Summer is in full swing, which often evokes images of endless days in the sunshine and crossing off all of those fun day-trips and outings on our summer bucket lists. But historically, for me, this has not been the case. For the past seven years, I have struggled with seasonal depression.

I know what you’re thinking: that seasonal depression = sadness when it’s cloudy and rainy and dark, right? In most cases, yes, you would be correct. But for me, summer meant finally having the time to confront all of those suppressed thoughts and emotions that I so easily glossed over when buried under a pile of schoolwork or a fully booked schedule.

Summer wasn’t a time for celebration, but a time to prepare myself for the onslaught of a whole slew of emotions I had spent all year trying to suppress.

I am very grateful to say that this summer is different. This change didn’t happen overnight. As much as I’d like to say it was as easy as waking up on the first day of summer and saying “This summer, I’m going to be happy and joyful and not lie on the floor listening to emo indie music like I do every summer!” this was just simply not the case. In fact, I got to the point where I am now through a lot of hard work and dedication to my mental health, something that is too often neglected and put on the back-burner when really, it needs to be front and center.

I have therapy to thank for helping to clear the clouds that have fogged up my summers and allowing me to finally see the sun.

I was nine years old when I started going to therapy. I had crippling anxiety that left me unable to think, sleep, or do things I once loved. I couldn’t relate to my friends, who hadn’t experienced that level of anxiety. I couldn’t talk about it to my teacher or classmates, because in my head, the way I thought and felt was “weird”, “strange”, and maybe even a little “wrong”. Nine-year-old girls were supposed to be happy and carefree, but there I was, having panic attacks at the pizza place with my family and lying awake at night for hours, completely consumed by fear. Therapy was the obvious solution, so my mom booked my first appointment and the rest was history. At first I loved it, mostly because it meant I was allowed to miss school to get lunch with my mom and talk about my thoughts and feelings with a nice lady, but also because it was the first time I had felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable and share what was going on inside of my head.

Eleven years later, nothing has really changed in terms of my appreciation for therapy. Of course, twenty-year-old me has different struggles, experiences, thoughts and feelings than nine-year-old me, but at the end of the day, both of us benefit from the comfort and validation that comes from being open and honest about something as personal and private as the inner-workings of our brain. From the many years I have spent going to therapy on-and-off, here are the key lessons I’ve learned that have helped me to overcome seasonal depression and fully live my life, no matter what time of year it is:

1. It’s okay to feel.

You will not always be completely happy, and that’s okay; that’s part of life. 

Humans feel in a full-spectrum of emotions and embracing that spectrum is part of what makes life meaningful and beautiful. 

Sadness and pain and loneliness should be embraced just as much as joy, because every single emotion teaches us something about others, about ourselves, and about the world. Of course, there comes a point where feeling too much of one emotion can impact your well-being and daily functioning, which is where seeking professional help comes in.

2. It’s okay to get help.

You don’t have to struggle alone. I feel like all too often mental illness is linked to some kind of personal flaw or failure, but mental illness is just like any other physiological illness that is out of one’s control. We can choose to take steps to recover, but nobody chooses to have a mental illness. This stigma makes it hard for people to feel comfortable reaching out for help, but the more we break the stigma and talk about mental illness, the easier it will be to seek it.

Therapy and mental health support are for everyone

3. It’s okay to get uncomfortable.

Confronting thoughts and feelings that are not only unpleasant but also stigmatized and discouraged is an extremely difficult process. It’s hard to deal with depression, anxiety, grief, or heartbreak when you’re constantly bombarded by images, media, and messages that make it seem like everyone else is okay. But the truth is mental illness permeates every corner of society, and it’s only uncomfortable because we don’t talk about it.

Discomfort can be a wonderful teacher that can show you new parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed.  

It can also reintroduce you to parts of yourself that have been buried by your illness.

Leaning into the discomfort instead of avoiding it is such a hard thing to do, but one that can truly illuminate parts of your true self and pave the way to a better, brighter future with the help and support of a treatment team and loved ones.

4. It’s okay to take care of yourself.

This is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned. Healing and rebounding from mental illness is essentially impossible if you can’t learn to take care of your needs. For me personally, I held a lot of shame and fear surrounding self-care. I thought taking care of myself was selfish and would take away from other aspects of my life such as school and work, and maybe for a period of time, it will. 

But that’s the thing about mental health: it has to come before everything else. If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others, do the things you truly want to do, or simply enjoy your life. Self-care might mean stepping away from things that no longer serve you, whether that be temporarily or permanently. It might mean practicing mindfulness, spending time outdoors, or spending time with loved ones. It might even mean spending some one-on-one time with yourself. 

Whatever self-care looks like for you, it has to be a priority if you are to ever live the life you are meant to live and be the person you are at your core. 

Therapy is a privilege that is not accessible to everyone. There is a stigma that comes along with it as well can be very pervasive depending on your unique cultural and religious background as well as the community you come from. These obstacles and more can make it extremely difficult to get help, and I want to acknowledge that. If you are struggling with mental illness and have limited access to therapy, I encourage you to reach out to your local resources, like non-profits, clinics, and school counseling centers to get help.

Or if you just simply need to reach out and talk to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Whether you’re mentally healthy and thriving, the loved one of someone with a mental illness, or struggling yourself, reach out for help, connect with others, and give yourself compassion.

Life is hard. I promise that someday you will be able to feel the sun again if you open up and let the light back in.

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