As If This Year Hasn’t Been Bad Enough!! … Along Comes the SAD
“Winter blues” affects many people; here’s how to diagnose yourself
Has your normally-active and fun sex drive seem to have fallen off lately, if not completely disappeared? Do you have less spring in your step these days? How about eating and sleeping: are you doing a LOT of either or both? Has your “get up and go just got up and went”? Do you feel like you want to shut out the world and never leave your home because people are all too annoying to deal with?
If you answer yes to some or all of these questions you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a depressive disorder which mostly occurs during the cold-weather months (though apparently some people get it in the warmer months), in the northern climates, and generally happens more in women than men. Its symptoms are pretty much the same as for depression/depressive disorder.
This information about SAD that I’m going to share comes from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH). There are many resources available out there for information for those who want to learn more.
While I realize that all the questions listed above may be true for many people who are cooped up inside — and lacking much social contact — during this year of never-ending shutdowns due to COVID-19, these feelings in this case might only be temporary. SAD, however, lasts a long time … for some people many, many years.
As it happens, I too have SAD — along with GAD, ADD and a couple other what I call “alphabet soup” disorders. If memory serves, I’ve been suffering it since my family moved to the northern midwest U.S. state of Minnesota almost 40 years ago. I know this because of the very cynical-sounding poem I wrote in my teens:
“Oh, the snow outside is blowing, and inside I’m really freezing/ I can’t get warm for nothing/ And I can’t stop sneezing. The snow is piling up / And I’m pissy as Hell. Winter is definitely upon us/ As one can surely tell.”
(Not exactly the caliber of poems from the likes of Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou, but it is what it is.)
Now for the signs of depression — that also may be SAD — which I found on the NIMH website include: irritability (blowing up over little things), sleep disturbances (not able to fall asleep/or stay asleep, sleeping for long periods), appetite changes, difficulty concentrating, feelings of worthlessness and/or hopelessness, finding it really difficult to get up and get moving, social withdrawal, low energy and suicidal thoughts.
NIMH emphasizes that because people are all different, not everyone will have all these symptoms if they do have SAD (and/or depressive disorder). The distinguishing characteristic between having a “bit of the blues” and having a depressive disorder is length of time that the symptoms are present. Those who report having the blues usually feel that way for a couple of days, or weeks perhaps.
Some people with SAD have it for four or five months, and then start to feel better come the warmer, spring-y weather. This clearly helps explain why “they” speak of spring as the season when “everything comes alive” because at that time, sufferers of the winter blues will start brightening up, so to speak. I know I do!!
Treatments generally used for SAD include medications (anti-depressants and/or anxiety meds), “Light box” therapy” (where you sit by a light as bright as sunlight for certain hours per day), psychotherapy, taking extra Vitamin D (see your doctor for details and dosages). Another method you can use is exercise; it’s good for your physical AND mental health, gets you some sunshing/Vit. D, fresh air, and maybe includes socialization. A win-win!!!
According to NIMH, people who have SAD often have co-occurring mental conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and more. When this happens, talk therapy would be a very good avenue to pursue, to deal not only with the depression but the other issues too. I highly recommend it. My therapist has literally been a life saver and no doubt many other people can probably say the same thing.
Speaking of life-saving: If you recognize some or many of these symptoms of SAD in yourself or in someone/some people you know, I want you to know there is help. Among them are: the Suicide Prevention Hotline (800)273-TALK (8255); or the Crisis Text Line (type HELLO to 741741); or visit the website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
So with help just a call, text or click away, please do not delay. SAD is miserable and hurts a lot; I’ve described it as feeling enveloped all the time in a gray cloud or else feeling like drowning in murky water (I’ve been known to describe my mental state as “several notches below I don’t give a fuck”) while my body feels like it’s tons heavier than it really is. If you can relate, please reach out and get help. There is literally a bright light at the end of the tunnel!!