For a long time, autumn was my season of dread. Before I started getting treated for bipolar disorder—and for several years after I did—I sensed that something very bad would happen when the daylight hours started to condense and the average temperature started approaching freezing. This is when the depression would sneak up on me, when I’d find myself bereft of confidence and everything I did would feel pointless. The worst thing about these episodes is that I could never predict how they’d play out. Would I do something rash—adopt a belligerent, self-destructive attitude and start a pointless feud with someone close to me (or do something even stupider)? Or would I simply shut down, paralyzed by a sense of futility or else the fear of hurting myself, and spend several days in bed?
Even when I came to understand what my condition was, it took years of practice to prepare successfully for the lows. During this period I could recognize the coming spell but had no idea what to do about it. The feeling was similar to how Dostoevsky described the moments before an epileptic seizure. Everything I saw gained a certain heaviness I didn’t notice otherwise—becoming towering, almost sublime. And yet I felt so detached from it all, like I was observing it through a telescope from another planet. In retrospect, I realize I was retreating away from what I knew myself to be. Depression is an insidious enemy; it knows to strip you of your better qualities so you’re defenseless once it attacks. And simply knowing you’re defenseless is not the same thing as defending yourself.