I am in the middle of a story about my experience with seasonal depression. Begin at the beginning right here.
Spring came, and I felt fine. Life moved on. Life was good. But I encountered some really low times, and they got worse. Seemed like each January I bottomed out, though there was always a legitimate “reason”—either I was pregnant (hence emotional), or I’d just had a baby (hence fatigued), or we were facing some difficult things at work or church…
One evening in January 2009, I sat writing in my journal and got a strong sense of déjà vu. I think I’ve written this before… I paged back, and back, and back–and found I had written some nearly identical entries exactly one year before: January 2008. For the first time, I asked myself Could this be seasonal depression?
I took stock and realized—Um. This year there is absolutely nothing “wrong” with my life. We’re healthy. I’m not pregnant. My baby is two years old. We have no major stresses. But I am writing blackness, just like last year.
Black is really the word, though I want to be sensitive to anyone who considers it racially loaded. I do not; and I can’t find another word that comes close.
Usually in the fall, I could feel a frightening slide into frustration and futility. Several years in a row, I hit extremely low points right at Christmas. (Uh-huh. There’s a reason I’d skip the month of December if I could… Association is a powerful deterrent.) January and February would be dark, and in March I’d suddenly feel like I was waking up. The robins would return. Spring would scent the air. I’d think Where have I been, these last three months?
Well, I’d been immersed in every dark emotion at once… fear, anger, hatred, despair. I cried. I slept. I prayed to die. I also experienced physical symptoms, though I didn’t know why. I became weak, shaky, exhausted. I dropped things a lot—I mean physical things.
Once I took part in a small cooking demonstration for my church ladies. Doing my show there in front of everyone, I dropped a sharp knife right down by my feet. Embarrassed, I picked it up… only to immediately drop it again. They began chuckling at me, not unkindly. Did she just drop that again? And I dropped it the third time. Numb with shame and panic, I furtively retrieved it, set it safely on the countertop. What is happening to me?
I walked so close to the limit of what I could handle. I learned to spend time in the evenings doing nothing, just sitting. My small son Aarick invented a new imaginary friend, with an imaginary mother whom he named Always-Tired.
I was afraid to go out with people, especially crowds. I felt I was wearing my exhaustion like a garment; like people would take one look at me and say Oh my word, honey! What’s wrong?!
Once we discovered that my symptoms were seasonally affected, we took some steps to cope. If you’re dealing exclusively with SAD, they are excellent helps:
1. A natural-spectrum lamp
- Sometimes it’s called a “happy light” or a “sun lamp.” You can order one here, instructions included. The bulb is made to produce additional rays, simulating the sun’s spectrum of natural light. Basically you sit with your lamp for 20-30 minutes a day, reading or working on a project. When I ordered this one and began using it, I could tell a measurable difference within half a week.
- Vitamin D is what I took, in large doses. Ask a doctor if you are unsure how much is healthy. These capsules pack an astonishing 1250% daily value.
- Others have recommended St. John’s Wort, SAM-e, and/or 5-HTP. I have not tried these myself, but have heard good things of each. (Caution is needed when combining them with some types of medication.)
3. Getting outside whenever possible
- You may have to force yourself to do so, but the fresh air, light, and exercise will prove themselves invaluable.
Using these helps, I felt strengthened and fortified. Though expecting our third child, I had one whole winter of equilibrium (minus a February week of darkness). I was so relieved. This is the answer. I can beat it. But heading into winter two years ago, I made some big mistakes…