For me, it all started with Myspace’s Top 8. In case you’re not in your mid to late twenties (b*tch), this was something we cave people were subjected to back in the early 2000s. On your Myspace page where you posted songs by the Black Eyed Peas and wrote your boyfriend’s name with a whole bunch of “<333333″s, you also ranked your favorite people on the platform. In order. For everyone else to see.
Now, your Top 8 wasn’t to be taken lightly. It was the space reserved for your BFF, your S.O., the popular girl you were trying to befriend, and your sibling who bullied you into putting them as number four. Got in a fight? Your frenemy got demoted or removed from the coveted section. Holding hands with someone new? They quickly got a spot on the leaderboard. It was the first big way to say “here’s who I like, here’s how popular I am, here’s how I’m judging others”, and we lapped that sh*t up.
When the Top 8 first started, it didn’t make me feel bad, exactly — it was more like a game. Find ways to level up, get on other peoples’ boards, gain virtual popularity. It wasn’t until my first serious boyfriend moved “Anna” (a random girl from one of his classes) in front of me that social media made me feel like a failure for the first (and definitely not the last) time in my life.
Myspace’s Top 8 was how I found out Tyler (name hasn’t been changed — hi, Tyler) was cheating on me (again, for the first, but not the last time). It led me on my first ever stalking spree, where I stared at photos of Anna, comments from Anna, likes by Anna all night, trying to figure out what she had that I didn’t (besides boobs). Trying to figure out why he wanted her when I was already in love with him. That night led me on a decade-plus long cycle of “feel inadequate, stalk, feel more inadequate, stalk.” It’s some sick, masochistic sh*t, and while I’d love to say that’s all changed in the 10 (okay, 12) years since I sat on my twin bed, crying to P!nk… uh, no such luck.
Social media has absolutely obliterated my self-confidence, my happiness, and my mental health. And it’s probably done some serious damage to yours as well.
Now, it’s pretty much common knowledge that social media is basically the devil. It’s addictive. It’s dividing. It leads to depression, anxiety, and unrealistic perceptions of beauty. It gives you sh*tty posture. But, in case you didn’t watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix like everyone else (which was probably suggested to you by a friend on, yup, social media), here’s the deal. From the National Center for Health Research:
“25% of 18-25-year-olds report having some form of mental illness. Depression is particularly increasing among girls. Some researchers have suggested that this increase in mental illness is, at least in part, connected to the rise of social media use among adolescents and young adults.”
Wait, there’s more. From Child Mind Institute:
“Teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66%) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time … A 2017 study of over half a million eighth through 12th graders found that the suicide rate for girls increased by 65%.”
Last one for good measure, from McLean Hospital (affiliated with Harvard Medical School):
“In recent years, plastic surgeons have seen an uptick in requests from patients who want to look like their filtered Snapchat and Instagram photos.”
So yeah, social media is super bad, which is something you — just like I — probably already knew. But, much like tequila or texting exes, that hasn’t stopped any of us from continuing to pose, post, and peruse. And while once upon a time we had to log onto a computer and search for people to investigate, algorithms are now so smart, they decide who we stalk, when we scroll, and how long to keep us engaged.
It wasn’t until my wedding in 2018 that I actually realized how bad Instagram made me feel. After waltzing down the aisle, I quickly found myself jealous of engaged friends — total hater sh*t, I know. But after spending so long planning my own event, the post-wedding blues hit hard, and I hated seeing other people post their ring selfies and bachelorette photos. I was sad, I was uninspired, and I was jealous. So on a whim, I muted every single one of my engaged friends. Every. Single. One of them.
I didn’t want to unfollow or block them, because frankly, that felt too b*tchy, and besides, it’s not like I didn’t like them anymore. I just didn’t like seeing them so blissfully happy. I felt empty after spending months DIYing and pinning and being the center of attention. It wasn’t exactly rational, but their posts made me feel bad and instead of just continuing to feel bad, I decided to stop seeing their posts altogether. And just like that, my love of muting became a way of life.
