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Seasonal Affective Disorder

A discussion on Seasonal Affective Disorder - the "Winter Blues" - and what to do about it.

Less energy. Can't concentrate. Loss of interest in regular activities. Social withdrawal. Unhappiness or irritability. Crying more often. Oversleeping. 

If you are feeling most, or all, of these symptoms and find that you only seem to suffer from them at a certain time of year, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). The acronym is witty, but the actual experience is anything but funny. 

The impact of this disorder can range from having the blues more often than usual, to bipolar disorder and suicidal thoughts. 

The women in my family have a history of experiencing this disorder. My grandmother, who passed away last spring, had a very hard time with it. She tended to sleep away the winter and would become almost manic in her behavior. When my mother first heard about S.A.D. in the late nineties, she recognized what the problem was. My grandmother, Mimi, got very sick at the beginning of 2011, and we remember her saying that if the sun would just shine more and warm everything up, she would get to feeling better. I took her for a walk once the first warm weekend arrived, but she was already very weak and couldn't make it very far. She passed away a couple of weeks later. 

My mother, who, along with my dad, me and my brother, spent most of the eighties and early nineties in The Netherlands as a missionary, struggled with seasonal depression. The Netherlands, also known as Holland, has very, very long winters. The sun rarely shows itself and the rain is constant. On average, it would rain 15 days out of the month. And with that rain came cold, cold wind. I remember riding my bike home from school and running to the bathroom just to blow-dry myself for 30 minutes. My ears always hurt from the dang wind. When we learned our colors in grade school, we were taught that the sky was gray, not blue. 

Doctors prescribed Light Therapy to many Dutch people who struggled through the winter. It was just a box of light that you put your face in front of for a few hours a day, but my mom said it helped. I think moving to Florida in 1994 helped more. 

As a teenager, cold, blustery days felt like home. That lasted until my early twenties, when I started to have a hard time in the winter, but wasn't sure why. And every year, it seems to get a little worse. My mom says that it got worse as she got older, too. A few years ago, I spent way too much time in a tanning bed, just to absorb some light during the dark months. 

There are plenty of ways to win this battle without medication. (In my opinion, medication is prescribed too easily and too often. No one is happy all the time. Life is difficult, and it's natural to feel unhappy at unhappy times.) 

  • Get off the couch. Don't sit around for too long and dwell on why you're sad. Sometimes things get worse when you over-analyze. Sometimes nothing is wrong, it's just a nasty time of year.

  • Call some friends and tell them how you feel. You can even preface it by saying, “Hey, I go crazy once a year, can we talk?” (That's what I did yesterday!) If you don't have friends to call, (because making friends can be tough), write down how you feel. Just get it out.

  • Exercise. The endorphins will give you a significant boost. Take a walk around the neighborhood or a nearby park. Alexander Park has some nice walking trails. Briscoe and Lenora parks have beautiful views that will lift your spirits.

  • Stay social. Being alone is the worst thing you can do. Problems get magnified when they're under the microscope of our mind and imagination. You may want to hibernate, but don't!

  • Relax. Do some yoga, or plan a vacation. Drink hot chocolate. Do something that you really enjoy.

  • These are all easier said than done. Just do what you can. 

Take a deep breath. This will pass. If things don't get better soon, talk to your doctor. S.A.D. can lead to deeper depression, and that's very hard to get out of. What you're feeling is real, so make sure to take of yourself.   

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sharon Swanepoel February 03, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Crystal, I used to force my daughter when she was a teenager to go to the pool right up until it closed for the winter to get her extra doses of sunlight. I learned about S.A.D. during her teen years when things appeared to get more difficult in winter. At the time, she said I had to be "the only mother who forced her kid to spend time at the pool." What a cruel mother I was.
Crystal Huskey February 03, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Haha, my mom forced me to go to the beach :) We lived in Jacksonville, FL, when I was a teenager. Of course, winters there were not really an issue.
Everett Bracken February 17, 2012 at 01:03 AM
My mom and I both experience this. I grew up in Lakeland, FL and it was never an issue, but I began to notice it after spending a few winters up here. Now I know it's going to happen so I try to be proactive in dealing with it. Thanks for the tips!

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