more room for downtime come January. Rather than judging myself for being sad during the cold months, or trying to force myself to be "normal" during those times, I accept that I will not feel like my normal self and figure out what I need to do to cope with that reality now while I do feel normal.
These are some things I've learned through years of trial and error. They might not work for you and that's fine. The only thing I want is for you to take that creativity that is so central to our lives and apply it to things like your mental health, and not just towards making something beautiful or filling orders for customers. Think about your life in new ways, and be okay with yourself when you can't think that flexibly and you just need to spend a few extra hours in bed.