After the engaged people came the girl in my friend group everyone else loved but I couldn’t stand. Then competitors in my field who always seem to be outpacing me. Then the really hot people. Then some of my best friends whose posts just kinda… annoyed me. I used to think muting someone was the ultimate “f*ck you,” but now I look at it as a means of self-preservation. I’m literally under no obligation to look at someone’s over-filtered picture. And just because I muted someone, it doesn’t mean I hate them IRL (unless, of course, I do). It just means their posts — at least at the moment — make me feel bad. So why not just stop looking at the thing that makes you feel like trash?
Nowadays I mute freely and without thought. Sometimes it’ll be just for a brief period of time and then eventually I’ll go back and unmute, and other times friends are muted for the long haul. It doesn’t really matter, because the worst case is I forget and I never unmute someone. And like, not to quote Kourtney or anything but, “there’s people that are dying” — not liking someone’s weight loss picture isn’t the end of the world. Ultimately, social media made me feel fat and lazy and untalented and jealous. Now, I’ve whittled down my timeline so it makes me feel, well, not good, but at least a little less horrible.
While it’s not a cure-all — muting is an avoidance tactic, and you need to do internal work to figure out why what you’re seeing makes you feel inadequate — it’s definitely a way to not only make social media more enjoyable, but take back a little control over what you view. It’s not a great idea to just stopping looking at things that make you feel uncomfortable altogether. It’s important to see differing political views and perspectives to form rounded opinions. But social media doesn’t have to be a way of life and if looking at your sorority sister’s abs a month after giving birth makes you feel sad, then bon f*cking voyage. Mute away.
Granted, deleting your social media accounts would probably make you feel the best and free you from the toxic cycle, buuuuuut if completely nixing your handles feels off-brand, editing your timeline is the next best thing. The next time you look at someone’s post and feel that pang of inadequacy, instead of spiraling down into a vat of self-pity, just mute them! Before long you’ll probably find that your self-confidence has risen and your screen time report is slightly less embarrassing. Win-win.
Images: Kate Torline/Unsplash; Giphy (3)
Remember back in October 2019 when Modern Love came out on Amazon Prime, and for a moment there it seemed like wholesome, pure things like romance actually existed in the world? Yeah, me either. If you watched the Amazon Prime series, you definitely remember the episode with Lexi (played by Anne Hathaway), a young woman who was struggling with bipolar disorder. That was based off the Modern Love essay by Terri Cheney, a NYT best-selling author and former attorney to the stars, whose new book MODERN MADNESS: An Owner’s Manual is out September 8.
In the middle of a pandemic that has worsened a mental health crisis in America, Cheney offers an honest, poignant work of nonfiction that discusses all the ways her battle with bipolar disease has affected her life, and offers lessons to be learned. Whether you struggle with mental health or care about and want to support someone who does, MODERN MADNESS is a necessary read. But don’t just take my word for it: Anne Hathaway, who blurbed the book, says, “Terri Cheney’s unflinching commitment to telling her own truth on her own terms moved me into a new place of compassion. Hers is an unparalleled—and deeply necessary—voice.” And now, Betches readers can get a first peek at MODERN MADNESS. Check out the excerpt below, and be sure to order your copy today.
Back when I was still a practicing lawyer, I developed a lovely bad habit of dropping out of sight and reemerging in Santa Barbara. I didn’t tell my friends or my bosses where I was going. I just disappeared into the sunset over Pacific Coast Highway, listening to Joseph Campbell’s Follow Your Bliss audiotape and scheming how I could quit my job. I was usually manic when I did this, or on the brink of becoming so.
I remember pulling into the sweeping driveway of the Biltmore Hotel one time. The pink bougainvillea that draped the entrance rustled in the ocean breeze, welcoming me. “Aaaah,” I sighed, as the valets and bellhops swarmed my car. A disturbingly handsome young man, dark-eyed and deeply tanned in a spruce white uniform, opened the car door for me. Mindful of his gaze, I extricated myself slowly, holding his hand for balance. I felt like a princess making an entrance—until I gracefully tripped, landing splat on the cobblestones. My purse flew open and all its contents went sprawling out over the drive.
