It is well chronicled here on Horse Network that I, Gretchen Lida, have depression.

I can be a sad sack who happens to love horses. Like clockwork, the worst spells are usually in February and August. As the cold, dreary nastiness of this February in Illinois progresses, I have had days where it has been a challenge to get up off the floor. One part of me will drearily ponder the point of existence, while the other judges me for once again dwelling on such boring and overused clichés.

My Eeyore-esque episodes are not profound. I hope I have better taste than that.

I am one of the lucky few who have benefited from treatment and medication. In many ways, I am significantly less ruled by my mental illness than I once was. But I have come to terms with the reality that it will probably come for uninvited visits now and then for my lifetime. Depression is like that young overzealous gelding in the barn. No matter how many times the mares bare their teeth and pin their ears at him, you just know he’ll be back at some point.

Depression and young horses can be persistent and exhausting, but they are also great teachers.

One of the oddities about depression compared to other illnesses is the lingering thought that we will find The Thing that will free us of it one day. If we get that job, that partner, that baby, that dress size, that house, that achievement, that horse, we will be magically cured.

Not worrying about where next month’s rent is going to come from does make a difference in my brain chemistry. Having access to things that help me be more active, like horses, can help, too. But you can have all these things and still have severe clinical depression.

Late winter is the least glamorous season for those with horses in their lives. It is no longer a season of holiday cheer and magical first snows, but one of ice, mud, or icy mud. It is the season of crowded indoor arenas, cabin fever, and cranky friends who haven’t gotten to do much of the fun part of horses lately.

For me, the last month has involved trying not to pick fights with other people and listening to the clink of frozen manure as I dump it into the metal wheelbarrow. I start to wonder if the sun does exist because I don’t remember the last time I saw it.

There is a glimmer of hope, though.

On the days when it gets above freezing, I scrape the layers of ice, pee, and shavings with enthusiasm I usually only have when my depression lifts. Then, as pieces peel perfectly away from the rubber mats, there is a tiny bit of fleeting satisfaction so glorious it feels like sunshine. I smile, thinking of the times when I worked at another farm, and my coworkers and I swapped tricks for kicking frozen poop free from the ground in a manner that wouldn’t break our toes.

If I have the time, and my fingers aren’t sore from the cold, I stick my horse in the cross ties and brush out the tufts of loose winter coat. Then, as the ground below me and my horse’s feet is layered in hair, I hear the whisper of warmer days coming on the wind.