Conquering winter blues: A personal triumph

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kaitlin Castillo
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

When the hustle and bustle of the holiday season begins to slow, a silent snowfall signals the start of another isolated winter night. This is sometimes known as seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder.

Since joining the military, I have been affected by it. Growing up in the sunshine state of Florida, the only seasons I experienced were when the days turned from hot to hotter.

The first time I lived somewhere that snowed was at my first duty station in Colorado. I exchanged my flip flops and shorts for a multitude of layers and a chill that clung to my bones. A bleak and miserable winter was something I had never been prepared for.

During my time there, I chose to stay inside most of the weekends. Watching the snowfall while the sun dipped behind the mountains, leaving me isolated and chilly. Alone with my negative thoughts quickly spiraled into unhealthy coping mechanisms. I chose to sleep my days away. I was consumed by my perpetual loneliness. I missed my friends, family and the never-ending summer I had always lived in.

I didn’t take my seasonal depression seriously because I was embarrassed. I thought that I would get used to the cold, and the hopelessness would melt away with the ice. While the summer did improve my depression, the warm months never seemed to last as long as the cold ones.

After I moved to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, I realized how much I missed out on. I didn’t want my seasonal depression to stop me from enjoying my life. When I saw a class being held on learning how to cope with SAD held at the Osan Military Family & Readiness Center, my interest piqued. It was time to face my continuous winter blues head on.

A small group got together with a Military and Family Life Counselor to talk about our experiences with the weather and how it affected us. The intimate setting helped me feel comfortable as I listened to their stories. Being around others who I could relate to made it easier not to judge my own emotions and made me realize that I wasn’t alone.

The MFLC led us through a box breathing exercise. This technique involves four steps each lasting four counts. Breathe in then hold your breath, breathe out and hold your breath again; repeat the process three to four times. The MFLC also gave us effective coping skills. Some of the tips included going outside, exposure to sunlight, exercising and socializing.

SAD affects approximately 10 million Americans, more commonly during the winter months. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of SAD, reach out to someone. Utilize resources such as the MFLC, mental health providers, and Military One Source.

While I may continue to struggle with seasonal depression, I want to enjoy my time in the military and make new experiences, even when it’s cold outside.