The valet did his best to recover my things, even scrambling under my car to retrieve my lipstick. Despite his efforts, a few papers were lost to the wind. They were probably just related to work, I thought. Good riddance. I tried to tip him, but he refused. “Please,” I insisted, but he shook his head. “It’s my pleasure,” he said, as he ushered me into the lobby.
“You’re awfully kind,” I said, feeling that old familiar risk-taking tingle. “Can I buy you a drink when you’re free?” (I’m so practiced at asking men out for drinks when I’m manic, I could lecture on it at Vassar.)
“I’ll be off in an hour,” he said.
“Terrific! I’ll meet you in the lounge.”
I went to my room to unpack. Something was missing, but I couldn’t say what. Perfume? Check. Mascara? Check. Stilettos? Check, and check. I slipped them on with a sexier dress and some racy new lingerie. But the feeling continued to nag at me: what had I forgotten? Was it important? Would I need it? Oh well, I shrugged. Whatever it is, I can buy it in the gift shop later.
I went to the lounge, ordered myself a tequila sunrise, and settled in to wait. The bar was busy—lovers and tourists cooing over the magnificent view of the ocean. I glanced in that direction: a sunset. Pretty, but I’d seen it before. I was more interested in the view of me. I took great care to arrange myself on the stool—a little leg, a glimpse of shoulder, just indiscreet enough to be noticed.
A man at the bar came over to me. Another dashing devil, only this one had blue eyes, and was wearing a crisp white shirt with epaulets. Having dated a pilot once, I knew what those four bars meant: a captain.
“Quite a view,” he said.
“That?” I waved my hand at the panorama.
“That, among other things,” he said. He looked down at my empty glass. “Can I buy you a sunrise?” he said, and I giggled. It sounded salacious to me, but then most things do when I’m manic.
“Maybe,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“Dan,” he said. “And you are..?”
I put a finger to my lips. “Incognito,” I whispered. “So tell me, which airline are you with?”
“I fly corporate,” he said. I’ve never once dated for money, but still: visions of Lear Jets and Gulfstreams flitted before my eyes. At the slightest whim, we might be off to Acapulco or Paris or wherever for the weekend. Imagine all the art I could see, the tales I could tell, the glitz and the glamour of a jet-setting life…
“Yes, you may buy me a drink, Captain Dan.” I heard the rhythmic lilt in my voice, and for a moment, I felt uneasy—but I wasn’t sure why.
He drank Glen Livet, as all men should. I kept to tequila, but switched to shots on his dare. Probably not a wise idea: alcohol is trouble enough on its own, but it instantly kindles my mania, as if a match is being held to my brain. I downed another shot, and fire exploded inside me: oranges and violets and flamingo pinks, as if I’d swallowed the sunset instead.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around: the handsome valet. The two men immediately started sizing each other up. I got in between their glares and said, “This is my old friend, um—I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“David,” he said.
“Dan, meet David,” I said. Or should it be “David, meet Dan”? It was getting awfully hot in there; droplets of sweat snaked down my back, and I was suddenly flushed and confused. Why were they both wearing white uniforms? Should I be wearing one, too?
“Give me a minute to change,” David said. “Hotel policy.”
“Ooh, are we breaking a rule?” I said.
“Not yet,” he said, and he winked. I laughed, but Captain Dan didn’t seem amused.
I watched David leave, and wished I could go with him. His eyes were so dark, they looked like they were rimmed with kohl. They were the eyes of an Arabian prince. I pictured myself swathed in colorful silks, riding bareback with him across desert dunes. Pretty boys were feeding me sweet fresh dates and waving palm fronds across my body to keep me cool…
A jazz combo started playing, annoying and loud. The music inside my head was so much nicer. “It’s suffocating in here,” I said. “Let’s leave a note with the bartender so David can find us.” I scribbled two words on a cocktail napkin and handed it to Captain Dan. He looked at it quizzically. “The ocean?” he said.
“Yes, let’s go for a swim. I need to clear my head.”
“But I don’t have a bathing suit.”
“Neither do I.”
