“There is some kind of a sweet innocence in being human—in not having to be just happy or just sad—in the nature of being able to be both broken and whole, at the same time.”
~ C. JoyBell C.
I’ve struggled with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for as long as I can remember. It’s worsened with age and our move to the Midwest. Every winter, my energy and momentum dwindle until I feel like I’m swimming in molasses.
This year I broke free.
I don’t know exactly what changed, but I do know the following list is relatively chronological and cumulative. Each positive decision enabled me to make another one.
In November, I trudged to the doctor on my annual I feel like crap pilgrimage. Last fall’s emotional tumble felled me. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t think. It had to stop.
As usual, my doctor suggested an antidepressant. As usual, I filled the prescription and took the pills. And, as usual, I experienced a radiating numbness and the evaporation of the few pleasures I still enjoyed.
This time, I stopped the meds sooner than usual and started asking friends if they knew of any therapists. One name kept popping up. I made an appointment.
Here are my tips and my story:
1. Try therapy.
Resuming therapy after a hiatus of nearly 20 years terrified me, but I knew talking through my problems had helped in the past. I was a teensy bit resistant and honestly, pretty pompous. The therapist kept saying “Research tells us…,” and I wanted to interrupt and ask her for citations. I knew this stuff already, probably better than she did. I could manage my own mental health, in theory.
Then I returned home and did some research of my own. Despite my skepticism, I started to make the lifestyle modifications the therapist suggested. Something had to give and it looked like it was going to be my pride.
2. Light up your life.
Friends had suggested light therapy for years but I couldn’t find the motivation to shop once the symptoms struck. This time, I went online and found a small, 10,000 Lux unit with encouraging reviews. I noticed a positive difference after the first treatment.
Now I do light therapy every morning around 5:00 a.m. while I exercise. A half-hour seems to be the minimum I need to feel clear-headed for the day. Research tells us earlier is better when it comes to light therapy, and this resonates with my experience. Lighting up later doesn’t give me the same mood-boosting effect.
Per my therapist’s suggestion, I ordered some fish oil supplements. I figured it couldn’t hurt my formerly anorexic mostly vegan self to shore up in this department. Has it helped? Who knows? All I know is that I feel fantastic.
4. Set a schedule.
I try to switch off the lights by 10:00 p.m. since I get up so early. Sometimes I take a short afternoon nap, and I set my alarm for the same time on weekends as weekdays. What can I say? It’s worth the hassle to bring summertime energy to my wintertime life.
When the weather turned nasty, I moved my exercise routine indoors. I work out on an elliptical machine every morning (while readingelephant journal, of course) and practice power yoga several times a week. The detoxifying effects of a good sweat feel great and release physical and psychological tension. I consider exercise to be maintenance medicine.
6. Seek Peeps.
My social life usually disappears in the winter. I couldn’t find the motivation to make coffee and lunch dates so I wouldn’t see the people whose energy buoyed mine. I grew lonely and isolated. Not true this year! I’ve even made some new friends and I actually (almost) enjoyed the holidays.
I stole a few pages from my therapist’s bookshelf. The most helpful was The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer. I kept blaming myself for getting to the place where I felt stuck. I knew better, so why couldn’t I do better? The meditations in this book helped me find a gentler approach.
I have wanted to establish a weekly date night with my husband for years, but only committed to it last month. Our twin sons just turned 14. I guess they can stay on their own for awhile while their father and I make googly eyes at each other over a pizza and beers. Anticipating our weekly rendezvous has added zest to my days—and nights.
Again, I’m sure I never would have reached this step if I hadn’t taken the first few. But I began to understand, to cleanse my mind and maintain focus, I needed daily time in meditation. Tons of resources have appeared on my virtual doorstep; I am even looking into transcendental meditation (TM) training.
10. Give thanks.
On my new path of self-care I feel juicy and rejuvenated, all without leaving the icy wasteland of Indiana, taking prescription drugs or retreating from my obligations. And so, for the patience of my know-it-all therapist, and to myself for finding the humility to follow her advice, I am grateful.
I know I am not in this annual struggle alone. There is no guarantee what worked for me will work for you, but hey, “research tells us” it might.
Amy Taylor writes about parenting, yoga and other journeys for jconline.com, GaiamTV, elephant journal and others. Find her biweekly columns here. She completed 200-hour YTT at CITYOGA in Indianapolis in 2008 and teaches classes for all ages at Community Yoga. When she’s not writing or practicing yoga, Amy loves to read, research and have adventures with her husband and twin sons. Follow her on Twitter @amytaylormom.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Assistant Editor: Jennifer Spesia