Your Mind is Not Your Friend (Until It Is Again)

In April I emerged from a 3-month hibernation, groggy and grateful to be awake.

But instead of being asleep during my dormant period, like the sensible black bears that live in the forest west of our Pennsylvania house, I was sleepwalking all winter. I fulfilled all my basic functions at home and at work. I didn’t fail anyone who relies on me.

Nonetheless, my mind was in a turgid, torpid funk. Just as Phoebe Bridgers and The National recently sang with aching profundity: “Your mind is not your friend. It takes you by the hand, and leads you nowhere.”

My mental health used to be pretty consistent. I remember some down moments in my 20s and my early 30s, but from year to year I generally flowed. Here in my 40s, for six months each year, I ebb.

Ebbing sucks. Ebbing is not for the faint of heart. At its darkest, ebbing barely feels like existing.

But for those of us who are seasonally affected (that season usually being winter and part of summer for me), ebbing is something we must endure. Hopefully with the help of good music, good friends, sweet children, SSRIs, therapy lamps, therapy pets, or actual therapy. Maybe even all of the above.

I’ve written extensively about what the ebb feels like. The sleepwalking portion of my year. My deep, dark, dormant hibernation self. But what functions do I regain when I awaken? Here are a few that I’ve been delighted to reconnect with during my current April/May emergence.

Belly Laughs

Numerous times in the last week, I have buckled over with laughter watching Ryan George videos on YouTube. Or even better, listening to my kids regale each other with impromptu stories and random goofballery. And it struck me that when I’m not myself, I rarely belly-laugh or even belly-chuckle. It’s an unsettling thing to find no levity in your soul. To stumble into zero laughs in a given week. Which is why it feels oddly profound to, one month later, laugh so hard that your abdomen aches.

So thanks, mental health upswing. And thanks to my hilarious kids. (And you too, Ryan.)

The Ability to Engage with Small Humans

Communicating with young kids is an art form, as well as a chore at times. The ability to do it with any degree of patience or deep engagement requires considerable energy and clarity. So when I’m in a funk, it can be pretty exhausting to stay on the same frequency as my wildly careening, hyper-verbal, attention-demanding 4- and 6-year-old.

But my emergent, awake self is reasonably good at it. So when I take my kids on a 5-hour outing to a few parks, I can savor their rat-a-tat chatter in the car and at the playground and on a hiking trail rather than grinding my teeth at the relentless verbosity — and sporadic sheer gibberish — of it all.

I can instead be present in the moment. (The loud, sometimes even shrill moment.)

A Voracious Appetite for Music

When I’m funked out, I can grow ambivalent to music and waste my 90-minute round trip commute hate-listening to, as The National once called it, “venom radio.” Which is bonkers because music is my lifeblood and has been since I was a kid.

So when I awaken back into myself, like a ravenous bear stumbling out of his cave in March, my appetite becomes insatiable. I find myself piling 4 or 5 CDs (remember those?) into my backpack every two days for the drive to work. I revisit beloved bands from each chapter of my life and find new meaning in all the songs I’ve ever loved.

Music signals my mental health upswings, and it provides a stirring soundtrack for each emergence. Music makes me feel human (again).


In my shadow days, I forget how to properly take care of myself. Not in the realm of hygiene or sleep, mind you. I remain clean and reasonably rested. But I lose the instinct for self-care. I’m not as inclined to do things that make myself feel loved.

(Loved by me, to be clear, a love which no matter what anyone tells you is a vital love to nurture. After all, Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” wouldn’t make any sense if we weren’t supposed to love the guy in the mirror!)

But when I return to myself, I remember to take care of that self once again. Which can be anything from ingesting great music to snuggling with a cat to “touching grass” with my kids to (imagine this if you will!) letting myself not read all the bad news there is to read.

Self-care is vital. But I can only access that fact, or that ability, when I’m awake.


When I’m down, I can’t make even basic decisions without belaboring them and overthinking every angle. But when I’m up, I follow my gut and act confidently.

Like the decision to keep this section short and sweet, for instance.

Or the decision to end this blog post without a formal conclusion.

BOOM. Done! (Take that, neurotic depressive shadow self.)

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