Here in the upper midwest, Spring has been slow in coming… At least, flora-wise, though the fauna of Spring abounds. Robins have returned and, while it yet snows, song birds mating songs can be heard over the gusts of winds that remind us it is once again “change time”. Yet it is nearly mid-April, and buds have yet to become blossoms. Scant piles of packed and dirty snow still dot the land. The vernal equinox has come and gone, the days are growing longer, and hope for a good and fruitful summer is in the hearts and on the minds of most everyone.
Now, at a time when people are celebrating with bright and cheerful spring colors returning, the bare root garden centers filling up and people talking about their garden plans, some may wonder at my writing about such “dark thoughts” recently. The reason for this is simple in nature, though not easily connected by people who are not as connected with Gaia and Her creatures. People who are, what my family calls, “Sleepers”… Those who are not awake to the fact that We Are All Connected…
The fact of the matter is, Spring can be an incredibly challenging time for people with some mental health diagnoses. This is particularly true for those who are diagnosed with Bipolar, as my son, brother, and wife are so diagnosed, and also for those who battle clinical depression. It's such a challenge to explain to people who are slapping each other on the back and laughing and carrying on that the weather is finally becoming gentler, the Sun shows its face more often… Why on Earth would anyone be having a difficult time emotionally, mentally, as Spring breaks forth?
The truth is, Spring is a dying season. A different kind of dying season, to be sure… But a dying season, nonetheless. You, Dear Reader, may marvel at my saying such a thing, but ponder some truths with me for a few moments, and feel your eyes open a bit wider for having done so.
Spring is typified by the story of Demeter and Persephone as the final turn in that story's cycle. A brief recap for those who may have forgotten the story: Demeter was the loving mother of Persephone, and Persephone was the absolute delight of her mother. Hades, the God of the Dead, spotted the lovely Persephone and wooed her by sweeping her off her feet (quite literally) via kidnapping, returning with Her in tow to the UnderWorld where He ruled. Demeter was devastated by Her inability to find Her beloved daughter. Crops went bad, trees stopped bearing, and the world's flora began to die. Zeus, Persephone's father, told a messenger (Hermes) to fetch Persephone back. Now the problem was, somebody forgot to tell dear Persephone not to eat the food of the UnderWorld – for if you do, you must remain there for all time (not unlike Faery). Hades, being fully aware of that little rule, convinced Persephone to eat some pomegranate seeds to slake Her thirst… And so, she did. Six of them, the story goes. Hermes, being representative of Zeus, struck a bargain with Hades… Since the lovely Persephone ate only six tiny seeds, She would have to spend only six months in the UnderWorld each year – one month for every seed. So… In the end, when Persephone returns to Demeter's side, Demeter rejoices and blesses us with Spring and Summer. When it is time for Persephone to descend again, Demeter mourns, and the autumn and cold winter fall upon us once again.
So, how 'bout those seeds?
Tricky little things… For by them, Persephone's destiny was fulfilled. She took them within Herself, and by it, now outwardly, spends half our year descended. This is the principle of the two directions, “within” and “without”. Similarly, these blessed little seeds sustained Persephone, quenching Her thirst, and yet – through that sustenance, left the people of the Earth six months time of no growing or harvesting things to sustain ourselves. Indeed, while She was filled, we were left barrenness during the long, dark months of winter. Out of Life… Death. And yet, She returns again… Out of Death, Life…
Indeed, Spring is a time of both descending and ascending. We humans get all aflutter because we can dig our hands (or trowels or farm machinery) back down into the damp, delicious Earth – that which was just cold, hard, and seemingly lifeless. We rejoice, because we can descend again, getting “down and dirty” in the most wonderful way! Not only that, we can – just like the Gods – magickally use seeds by descending – burying these hard, seemingly lifeless things – into the Earth Mother so that new life ascends – by the seed's own death and transformation into plants that we use for food, shelter, clothing, and more.
That's right, and that's the key. Through death, we have life. Pagans know this through the manifold death/rebirth God stories -Manannán mac Lir, Adonis, Dionysus, Tammuz, Osiris, and even the Christian's Jesus, to name but a few. Spring is a dying season.
Approximately one fifth of people with bipolar disorder, mostly those with bipolar II, find their symptoms wax and wane with the seasons. Benito Mussolini was a prime example. In her biography of the Italian dictator Margarita Sarfati wrote: “He was quiet for months on end. But then came the troubled season (spring) when the sap rose and he was overcome by a swarm of powerful and dark instincts.” (Koukopoulos A. Bipolarity and history: Benito Mussolini. 7th International Review of Bipolar Disorders abstracts 2007, p21.)
Did you catch that? When the sap rose, he was overcome by… dark instincts.
Now, please let me state for the record… I am not in any manner saying that people with the mental health diagnosis of bipolar depression/mania are dangerous in the spring months – nor at any particular time or season. Goddess above and below knows that people with mental health issues notoriously get the shaft by those few who garner mainstream publicity for their actions who happen to have the same diagnosis! In fact, it chimes 'round our house whenever there is a shooting or some violent outburst that we're “waiting for the proverbial 'other shoe' to drop” as the media snaps at any information pertaining to an alleged perpetrator's mental health issues, and they do so like crocodiles – with a vicious grip that won't let go of this “too good to pass up morsel”… Mainstream media is all about spreading fear and misinformation – but that's an entirely different post.
So let me then add a note about those who suffer from clinical depression, and how they often respond to Spring. “They feel like ‘everyone is happier when the Spring rolls around, except for me,’” says Dr. Kathryn Klock-Powell, clinical coordinator in the Professional Counseling department at South University — Savannah, adding that studies have shown there are high risks for depression and suicidal thoughts during the spring and summer seasons.
There's a brilliant article from the BBC that can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13546925
It shows that, while the world is “springing forward”, there are many who are “falling back” into depression or sleeplessness (which feeds the grizzly bear family of mania, depression, fibromyalgia, suicidal ideation, etc.). Dreadfully, the UK notes that April and May are the months that hold the terrible record annually for suicide. Spring is a dying time…
Seeds die and are reborn as plants. Caterpillars emerge no longer caterpillars, shedding the chrysalis of winter's darkness, reborn as butterflies or moths. There is change within and without. The old becomes new. The past dies away into Memory, allowing us to Become. Out of Death… Life.
All of this serves as a reminder to us, that as the sun-drenched days with filled calendars come upon us, we have a living need to honor our own changes, and be sensitive and respectful to those around us who may be having a more challenging time adapting to these changes. We must remember that, just as a butterfly needs some time for its wings to dry before fluttering into the summer meadows, so, too, must we give ourselves some time to adjust to the new environment of Spring and Summer.
Be gentle with yourself, Dear Reader. Allow yourself to emerge from your dark season's chrysalis at your own pace. Know that there are others who face the same challenge that Spring presents. When your body is tired, exercise your mind… When your mind won't shut off, exercise your body. Trust yourself, under the guidance of your medication management and mental health teams, to know just how to bring yourself forth into yet another Spring with all of its harried paces. Above all, just keep doing the next right thing for you. Ask yourself what you need. Make a list of as many emotions as possible – the entire gamut – and find which you need the most greatly… And when you find that need, fill it – doing so with tenderness and compassion.