It didn’t take him long to settle our bill after that. When we stepped outside, the night had turned cool and windy. “I need to get my pashmina,” I said. “Back in a flash.” It didn’t occur to me how absurd this was—as if a small, silky shawl could keep the chill off my wet, naked body. Captain Dan leaned against a pillar and lit a cigarette. I spotted David coming up the path behind him. I wondered if I should stay and soothe the tension, but then I figured it would be so much more fun to watch the sparks fly.
I hurried to my room and grabbed my pashmina. A paper came fluttering out from its folds—a page from a legal pad. I’ll deal with it later, I thought, and was starting to put it back into my suitcase when I saw the title, in red ink and all caps: “WARNING! READ IMMEDIATELY!” Uh-oh, I thought. This can’t be fun. But I sat down on the bed, smoothed out the well-worn paper, and read:
If you suspect you’re getting manic, you probably are. You MUST obey these ten sacred rules:
- Don’t change into something sexier. Wear granny panties and flats.
- Don’t make friends with strangers. They’re strangers.
- Don’t drink anything but iced tea—Lipton’s, not Long Island.
- Don’t get naked, except to shower. Alone. And don’t shave your legs.
- Don’t try to beguile attractive men. Or attractive women. Or cops.
- Don’t pull out your credit card for any reason, except if necessary to post bail.
- Don’t call or text or email ever—except, as noted, for bail.
- Don’t cut your hair short. You aren’t Audrey Hepburn.
- Don’t quit your day job.
- Don’t follow your bliss.
My manic cheat sheet. I kept multiple copies of it with me at all times—in my glove compartment, my suitcase, my briefcase, my purse. That must have been the paper that flew away when I fell. I’m supposed to read it every day, but frankly, I forget to when I start to feel high. Or more likely, I don’t want to. But those rules had saved me countless times, from danger and improvidence and self-sabotage and worse. I carried them for a reason, and I reluctantly admitted that I ought to heed their advice.
Thinking wistfully of the two men waiting for me, I kicked off my heels and slipped off my dress, and put on the thick white terry cloth robe provided by the hotel. How perfect: my very own white uniform. Was I being rude? No, I was being safe. I locked the door and shut off the lights and pretended that I hadn’t done any real harm—or at least, not too much. Maybe—but it was also safe.
Excerpted from MODERN MADNESS: An Owner’s Manual by Terri Cheney. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
The other week at work, we had a new guy. Within two minutes of meeting me, he told me that he did not believe in therapy and that people “just needed to be more self-aware.” Ignorant (and completely random!) statement, I thought, and attempted to check out of the conversation. But no, not yet could I zone out, because for the rest of the hour we were forced to spend together, he proceeded to tell me about his tortured childhood and all of the mess that came from it. And what a mess it was. 🙂
Of course, I feel for this guy, but how the hell does he not realize how badly he needs therapy?! The irony was palpable—I mean, it truly felt like an SNL skit—and the interaction made me realize how many misconceptions about therapy must be out there.
I spoke with clinical psychologist Dr. Zoe White to help us understand why myths like “people that need therapy aren’t self-aware” are so, so off. Dr. White works with Alma, which is “a community of therapists, coaches, and wellness professionals empowered with tools for better care.” Essentially, Alma gives therapists a community, and it also gives patients an easier way to find a mental healthcare provider.
Here are the top five myths (or excuses… you know who you are) about therapy, debunked:
1. There Needs To Be Something “Wrong” In Order To See A Therapist
This is probably the biggest misconception about therapy, and also the furthest from the truth. “I often work with people who don’t come in because something is ‘wrong’ with their lives in the current moment,” explains Dr. White. “Therapy is for anyone who wants to do a deep dive into themselves, their personal history, and interpersonal relationships. We’ll explore all of that, aim to achieve greater insight, and then decide whether or not change is something they’re looking for.”
So, therapy is certainly not only for people who is feeling depressed about a certain life event or have a specific fear of flying they’d like to get over, as examples. It’s for anyone who is interested in developing a more mindful approach to life.
