This picture has been around for a while (since 2013) and it is still one of my favourites because it reminds me of a transition.
I painted it one Winter after the ‘black dog’ had arrived to squat, yet again, in my kitchen. Depression brought a dip in energy and low mood, so turning to vibrant colours was a welcome distraction for me.
The picture is 60cm x 45cm, and the largest boat that you see here would fit in the palm of your hand. It was a challenge to finish this canvas and I obsessed for hours to get the fine details just right.
PAINTBRUSH AND PEN
While working on the painting one night, as I added lines to the boats using a teeny-weeny brush, I felt a strong urge to write. After rummaging for some paper I sat with a steaming hot cup of herbal tea at the kitchen counter, swapped paintbrush for pen, and put my emotions onto the page. It was after 3am. I wrote and wrote, then wrote some more.
At that time my body clock had reset itself, so sleep eluded me most nights. But after writing a few pages, tiredness began to envelop me. It was accompanied by a profound sense of relief that crept slowly through my body until I was shrouded by a layer of something light and new. When I eventually went to bed, I had the best sleep that I’d had in ages.
SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is an annual reality for many people here in Ireland as well as other countries in the northern hemisphere. Depression-related hospital admissions in this part of the world peak during Autumn. Certain symptoms of SAD that known as ‘mild depression‘, are much higher too. There are bound to be folks who don’t go near a hospital, and I imagine that a lot of people suffer with heavy Winter depression who are not included in the research figures. Not that counting them is of much use anyway.
The seasonal shift impacts on people’s minds when the amount of light we get diminishes dramatically from October onwards. Only those who have been through repeated episodes of depression can understand how awful it can be, however the good news is that its not a life sentence. I am just one of many who eventually broke the pattern.
Maybe I prolonged my own suffering by refusing to take medication? Who knows. I am not a therapist or a medic. What I can say for certain is that talk therapy (or ‘counselling’ as some people call it), was helpful, and so was my art.
Following the desire to write was a real turning point. I started journalling regularly. It soothed my mental state. Later, I crafted poems and songs as my inner writer emerged.
Getting professional support and developing a yoga practice came later and were hugely beneficial: movement is natural medicine. Thankfully, I have not had the Winter blues for almost a decade now. It feels like it happened in another lifetime to a different person.
So what’s the moral of the story? There is none: you don’t need someone else’s morals. And you don’t need to read any clichés! If you suffer with Winter depression, what you need is support.
I have one tip. Perhaps you know this already, and I am simply reminding you. Vitamin D helps.
D is for depression, but D is also for doing things differently. Every August I begin taking vitamin D so that by time the dark days roll around I have been fortified by it. This goes way beyond placebo.
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression.  I am not claiming that taking a supplement will stop the Winter Blues completely: each person’s situation and neurology is different.
At the same time, many people in the northern hemisphere find that boosting their Vitamin D level helps. We produce vitamin D through “a complex process that starts when rays in the invisible ultraviolet B part of the light spectrum are absorbed by the skin“.  Sunlight (or a lack of) affects the process, so a Vitamin D supplement is crucial here in Ireland during the darker months because we cannot produce it naturally.
Vitamin D also supports healthy bones, teeth and muscles. It does this through the regulation of calcium and phosphate. To absorb it, vitamin K, magnesium, and zinc are good partners.
The best sources of Vitamin D in food include
- oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
- red meat
- egg yolks
- fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals 
It is a lovely sunny morning as I edit this, so I’m off out for a walk now. If I was writing to my younger self I’d tell her “You are prone to Winter depression, so take action now (in Autumn) and don’t delay. See your doctor, get going with your vitamin D, keep your yoga and exercise habits going and as always, enjoy plenty of fresh air”.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be focusing on my creative writing and art for the Winter months so if you’d like an update about my arty shenanigans drop me a line here.
 Clarke et al (1999), ‘Seasonal influences on admissions for affective disorder and schizophrenia in Ireland: a comparison of first and readmissions‘, European Psychiatry, Volume 14, Issue 5, pg. 251.
 Rosen, et al ( 1990), ‘Prevalence of seasonal affective disorder at four latitudes,’ Psychiatry Research, Volume 31, Issue 2, pg. 131.
 ‘Vitamin D’ (reviewed by the NHS August 3rd 2020).
 Aglin et al (2013), VitaminDdeficiencyanddepressioninadults: systematicreviewandmeta-analysis, British Journal of Psychiatry.
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