Ah, autumn. The leaves are changing, the air is growing cooler, the clothes are getting cozier…what a time to be alive, right?

That is, unless you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

SAD is extraordinarily common. Even more common is just the “winter blues,” when everything gets dark and everything seems harder. Millions of people in the United States alone suffer from this pattern.

Raise your hand if you’re one of them! Because I sure am.

It’s funny because I always forget that I suffer from SAD. Every summer I am (relatively) happy as a clam. And then the weather changes and suddenly I’m so tired. I struggle to wake up in the morning. I struggle with my productivity levels, with my personal and professional drive. I just want to sit on the couch all day and watch reruns of Below Deck. And I beat myself up for my lack of motivation and productivity, as if something were wrong with me.

Which, I mean, there is. My circadian rhythms are off. But it’s not my fault. It just is.

I’m currently going through this right now. I woke up yesterday exhausted even though I had slept nine hours. I struggled to get myself out of bed. I struggled to get myself moving. I struggled to move my body, to clean my apartment. Everything was a struggle.

“What is wrong with me?” I kept saying to myself, to my partner, to my therapist. “Why am I so tired?”

My therapist was nice enough to remind me. It’s that time of the year again. I had forgotten, yet again, that I suffer each year.

What’s interesting, though, is the way in which I reacted to my suffering. I had conveniently forgotten that this is normal for me, for my brain, and immediately started blaming myself as if something was inherently wrong with me. That it was my fault.

Because as sad as it is, self-blame is my default mode. Reasoning and logic come later, self-deprecation comes first.

My brain is wired to blame myself first and ask questions later.

But really, self-blame accomplishes nothing except make me feel worse about something I already feel crappy about. It enhances the shittiness, if you will. It is not helpful or productive. Rationally, I know this. I know it only hurts me.

And yet.

Brains are extraordinary things. They have the capacity to make new neural pathways well into adulthood through something called neuroplasticity.  But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s extraordinarily difficult to rewire those neural pathways, to get out of those ruts that are carved into our minds. And it’s so easy to fall back into those patterns and beat ourselves up about it when we do. But it’s about making the next best choice. To acknowledge that steps backward happen, but the most important thing is to keep moving forward. To give yourself grace. Because relearning and rewiring is hard. But necessary. Because nothing ever came from beating yourself up, but growth happens when you bear down, be uncomfortable, and learn. And maybe that growth will set you free.

Kristy Cloetingh is a Philadelphia native who is currently trying to figure out her place in the world. Her passions include reading, singing, dancing, nature, yoga, chicken fingers, and puppies. An anorexia survivor and mental health warrior, Kristy has made it her life’s mission to remind every single person that their bodies and minds are worthy of unconditional love and respect, regardless of size, shape, or whatever “normal” is.

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