2. It’s Not Fair That Whoever I’m Talking About In Therapy Isn’t There To Defend Themself
Headed to therapy in a few minutes and look forward to talking about some of you in great detail.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) January 28, 2020
AKA you feel bad for constantly sh*t talking the same person when they will inherently have no dog in the fight, given that they aren’t even in the room. Dr. White, however, basically says that this doesn’t matter. “I’m working with the person in the room: their perspective and their experience. It’s all about examining how the dynamics and patterns in his/her life relates to how he or she is experiencing a complex moment with another person in their life.”
In other words, it really doesn’t matter if your needy and annoying friend is ACTUALLY needy and annoying (she is). It’s all about how you experience their neediness (what about it triggers you?) and how to react to it in a mindful (stop rolling your eyes) way.
3. It’s A Sign Of Weakness
“Of course I’m biased, but I look at seeking help as a sign of strength. I go to therapy myself!,” says Dr. White. “Allowing yourself to push through the stigma surrounding therapy and realize that I want, deserve, and need support is certainly no sign of weakness.”
To put this in millennial terms: therapy is just one part of “self-care.” No one called you
basic weak for publicly posting a bath bomb on Instagram, right? Your mind needs just as much help as your skin, and it’s about time we put a stop to this “no days off” mentality (I’m looking at you, annoying NYC male that posts his workouts every morning, but P.S. please text me back) and stop viewing prioritizing our mental health as “weak.”
4. Therapists Are Silent And Judgmental
After all these years, it happened. I made my therapist cry. I can finally stop going
— Alyssa Limperis (@alyssalimp) December 31, 2019
“The perception that therapists are silent doesn’t seem to hold true these days,” explains Dr. White. “That’s a particular style born out of a particular tradition, which of course some people might benefit greatly from.” But a lot of people don’t, and it makes sense to have an aversion to spilling your guts to a silent lady with a resting bitch face staring back at you. And then having to pay for it.
As far as having a fear of being judged, Dr. White says being honest with your therapist about such fears is actually super productive. “For me, it’s a privilege for someone to bring up a fear like that and work with it in the moment. That way we can explore the origins of it—are they feeling defensive, or what are they feeling? We’re able to translate that particular experience into their daily life.”
And, just remember: your therapist sees you as a PATIENT. This isn’t Sunday brunch with your asshole roommate from college. The literal point is to be vulnerable. Worst case? You don’t like your therapist and get a new one.
5. I’ll Feel Even More Crazy Once I Start Seeing A Therapist
Update. I did not nap in therapy. But I felt very seen when she said, "you must be exhausted." Also. She said I should go get the nachos I wanted and didn't get the other night. So I did. Overall, it was a productive session.
— Busy Philipps (@BusyPhilipps) January 16, 2020
This is the only misconception about therapy that holds some truth. Dr. White explains, “In therapy, we’re bringing to light issues that have been compartmentalized and not in your conscious mind. Sometimes the initial phase of talking about these issues can make you feel worse.” Like, yeah, therapy is not going to be sunshine and rainbows only. You have to work through the tough stuff to get to a more positive place.
“Some sessions might be more supportive while others might be more powerful and/or painful. Aspects of therapy can be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Change is rarely linear and it might often be difficult to see progress being made in the moment,” Dr. White says. So trust the process and know that you might have to feel worse before you can feel better.
No, this wasn’t an #ad for Alma or therapy in general (though that would be cool, Dr. Sigmund Freud my Venmo is @sydneykaplan)—I just really want to stop dealing with you un-self-aware betches. So find yourself a therapist, and hop off my jock.
Images: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock; yashar, alyssalimp, busyphilipps / Twitter
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It’s certainly been a dramatic season of The Bachelorette so far—and unlike Chris Harrison, I’m not saying that with an ABC rep holding a gun to my head. Obviously, the first few weeks of The Bachelorette are always a little rough: you don’t know half the guys’ names, ABC is sending them on increasingly violent and messed-up group dates, and the Bachelorette is making out with 13 different guys, 10 of whom she’ll decide are disgusting within the week. All around, a stressful viewing experience. Last week’s episode, though, featured a (genuinely) unexpected twist: Hannah went to the hospital, and canceled her one-on-one with Connor S. This was the episode that made me believe Hannah would be an entertaining Bachelorette—and it’s also the episode that made me grateful to be watching a Bachelorette who struggles with anxiety.
