This Year, I’m Coping With SAD by Painting and Here’s How It’s Going

updated May 3, 2019
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Kenya Foy is one of six people tracking their resolutions with Apartment Therapy in real time. You can read her first installment here.

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When previously detailing my annual bout with Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD), I failed to mention that around this most miserable time of year, I almost always have my finger ready to dial my therapist’s number for a general maintenance check-in, especially when I feel that gross, unwelcomed feeling slither up and tap my shoulder to remind me that winter is here to personally deliver my custom-made, mental butt-kicking.

My first instinct is to fight the good fight because I don’t need a therapy session to reinforce what I already know: Winter only lasts a few months and I’ve survived so many winters before and will do the same for this one too, blah, blah, blah… —insert generic pep talk that doesn’t really do much because UGH this weather sucks, I am angry that it’s already pitch black outside at 5 pm. Just go away already, winter.

Day 1

The first day of the year got off to a bit of a rough start. It began with a very uneventful New Year’s Eve (the opposite of what I wanted it to be) and the next day my husband and I were annoyed at one another for a reason I can’t recall. It was likely something petty, although significant enough to add to my already SAD-induced sullen mood. And apparently not significant enough for me to do anything about it because I didn’t paint a damn thing to try and alleviate my funk, but I did go shopping and out to eat. SAD: 1, Painting: zero.

Day 3

Ugh, the weather is gloomy and cooler and windy. This really sucks. I swore I was going to paint today, but so far I’ve gotten through the first few days by moping, a little (really little) bit of exercising and being extremely lazy.

“I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to allow just enough motivation to break through my murky mood so that I can at least pick up the paint brush.”

Day 4

The gloom continued in the morning—the temperature reached a chilly 37 degrees here in Dallas—until the afternoon when the sun finally broke through the thick layer of clouds. I feel… almost alive inside except I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to allow just enough motivation to break through my murky mood so that I can at least pick up the paint brush. I got as far as staring at a painting I started earlier, but I am honestly so overwhelmed with work and life that it’s a struggle to devote time to tending to myself, or my ongoing (losing) battle with SAD. That is also why this entry reads more like a weather update instead of a resolutions progress report.

Days 5–9

Does random colorful doodling count as a painting? Yes. Yes it does.

Day 10

Now, we’re getting somewhere. Today, I painted—more than a few bright doodles. The picture was supposed to be modeled after a gorgeous backyard sunset photo I snapped on my phone, but as I pulled the paint brush across the bottom of the canvas, the sunglasses and martini glass I started drawing somehow morphed into a black mountain range with gray smoke floating overhead, just beneath a few thin purple stripes for clouds. If I had to interpret this painting as it relates to SAD, it wouldn’t even matter because holy shit, I actually started and (sorta kinda) finished an entire painting in a single sitting.

(Image credit: Kenya Foy)

So, what tools/apps/strategies did I use to finally and fully commit? Instead of technology, I applied an old-fashioned technique better known as human interaction and got my sister in on the action. Not only did she willingly join me in my art therapy mission, she surprised me by promptly completing two out of three paintings she started, which also happen to be way better than mine. This obviously isn’t a competition, but seeing her create so effortlessly is a source of motivation for me to stick to my resolution. It turns out that SAD doesn’t love company, but painting does.

Day 11

Even though I’m feeling like this painting thing might actually help me distract myself from the weather according to plan, that doesn’t negate the fact that I have absolutely had it with winter. That’s the only explanation I have for why I wound up with a picture of an astronaut floating in space with a planet that was supposed to be Earth looming in the background.

(Image credit: Kenya Foy)

Clearly, I don’t want to live in a world where winter exists, which in my mind, must be a place where North America resembles an elephant-like blob performing a circus trick.

While seasonal depression would love for me to admit defeat and continue moaning and groaning about all that is wrong with well, everything, this completed picture actually makes me feel better. At last, a point on the board for painting. Dare I call this progress?

Day 13

I paint messy, brilliant stripes and squiggles because my ability to focus is limited and the colors remind of me spring and summer. Also helpful? Having a partner to actively harass, er, encourage me to release my pent-up frustrations and weather-related dread by creating another non-masterpiece.

(Image credit: Kenya Foy)

How I’m Feeling Halfway Through

Overall, these two weeks weren’t as productive as I wanted them to be. Honestly, I kind of beat up on myself a little bit for slacking, but if I’m being 100 percent transparent, that is simply what depression does to you—it steals all of your steam and energy, then puts the blame on you for falling into a rut. Despite that, I was really able to hone in on the fact that in order to more effectively utilize painting to alleviate the side effects of SAD, I need to have almost drill sergeant-like persistence when it comes to taking action. That means scheduling time to create and having an accountability partner on hand.

If I make serious use of those tools, I predict that routine painting will come easier in the next two weeks, and the sense of relief I felt at creating that space photo will expand and live up to my expectations of giving me something more positive, uplifting and motivating than shopping, emotional eating or moping my way through the season.

Kenya will be coming back at the end of the month to share the results of her journey with painting therapy. Until then, you can catch up with our other writers’ resolutions.

(Image credit: Margaret Lee)

Kicking a Coffee Habit

Checking Out of Social Media

Making Meditating a Daily Habit

Abstaining from Alcohol

Cutting Out Sugar

Using Painting as Therapy