My Experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Does having a cute acronym appropriately referred to as SAD make Seasonal Affective Disorder any easier to bear? Not for me.

I have lived my whole life in New England, and have experienced the four seasons each about 22 times now. I wish I could say I enjoyed them all. It seems to my that I only enjoy the time of year when everything is a riot of gorgeous green, warmth is in the air, and the days are long with sunlight. This is about five months out of the year, I believe.

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight. This makes sense to me, because I tried using light therapy last winter and I noticed an improvement in my depression here and there while I tried it. But I also know that less time outdoors, loss of greenery and foliage, and the coldness all contribute to my SAD.

The fact that Daylight Savings Time (DST) ends in the fall makes it perhaps the official kickoff of my seasonal depression. All of a sudden it is getting dark at 5:00 PM instead of 6:00 PM. The sun rises and sets gradually to earlier and later times by itself for a reason. I think Mother Nature had this all figured out before we started messing with it.

Unfortunately for me, I am completely predisposed to having this disorder. When DST ends and we lose an hour of sleep on top of all the other causes of SAD I listed, my overall mood goes downhill, fast.

As soon as it gets dark out, I want to be inside, curled up watching Mad Men or reading a good book. But, of course, the world around me doesn’t evolve to suit my needs. The yoga classes I go to still start after dark, likewise with any 12-step program meetings I attend for my eating disorder. I do one these activities every night and the other every morning when I am in a good place. But now? It is a monumental effort.

Oversleeping is actually listed as a symptom of SAD, which I find quite relieving. For as long as I can remember, I have had problems oversleeping and waking up on time. The oversleeping problems have ebbed and flowed in the same pattern my depression has over the years. But people who don’t have problems waking up don’t really understand that it truly isn’t something that can be helped sometimes.

In the winter, it is much easier for me to want to stay awake way too late because of all the indoors at night time. Studies show that more screen time keeps the brain more active and harder to shut down at night. But as a writer, ample amounts of screen time are just a part of what I do. I notice how it affects my ability to sleep, though.

On the flip side, I can take sleep medication, but I find that it makes me groggy a lot of the time for the next day, and it makes me much more likely to oversleep to begin with. Still, just having this problem recognized as a symptom of something, rather than some defect in myself, feels really good.

What can I do about my SAD? Well, as I mentioned before, the light therapy does help in some ways. I sold my light therapy device last year, though, so I may have to buy a new one, or find a really good website/app for my computer that would do the job.

One thing that helps is just trying to get outside as much as I can. During the winter, I think it can be lovely outside, as long as I dress warm and keep moving. Last year, I lived on a small tributary off a large river and, when it froze over in the winter, I would simply walk across it to the other side. Much of it was wetlands, so I could explore things I never would able to in the summer.

And even if I can get outside, I definitely do still need to stress Vitamin D in my body. Either through my diet or supplements, I need that extra boost. And it goes without saying that I keep taking my antidepressants on time and consistently. (A couple years ago I decided to stop taking my medication one fall. I lasted about four months and it was genuinely one of the worst experiences I’ve had in a long time.)

I also have to just force myself out of the house after dark. I need the recovery from my eating disorder that comes with my 12-step program, and I definitely need all the mind and body benefits that yoga offers me. Without these, my SAD can spiral out of control, with me along for the ride.

The last coping method I am using to get through this tough time is having something to look forward to in the spring. Because I am choosing to go all out in the spring, I won’t be able to travel someplace warm and tropical for the winter. So it is a trade-off, but we’ll see what happens. In the next year or two, I definitely want to begin relocating during these tough months to a location that is better for my mind.

Winter and fall are awesome, because they are a part of life and nature. But for me they represent an increased time of challenge to my health. If you suffer from SAD, I definitely would love to hear about your experience with it. This is something that I think a lot of people don’t talk much about besides the “winter blues”. If you have any light to shed, let me know.

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