Hannah has spoken out about her past with anxiety and depression before, most recently in conversation with The Hollywood Reporter. During her pageant days, her platform was mental health awareness: Hannah’s anxiety struggles had caused her to drop out of the pageant circuit previously, and she wanted to raise awareness for others going through similar issues. As someone who has also struggled with anxiety and depression, I was skeptical about how sincere Hannah was in all this. I’ve heard a lot of women claim to have anxiety and not really mean it—or at least, not mean it to the extent that they could relate to my experience.
Me @ people who think anxiety is a cute hobby:
My anxiety is a constant: a running list of concerns, what-ifs, and standards I’m not living up to, recited in a voice much meaner than my own. It’s also, as of the past few years, very physical: heart pounding, brain fogging panic attacks that feel like I’m floating above my body and having a heart attack at the same time. Or, when it feels like being sneaky: stomach problems. Chest pains. Trouble swallowing, or shallow breathing. Sometimes, the symptoms hit before I realize that I’m anxious—which, when they first started appearing a few years ago, made for a very confusing time at parties. Given that a lot of my anxiety is social (and that alcohol can trigger anxiety), I would often find myself trapped in the bathroom, pouring sweat and feeling my heart beat out of my chest after a few drinks. My body was registering the crowded room as a threat: and even though I really wanted to be a fun person out in the world, my anxiety and I weren’t always up for it.
I wish I could say I came up with a magic cure and never get those attacks anymore. But the best method I’ve come up with is limiting alcohol consumption and stressful social situations unless I know I’m in a good place with my anxiety. There are thousands of reasons I’ll never be on The Bachelor (not hot enough is #1), but among them is the fact that I know I’d be fighting an uphill battle with anxiety the whole time. I’ve been so impressed watching Hannah on both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. I imagine she put a lot of work into her mental health before filming started, to make sure she was in a good place, and it shows.
That being said, I don’t know a single person with serious, chronic anxiety who would sail through an experience like filming The Bachelorette without suffering some setbacks, and it means a lot to me that Hannah isn’t pretending she is. I obviously can’t say whether her hospital trip was related to an anxiety attack—Hannah herself may not even be sure what caused her to faint that morning. But given the way Hannah has talked about her anxiety, and what I’m seeing on screen, it sure feels like the first legitimate representation of anxiety I’ve seen on a Bachelor franchise in a long time.
Not only did Hannah suffer a health scare a few weeks into her season, she also re-scheduled her one-on-one as a chill date in her hotel room. As someone with anxiety, I can tell you that my relationship with my current boyfriend would not exist if he weren’t up for those dates once in a while. (Embarrassingly) early on, I have memories of getting overwhelmed at bars or house parties, or waking up feeling shaky from aftershocks I couldn’t quite place. We got to know each other sitting on my couch, with me apologizing for not being up for more. Seeing that play out with Hannah and Connor warmed my heart, and made me feel seen in a way no Bachelorette—with their constant energy for outdoor sports and ability to drink all night without missing a beat—ever has.
For the record, this level of dancing skill also made me feel seen:
Again, (I am probably legally obligated to say) I have no idea whether Hannah’s physical ailments resulted from her anxiety. But she’s said she wants to use her time on The Bachelorette to raise awareness about anxiety issues, and this part of her journey makes me feel like she’s succeeding. One of the biggest hurdles that people with anxiety face is that idea that it’s “all in your head:” and even though that shouldn’t disqualify something as a medical ailment, it’s also simply not true for a huge number of people who suffer from anxiety. I hope Hannah goes on to address the physical side of anxiety outright while she has America’s attention, and that her journey continues to show the challenges of anxiety in a realistic way. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Hannah is the first Bachelorette both to show symptoms of physical exhaustion and openly talk about her anxiety—but for people’s whose anxiety is felt that way, it won’t matter. It just feels nice to see a Bachelorette who can’t do everything she’s expected to, and still makes it work.
