The comforting smell of heat coming through the slots of the radiator in my bedroom confirmed that the cooler days of autumn had officially arrived. A small rush of excitement ran through my brain. Every year, that welcoming scent of warmth exhilarates me, in the same manner of lilacs in spring, bringing with it a new sensation of hope and anticipation — a new season, a fresh start. It was time to pull out the folded sweaters stored in dust-free containers from under my bed and place them neatly on my shelves. I’ve always loved the fall — it’s when I’m at my best, my frame of mind is optimistic, my outlook leans towards the positive side of life.
My worst depressions happen during the summer months. The choking heat of the sun keeps me indoors during the days, preventing me from joining my friends on the beach or stretching out on a blanket in Central Park. Summertime is when I decline invitations to events that require short sleeves and SPF 100. My nearly translucent skin and sensitive eyes have made it impossible for me to last more than 60 seconds on a corner waiting for the traffic light to change. Even on cloudy summer days, the heat and humidity launch migraines so severe that the only cure is for me to stay in a blackened, soundproof room for up to 48 hours.
I welcome the sweater and boots season not only for the invigorating chill in the air that I long for during the hot days of summer, or the rich and colorful foliage it brings, but for the personal historic absence of depressive episodes — until now. This one I should have seen coming from far away. All of the markers for a major depressive occurrence were waving red flags and I chose to ignore them, believing that autumn itself would protect me, shield me, from the perfect storm conditions that cause my mental illness to flare up.
Just a few weeks ago, I’d already been fatigued, mentally and physically, from work-related stress and uncertainty, when it was time for me to go to jury duty. Figuring I’d put in my mandatory two days and then get back to normal life, it came as a shock when I was selected to serve on a criminal case, one that lasted an entire week. The trial, while interesting, also left me little time to keep up with correspondence with clients and writing deadlines, causing me tremendous anxiety. I also wasn’t getting the necessary daily rest that is an essential part of managing my depression.
Relieved when the case was over and looking forward to returning to my regular schedule, I brushed off a consistent heaviness in my chest, pressure in my head and a sudden breakout of hives – chalking it up to a week of sleep deprivation and raised levels of angst. A day later, when the symptoms hadn’t gone away, my doctor confirmed that an infection had invaded my body. He started me on antibiotics, steroids and a strong antihistamine – and lots of bed rest. Another week of little to no productivity passed, and that’s when depression came a’ knocking.
Over the decades, I’ve learned that there’s only so much I can do to ward off depression, disguised as ducks lined up in a row, waiting eagerly to march into my brain and screw me up. I should have seen this coming. Had it been summer, I’d have been expecting it, but because of the false sense of security that autumn brings, I let my guard down. I was ripe for a full-blown depressive attack. The kind that paralyzes me, affects my speech — my voice becomes unrecognizably shaky, as does my handwriting. With a giant depression this strong, I can hear the waves crashing down inside my head, the whirl of water and gusty winds of a hurricane pounding my eardrums. All I can do is hang on tight and wait for the storm to pass, as it always does, but not without leaving behind collateral damage.
Autumn will always be my time of year. I refuse to let this one ugly chapter ruin brisk walks with hot chocolate days and toasty warm, cuddly nights. I’m slowly making my way back to the smooth and steady pace of tides ebbing and flowing calmly this season, while the storm makes its way out to sea. Depression may have had its way with me this time around, but now I’m ready to proceed, with a small touch of caution.
Adrienne Gurman has over 20 years of experience in advertising, marketing and magazine publishing. She is currently the Vice President of 1212-Studio, a product design company in NYC. A native New Yorker, Adrienne lives with her husband and their vivacious chocolate lab, Anya. Adrienne began volunteering for Bring Change 2 Mind not long after the organization was founded, and has since been a leading advocate for fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness. She has lived with Major Depression since the age of 12. Adrienne writes a weekly blog for esperanza magazine and continues to be a growing voice in the anti-stigma community.