First of all – I am not a Dr. I do not have a degree in psychology and I am in no way a professional in the area of depression or SAD or anything related to it. But I do deal with depression and SAD. I’ve experienced both myself and I’m sharing here. My hope is that by sharing I might help those who deal with the same things to know they are not alone, perhaps help them find ways to deal with the affliction by sharing what works for me, and to maybe educate someone who has no idea what I’m talking about.
SAD is real. It hurts. And words and actions from people who don’t believe it’s real or don’t know anything about it can be debilitating to those of us who suffer from the affects of SAD or other depression issues.
What it is:
(SAD) Seasonal affective disorder, also known as winter depression, winter blues, summer depression, summer blues, or seasonal depression, was considered a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer.
The above is from Wikipedia and you can read more about the official definition there if you want to.
How it affects me:
SAD affects more people than you would expect. I didn’t look up any statistics but I find that when I am open about my feelings there are so many people who will say they feel the same or have had some of the same symptoms.
For me it started when I was pregnant with my middle girl – 11 years ago now. I was just 2 to 3 months into the pregnancy, I was sick, I had a 4-year-old to take care of, and I was exhausted. Every day seemed to get harder and harder to make myself do what had to be done. I was depressed. I recognized the symptoms for what they were but I had no idea what to do about them. I would go to my Mom’s during the day and just lay on her couch, too weighted down to even sit up. Knowing she was taking care of my daughter, I would hang out there till evening, till my hubby was home and could take over when I got back there. I could do what I absolutely had to but it was getting harder by the day.
I was praying of course, crying out to God to help me and show me what to do, but when you feel like you are carrying a weight so heavy you can’t even get out of bed, it gets pretty hard to find the energy to breathe let alone sent prayers upward and my cries were getting pretty weak.
Then one morning a friend called. I don’t remember what she called about. It wasn’t a friend I talked to on the phone a lot. And it wasn’t a friend I would have normally told all my woes to. But she called for some reason and she asked me how I was doing. And for some reason instead of just saying ‘Oh fine, just the usual early pregnancy stuff’, I told her how I was really doing. And right then God answered my groanings that hadn’t even been uttered.
My friend informed me that she had to take medication during the winter. And that her Dr. had told her she could still take the medicine if she were pregnant. So I called my OB/GYN and told them what was going on and what my friend had said. They even let me talk directly to my Dr. on the phone instead of just going through a nurse. And my Dr. said ‘Yes, you can take that medication, in fact we have samples of it here in the office, why don’t you come by and pick some up. And I’ll write you a prescription for more.’
And praise God it worked. I was able to sit on the couch again. My smile returned. I could cope with the nausea of pregnancy again.
So that is how it started. It was winter. I was pregnant. Would I need the medicine in the summer and after my baby was born? Turns out, for me. I did still need the medicine. I’ve taken the same dose every day now for 11 years. That phone call from my friend was the answer to my prayers and probably saved my sanity
A few years ago it seemed that winter was beginning to bother me more. It’s taken a few years to figure out what exactly triggers my bad days and to figure out what to do about it.
My biggest trigger is the cold. We live in an old house that hasn’t always been warm – that is an entire story in itself and I’ll save it for another time. When I have to be out in the cold I end up so cold after I come in that I can’t get warm. Even if I wasn’t feeling cold while I was outside. And if I can’t get warmed up I get sick. It’s weird – my tummy will be upset, my head will hurt, my joints all ache, and I’m so tired I can’t move. A good nights sleep will usually take care of it but sometimes it lasts into the next day. Sometimes I can go for days and feel fine, sometimes I have a string of days in a row that I accomplish nothing but what absolutely has to be done and sometimes not even that. It feels like there is a weight on my shoulders that will not go away. If I have things I have to do it feels like I am moving through water to try to get anything done. All I want to do is go to bed and sleep. Nothing sounds fun, I don’t want to talk to anyone, and I certainly don’t want anyone to tell me to count my blessings or that tomorrow will be better, or that I should be enjoying living today. I don’t want my kids to need anything and if they do they can just get it themselves. I don’t usually yell at them because I have no energy to do that but I don’t do much for them either. When they were younger I would drag myself around doing what I had to but now I just tell them to do it themselves. Or let them watch movies.
Another big trigger for me are the words people say. If I put something on facebook about looking forward to Spring and someone says something about enjoying each day as it comes, it can send me into a downward spiral that can last for a long time. If I tell a friend that I’m so ready to see green grass instead of snow and they say ‘Oh but the snow is SO beautiful, and I just love winter!’ it just makes me mad, makes me want to cry (and sometimes I do) and makes me feel worthless. I know people don’t always mean to make me feel that way but convincing my brain to believe that and accept it, shrug it off and go on is not easy when you are dealing with SAD!
I know for a lot of people the absence of the sun is the SAD trigger. I miss the sun too when we have lots of dreary days in a row. But that’s not really my trigger. I can have a bad day on a really sunny day. It’s really hard to know exactly what it is that brings it on – if I knew for sure I’d fix it! I have learned though that I just can’t let myself get too cold or I’m going to pay for it.
How I deal with it:
So how do I deal with it? There are a few things I have learned to do to cope with SAD.
- Stay warm! This is our second year now to have a furnace in our house. I love it. And I use it. I turn the heat up when my nose starts getting cold. I wear fuzzy socks. I layer on a sweatshirt when I start getting cold. I stay inside. I haven’t got out for anything when the temps this year have gone so far below freezing. I don’t grocery shop anyway so there is no reason I HAVE to get out. So I don’t.
