Opinion: The struggle to survive winter semester

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It crashes over me like a wave on the beach, knocking me down and taking my breath away. I strain to keep my head above water, but I feel myself drowning. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. From the moment I step off the plane in the Salt Lake City airport to that glorious day in April when the sun finally forces its way through the clouds, each day is an exercise in survival. If I can get myself out of bed in the morning, I consider it a victory.

This week The Universe is focusing on seasonal depression, and I wanted to talk about my own experience. Up until my freshman year of college, I assumed I just had a bad attitude from January to May. I lived in Texas for most of life, so during my most difficult years I didn’t have to deal with a “real” winter. The sun still shone on me.

Utah was different. When winter semester came my freshman year, I found myself trapped inside by the devastating cold. I stopped caring about school and my social life. My relationships, both platonic and romantic, crumbled. I felt homesick for the first time in my life. Nothing made me feel any better. All I wanted was to crawl into my bed and hibernate. My grades fell, and my friends didn’t know what to do with me.

The worst thing I heard was “just be happy.” Some people told me to get over it. They trivialized what I was feeling and made it seem like my mental state was my fault. I didn’t want to feel sad and empty and alone. I wanted to care. I wanted to enjoy life. I just … couldn’t.

The days dragged on, but at the end of the semester the world righted itself. I was me again, not some sad, pathetic shadow of myself. Summer and fall were wonderful, but once again winter caught me off guard. I was overwhelmed by my stressful class schedule, my late-night job, my inability to make any kind of relationship work and my personal insecurities. The winter shone a spotlight on my greatest character flaws. The bright, carefree girl was gone, replaced by a girl who cried herself to sleep at night and couldn’t imagine ever achieving happiness or success.

Last year, I didn’t know what else to do, so I went and visited the BYU counseling center. As I tearfully listened to the biofeedback counselor give me tips on how to survive the harsh months ahead, I felt hope for the first time. I knew the misery would come to an end eventually. I realized that I wasn’t clinically depressed. I knew that spring would return me to full health and mental stability. I just had to hold on for a little while and life would improve.

Yet here I am again, at the beginning of a new winter semester. I feel the emptiness and apathy creeping in. If I’m not careful, I know I’ll drown again, and I can’t live like that anymore. There is nothing I can do to stop the wave from coming, but I can choose whether to succumb to its power or stand tall.

From my past experiences, I have some ideas for how to make it through the next few months. I’m keeping my class schedule light by not taking unnecessary classes. I’m doing things to make me happy. I’m working on my relationships with my roommates and friends so I don’t end up alone again. I don’t know why seasonal depression hits me so hard, but I don’t have to let it overtake me. I have to remember that life is worth living. The world has so much to offer, and I can’t let the winter inhibit my potential.

To all those who struggle this time of year, you can endure. For those who are LDS, remember that your Heavenly Father is always there to comfort and protect you. Turn to your friends and ward members for help. Do the things that make you happy. Watch your favorite movie over and over. Go skiing or ice-skating or on a tour of the Museum of Art. Stay healthy and active. Go outside and talk to people, even though that’s the last thing you want to do. I have received strength during my most difficult times by remembering these words from someone very dear to my heart: “In the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

Let’s remember that the sun will return, and the future will be better than we can imagine. Good luck, and have a great semester.

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