Images: DisneyABCPress; Giphy (3)
The sun is finally out, which has probably made you forget just how miserable you were during the winter months. Let’s be real, plenty of us dislike the cold and darkness, and that doesn’t mean that you’re suffering from any mental health issues. But for more than 3 million Americans every year who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the winter months can bring about some distressing mental health problems. For those people, the change in seasons can bring about feelings of serious depression, hopelessness, and withdrawal. And it makes sense, since most experts associate SAD with a lack of sunlight and shorter days. But as someone who feels those symptoms when the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, it made me wonder: is summer seasonal depression a thing? I did some research and spoke to experts to find out if there’s any science behind what I am feeling.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let’s start by defining SAD. Experts consider it to be a form of depression, the most distinguishing feature of this disorder is that there is a seasonal pattern to it. But notice it’s just a “seasonal pattern”, not specifying which season. As someone who is bothered by seasonal changes every few months, researching this topic was important to me personally. I started by googling summer depression, and then I spoke to an expert. I contacted Ian Cook, the ex-Director of the UCLA Depression Research and Clinic Program and now Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry. He’s also the Director of the Los Angeles TMS Institute. When I asked him about SAD, he said, “the particular symptoms can vary from person to person, but include the nine hallmark symptom areas that are used to diagnose depression.” He said SAD patients “predictably (more years than not) feel the onset of their symptoms at the same season, which is usually the winter months,” but in theory, the symptoms of depression can arise at any time of the year.
Seasonal affective disorder, baby?? https://t.co/GhboLWlIix
— Nyeleti? (@nyeleti_thabi) April 29, 2019
As our expert pointed out, the majority of SAD cases are reported during winter. However, Psychology Today reports that 10% of all seasonal affective disorder cases manifest during summer. That’s a sizeable percentage, so how come we never hear about it? Well, for one, research shows that we are better equipped to deal with winter depression. Basically, during winter months, we expect our morale to be low. Because of this, we may take precautions and prioritize our mental well-being. But when the winter’s finally over, we may end up taking our mental health for granted in the summer, which can lead to a different sort of seasonal depression.
There could also be something about the summer in particular that may cause people to feel more depressed during that season. While studies have shown that winter depression is triggered by lack of sunlight, depression is not as simple as how much sunlight we receive. Ultimately, there is a more complex mechanism in place. For one, humans are creatures of habit, and seasonal changes can too often throw our schedules out the window. This can factor into summer seasonal depression, because those symptoms include insomnia, lack of appetite, and weight loss, which are all things that can be caused or exacerbated by a routine change.
Whether or not Summer SAD is a concept that’s widely accepted by everyone, it’s important to take note of your mental health and how it changes during different times of the year. We all know that WebMD is not the best place to spend your time when you’re feeling down, but a quick Google search can give you perspective and put all your options in one place. For me, as I was researching this topic, I was surprised to see so many hits. Even though I experienced some of the symptoms of Summer SAD, I never got any help because I felt the symptoms I felt were relatively mild. I also told myself I could live with them because “nothing lasts forever.” In retrospect, I should not have just sat back and lived with it, and if I had known then what I know now, I would have been more motivated to seek out treatment options.
And, in general, if you find that seasonal depression is interfering with your daily life, then you should consider getting help. Like with any mental health issue, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment approach. “We don’t have the kind of clinical trial evidence that would give us solid guidance, so treatment is largely empiric for each individual,” said Cook. However, like most mental disorders, experts have found ways to make daily life better. Cook added, “some Summer SAD patients have reported that trying to spend more of the day in a cool location, away from bright sunlight, may be helpful.”
If there’s one thing you should take from my search, it’s that preconceived notions of what mental illness looks like should not dictate your well-being. If you feel anxious, depressed, alone, just know that there are treatment options, and there are likely other people feeling the same way too.
Misha lives and studies in New York City, and is currently interested in the mystical healing powers in a glass of sangria.
Images: Sam Burriss / Unsplash; nyeleti_thabi / Twitter; Giphy