It creeps up on you silently, the sun rises later and descends earlier than usual; the feelings of fatigue, frustration, and unhappiness that have remained dormant for several months are waking up.
I have seasonal affective disorder (aptly shortened to ‘SAD’), which is a recognised mental illness and subtype of major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern.
Winter approaches, you become fixed into a concrete state of mind where the simplest of tasks become excruciatingly impossible. Sometimes you can’t get out of bed and when you do get out of bed, you can’t move, and when you realise you can’t move you lay back and sleep – because that’s all you’re good at. Eventually though, no amount of sleep will be enough; you’ll feel the same after five or fifteen hours: exhausted. You find yourself getting upset over the silliest things on Monday, then feel completely emotionally detached on Tuesday. Social media becomes repetitive, people become unbearable, foods becomes inessential, headaches become the norm, and everything just stops. You forget about any interests you had because suddenly, they don’t even matter; even watching daytime TV becomes a chore. Nothing seems right, and everything seems wrong. You master the art of an artificial smile that reads ‘I’m fine’, in fact, you’ve perfected it so much that it appears convincing and genuine to everyone. At the very back of your mind, something is screaming for you to push through, winter won’t last forever.
I was diagnosed with SAD last year; my GP performed a series of blood tests and a thorough examination of my medical history. The results showed a couple of severe vitamin deficiencies (D and B12), he also noticed that every year, for the last five years, I went to a doctor about feeling down around November time. He concluded that my symptoms were most likely a combination of vitamin D deficiency and SAD. After my initial diagnosis I was relieved, but slightly disheartened by the fact I had to take 8 tablets a day which made me feel like a walking toy rattle. At least it all made sense, why I would find myself deteriorating each winter, only to become myself again around April the following year – I’ve grown to love spring. It was a tough, drawn-out process, but along the way I learnt to adapt and even figured out some coping strategies to help me survive my degree.
I try not to let the fear of an approaching winter rule me, careful planning and vitamin D supplements throughout the year tend to help as it keeps my vitamin levels stable. As a self-confessed scatterbrain, I decided to start using a diary to help me remember my deadlines, workshops, and meetings. This meant that I wouldn’t find myself stressing over forgetting important events and psychologically, I felt more organised. Another activity which helped was getting out the house for 30 minutes a day. I know I can’t leave the house looking like crap, so I force myself into the shower and get dressed, the fresh air is nice, and the sun is even better. Granted, I don’t always accomplish this one, but when I do go outside, it’s somewhat exhilarating. The final thing I do is read or write, I have a passion for writing, and letting the words escape my mind is a great feeling. If I’m not in the mood to write, I’ll pick up my kindle and fall deep into a cliché fantasy book (my guilty pleasure). We all have our methods, whether it’s cooking, cleaning, painting, photography, or playing with your pet – if it’s safe and makes you happy, it’s your finest tool.
Despite how constant everything feels at this moment, it will change while the earth still spins, because that is the only consistency in this world.
Editors Notes: If you or someone you know is struggling with SAD, you can read more about the symptoms and possible solutions via the NHS here. Alternatively we’ve covered it a few times on Mental Movement Magazine. The following articles may be of interest to you “Light Up Your Life with Lumie Light Therapy” and “The Beurer TL60 Bright Light: How Light Therapy Changed My Mornings“.