It really is a battle each and every year—no matter what I do or don’t do.
You would think after so many years of this same war, I’d be more prepared and aware, but every year it seems to slip up on me, unawares.
It usually starts in late Autumn, but I only can tell that by looking back at it from a few weeks/months later—and only if I’ve somehow managed to get a little better, to climb back up and part way out of the valley. I live in U.S. Mountain Time, and every year right around the switch from Daylight Savings Time, my life begins a descent.
The problem is, though, because the decline is so gradual, I don’t realize anything is happening until I find myself lying at the bottom of that deep well—crumbled, depressed, anxious—unable to even look up, much less stand up and begin climbing.
My Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) manifests as a weird, confusing combination of anxiety, depression, fear and defensive, angry negativity.
I spend whole days wondering where joy has wandered off to, and why I am feeling so listless and hopeless—and so unnecessary and useless, why nothing and no one seem to inspire me anymore. Just this morning, as I was rising (angry, frustrated, sad), I lamented out loud, “Now why am I doing this?”
Where “this” means: life.
Tears burst quickly up and forth, but only briefly, because I tamped them down, knowing from experience that I shouldn’t travel too deeply into that well-known morass.
Why am I once again rising out of my bed in the early dark to start another day? Why am I forcing myself to eat, to get dressed in clothes that annoy and irritate?
Nothing seems to matter. Nothing makes sense.
I feel like I’m in a fog, and I can’t force my mind to make sense of why I am doing such useless, repetitious, soul-sucking, day-to-day crap that only serves to perpetuate my physical existence on this Earth (like that’s somehow the goal? Why is that so highly valued, anyway? Why are we here, working, eating, shitting, sleeping—lather, rinse, repeat?).
I become hypersensitive and jumpy. Everything I put on my body seems to burn and itch and frustrate. I am always cold—except when I am hot flashing and sweating like a pack mule. My skin is dry and feels raw—except when I am drenched in cold sweat.
My clothes are too hot, too tight, too loose, too short, too scratchy; they chaff, they bind, they irritate. Every seam, every tag—everything—is too rough. I tug, scratch, stretch, squirm—have to stop myself, close my eyes and force myself to breathe slowly, deeply, calmly, in fear of doing harm to my skin or to the clothes.
Every noise seems too loud and abrasive on my ears and senses. I jump at normal sounds and shrink from noises. It seems like everyone is shouting and my system can’t handle the overload.
I find myself thinking things like, “This is useless…” about almost everything, because I can’t find good, hopeful reasons for doing anything. It all seems pointless and/or stressful and like too much trouble to bother with.
Then I feel guilty, because I know my life is not a bad life. In fact, when I’m not SADing, I feel my life is fantastically wonderful, and I am happy.
But when I am SADing, I feel like I am somehow babysitting my own irritated, recalcitrant inner toddler who has reached the too-late-to-turn-back stage and is in constant almost-tantrum mode (I am a mother; I know of which I speak).
I torture my poor man with repeated bouts of sadness. I am tired. I am cranky. I am way too sensitive and too eager to find fault, blame and to argue. I catch myself stopping to breathe and calm myself way too often—it becomes debilitating, interrupts our life together.
He evidently has the proverbial patience of Job to deal with me each Fall and Winter. He is my rock and safe landing place.
And I love and trust him to the extreme, blind point that just thinking of him reminds me of why I am here and why I am alive and what I have to do next—which is usually something normal like get out of bed in the dark each morning and go open the dog door for my two weenies (Dachshunds) and one-eyed, feral cat who are usually still sleeping, under the covers in the bed.
Deep in the abyss, several weeks into dark, cold, cloudy weather, I’ll have a good day for some unfathomable reason and realize: “Oh my god, I am SADing again! This is SAD! How did this happen again without me realizing it?”
And I begin to claw my way back out and up, trying with my foggy brain to remember my winter routine, the things that have helped some in winters past.
Some Things I’ve Tried that Help
I click ahead in my Google calendar and put “SAD?” on the calendar for next year on several days in the Fall and early winter, so I am (hopefully) better at identifying it next time.
I sit in direct sunlight with my bare skin. Windows in cars and houses have UV protection. In order to get direct sunlight and the UV rays needed, you will need sunlight on bare skin and the back of your eyes.
I take the screens off my windows in the winter to get more light in the house. Every morning I try and remember to turn off the heat, close my bedroom door, open the window, and sit on my bed in the sun with a bare face and arms. I keep my eyes open (I don’t look directly at the sun, of course).
Yes, it’s cold. I do this even when it’s cloudy, raining or snowing, because the sun’s up there somewhere, even if I can’t see it, and I am still getting the benefits.
I take careful amounts of vitamin D3 (remember, it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, so dose accordingly). I keep to my exercise routine even when I can’t seem to understand why I should. I meditate a lot—at least once a day (usually more)—to de-stress and calm my overactive, over-stimulated nervous system.
I drink water like a fish. I get outdoors and in the sun as much as possible—including riding my bike as much as possible—even in the cold, snowy weather. I eat healthy foods, to include getting the right amount (for me—I’ve experimented a lot) of carbs/starches that ensure my brain has the ingredients to make the “feel-good” chemicals.
When I drive in my car, I blast the heater and lower a window as far as I can stand in the cold to get fresh air and as much natural light as possible. I use expensive, full-spectrum light bulbs at work on my desk and at home in several lamps/fixtures—but not too late at night so that my sleep patterns aren’t interrupted.
If you go the full-spectrum bulb route, make sure to research and check for the correct lumen number/count.
This year it got so bad, despite my best winter routine efforts, that I resorted to a natural supplement to help. I am taking BriteSide by Solaray, as directed. When I went to my local health food store and asked the nutritionist there for help, it was one of the remedies she suggested.
I’ve noticed a brilliant difference since beginning to take it. I stopped taking my individual Vitamin D tabs and only take the BriteSide, which contains plenty of D. I actually feel like myself again—thank God!
When I can come up out of the fog enough to remember to do these things, I feel better. The winter is more bearable. Neither my man nor I like the cold weather where we live anymore. Maybe we are just getting old. I don’t know for sure. We do know, though, that the extreme, ultimate remedy is to move to a sunnier climate.
When, through the fog, I remember our plans to move somewhere warmer and sunnier in the next few years, I am able to get up and keep going again, even while producing and carrying around my own fog.
I have researched natural remedies and have my winter routine (when I can remember it through the fog). These ideas are not meant to constitute medical advice or remedies. Do your own research, go see your doctor, get on meds if necessary.
Take care of yourself, even as I try and do the same (she says from her bed while watching snow fall outside on a cold, dark, grey, windy afternoon…sigh).
Author: Grace Cooley
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Patrick Cole/Unsplash