a woman sits alone in a window and watches snow fall outside.

The Winter Blues

It’s winter here in Chicago. Granted, I’m used to it. There is a rhythm to the seasons. In Chicago, we are always adjusting to extremes. Cold winter nights and hot summer days are the norm. The adjustment to less daylight, slower activity can be like singing a blues song. Our moods can be drastically affected by environmental changes. Those changes can cause seasonal depression, and it’s important to have space to talk about it in our community of people living with HIV.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Some doctors call this condition, seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In fact, you don’t have to be in cold climates to experience it. People in sunny Florida and California during the winter months experience it as well. Some doctors agree, that it begins in the autumn with increased depression and can progress into the spring. Some people find themselves unable to get out of bed, oversleep, and seek isolation during these episodes.

The impact of HIV on mental health

It is important that we understand the unique toll that HIV can take on individuals’ mental health and quality of life. It is said that 15 percent of people living with HIV experience some form of generalized anxiety disorder.1 The rates of depression and suicide are also high among people living with HIV.

These statistics only reinforce the need for all of us to be informed about how HIV impacts mental health. From the shock of discovering one’s HIV status, to the fear and shame of disclosing your status, stigma, and the daily medications. All can be reminders of your chronic illness that one didn’t choose. It can feel like all sense of control over your life is gone.

What helps me shed depressive thoughts

The truth of these episodes is that we have to lift each other up not only through proper psychiatric treatment but also by sharing our common stories with each other. Communities both online and IRL (in real life) help us to cope because we are not alone. Even if we have no physical person next to us, we can booster our conscious selves.

That conscious voice in our heads constantly feeds us negative energy and depressive thoughts. What happens when we replace those with positive ones? By really searching for a positive perspective, instead of waiting for my external circumstances to change, I hold the power of thought. Now, this is a strategy that I am discovering on my own and it is working for me. I like to think of it like this: the winter blues may be playing, but I can always change the song to pop, or soul, or gospel, or rock.

Seek a resource or tactic that can help you cope

Granted, it is not a magical cure-all for depression. It takes some time and practice to perfect. This is something I want to strive to do. That being said, my journey is a unique one all to myself. I ask that you seek out the resources you need, in your community of health professionals, and talk about coping strategies with your counselors.

Be encouraged: you don’t have to sing the blues this winter.

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