- I have allowed myself to not have much of a schedule to my days. I’m a night owl. I stay up late. I hate going to bed because usually by bedtime I feel good, and I have great intentions for doing the things I didn’t get done that day, and I know that sleeping may change completely those good intentions.
- I sleep in. This year I’ve let myself sleep in way more than I ever did in years past. I can do this because my girls do. They all will sleep till 9 or 10 (sometimes later) if I let them, so I let them. I have found that the days I made myself get up earlier just because I though I should, were some of my worst days. It’s not worth it. So I sleep in.
- I drink. But not what that statement made you think! I drink coffee – looking forward to my morning coffee makes me happy. I drink a Pepsi. Although I don’t drink Pepsi as much as I did last winter. I drink water. I drink hot tea. Yummy drinks just make me happy. This winter my hubby has made a pot of decaf coffee in the evening a lot.
- If I have a really low day I just go with it instead of fighting it. If the weight descends to my shoulders I have learned that no amount of pushing through is gonna make that weight go away. So I go with it. If I can, I get the girls through their school work, and then I tell them I’m not feeling good and I have to lay down. They have learned that it’s just part of life. I lay on the couch and sleep or doze or lay there with my eyes closed. On really bad days I text my hubby and tell him that he and the girls will be dealing with supper on their own. Sometimes just having him come home from work will cheer me enough to get me up and going for the evening.
- January is a very slow, non-productive month for me. This year was better but I still didn’t do a lot. I planned it that way. No deadlines in January. I have to know that I don’t HAVE to do anything!
- I’ve started using Essential Oils. It’s too early to really share with you my experience with them but I am seeing some positive changes in some areas of my life and I’m excited to learn more and figure out what works for me.
What I might recommend:
I have had friends who know I deal with SAD ask me what I do. I just listed above what I’ve been doing. And I know that what works for me might not be an option for you. I’ve been through the years with little people who have to have their Mommy’s care. I now have a teenager who can do a lot for me, even taking over helping with the younger two’s school work. I can send them all upstairs or outside to play. I can tell them to just go watch a movie so I can actually sleep instead of being woke up every 2 seconds by a squeal or laugh. Not all of you are at this stage of life. You have babies. You have toddlers. You have husbands who depend on you to help run the business. You don’t homeschool and you have a car pool or game schedule to keep up with. I’ve been there. I’ve done the carpool, I’ve done the school activity schedule, I’ve done the babies and toddlers.
I will tell you this – IT WAS EASIER TO HANDLE ALL THAT WHEN I WAS YOUNGER! The statement ‘you do what you have to’ is mostly true. You may not be performing at your full steam and you may be hiding your pain from everyone around you but you will look back and see that you did what you had to.
- Confide in someone. If you don’t feel comfortable putting it out there for the world to read, choose a trusted friend and tell them what you are dealing with. Ask them to pray with you and for you.
- Hire help. Even if it is just an hour or two a week and you pay a teenager a few bucks to stay with your kids so you can do something alone. Whatever it is that helps you keep going, and whatever your budget can afford. I know there are some who do not have a spare penny in their budget for anything like this. But a lot of us do if we just look for it. It will be worth it.
- Try to explain to your spouse how you are feeling. If they don’t get it, and think you are making it up, print some info on SAD and ask them to read it. Ask them to pray with you about it. Beg them to understand you can’t help it and that you are as frustrated as they are that you can’t just turn it off!
- Explain to your children how you are feeling. Even if they are very young they can understand that sometimes Mommy just doesn’t feel good. Tell them how they can help and assure them that Mommy is ok, she just has days when she needs to lay on the couch or ‘have a time out’!
- Disconnect from all social media if it adds to the problem. Even well-meaning friends can say the wrong thing without even knowing it. Your cry for help when you post about the weather gets met with comments that were intended to be funny but aren’t funny at all when you are dealing with SAD. I haven’t deleted my facebook account because of my business. If you have the same reason for not wanting to totally disconnect – then hide the friends who are always talking about how lovely the snow is and great the cold weather is. They won’t know you hid them but you won’t be bombarded with their posts when you aren’t feeling like taking it. And just don’t post anything about the weather at all. That way no one can leave a comment that puts you on the couch for the day.
- Track your days – journal if needed. Figure out what your triggers are and eliminate as much as possible.
- Pray about it as much as you can. Spend time reading your Bible. Find a Bible translation that really speaks to you and you will look forward to reading it. Even just one verse makes such a difference in my day. Find some great devotionals to go with the Bible reading if you like that sort of thing. I got one for Christmas called ‘Jesus Calling’ that I really like.
- Talk to other people who deal with SAD. Find out how they feel, what works for them, and what they recommend. We are all different and we all react differently to things. What works for me may not be what works best for you.
- Allow yourself to do what you need to, to cope. Don’t let what others think make you try too hard to be what you can’t be. If someone comes to your door at 2 in the afternoon and you are still in your pj’s don’t worry about it. It’s your house, it’s your life and you have to do what works for you. Don’t let others expectations make it harder to live your life!
- Most of all remember that you are wonderful. You are loved. You are an awesome person. SAD isn’t who you are or what you are, it’s just something you deal with.
I hope today is a good day and – 54 days till April friends!