Dark times

I thought it would be helpful to talk about something that I, and many other people, struggle with around this time of year. It’s not quite a tabletop games related topic, but there is a link, as you will see. What I am talking about is the feelings of gloom, self-doubt and general negativity when the days get shorter and the weather is less pleasant. I hope my experiences are helpful to others, even if it’s just so people know they are not alone. After all, mental health does matter.

Let me start by saying that I don’t think I suffer from depression as such and are probably in a much better place than a lot of other people. I also don’t need to take medication and I don’t need outside support. I can deal with how I feel myself and with the help of my friends and family.

So I am all right and in a safe place, and I know others are worse off than me. This is really just about my personal experiences and how I deal with my mental health, which may be useful for others.

I have found over the years that I have more negative thoughts and a gloomier outlook as we head into autumn. I believe a lot of it is to do with day length. As the days get shorter and the weather changes to be much cloudier, wetter and colder, I find it harder to keep positive. Don’t get me wrong – I actually love the seasons. In fact, I couldn’t bear going on a beach holiday in winter. I love gardening and I love the change of seasons. It’s important to me to see how plants go dormant, sleeping through the colder and darker days.

I love planting garlic and shallots in autumn, which represent the seeds of a fresh and delicious harvest next year. I also love eating brussel sprouts at this time of year, freshly harvested from our allotment, as they are a sign that life resists the elements and is still able to provide food. So to me, there is a lot of hope and potential in nature at the end of the year and a lot of excitement when I think about spring.

Yet, having to get up when it’s still dark to go to work, then spending most of the day indoors because it’s wet and cold and finally returning home in the dark is what gets me down. I have to make a conscious effort to go outside during the day and soak up as much sunlight as I can. I think this is what would be diagnosed as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. However, I’ve never had it diagnosed, as I feel I can cope with the symptoms and get through it with the help of the people who are close to me, as well as with ways of distracting myself.

The worst time is the early morning for me. If I wake up and it’s dark outside, everything seems to be bad. A lot of worries go around my head, which are hard to shake. I have to remind myself that everything will look better once I get up and switch on the light, and that is true. Everything does actually look more positive once I’m up and have the lights on.

I also know that having something to eat helps, so making sure I have a good breakfast is actually important for my mental health. In fact, there is a great TED Talk on the topic of how your guts affect your mind, so there is some scientific evidence.

The other important thing in my life is playing games. Whether during the darker times of the year or otherwise, playing games is a way for me to switch off and stop worrying about things. It’s a very precious time. I always look forward to my weekly games night, and I love it when my wife and I play games – or even better when our daughter joins us. I can escape into other worlds, or focus on my strategy and try and work out what the other players are doing. I can try and solve puzzles or get satisfaction from playing a clever move. So tabletop games are really important for my mental health, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Most important to me is my family though. Without my wife and our daughter, I would find it a lot harder. Friends are great and important too, but my family means a lot more to me.

So, as you can see, I’m all right. Even if I need to take conscious steps to improve my mood, I can do it and I have the support I need. I hope that others who struggle with mental health have also found the support they need to get through it. After all, we’re not alone in this. There are others out there who feel the same. We can get through this.

Please share with me your thoughts on mental health in the comments below. Do you struggle with it? Do you have bad days? What has helped you to improve or at least maintain your mental health? I’d love to hear from you. Please don’t feel like your thoughts don’t matter, because they do matter.

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Thank you!

Audio Version

Music: Filaments by Scott Buckley on SoundCloud

YouTube Podcast

You can also listen to this review on YouTube.

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