Monday, November 20, 2017

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which is such a better acronym than WFSAMMCAEATT

I was thinking about the acronym SAD, and how fitting it is, and how I couldn't come up with a better one that made a word.

I mean, Winter F$%&ing Sucks And Makes Me Cry And Eat All The Time doesn't work for a variety of reasons. One, it doesn't include the word disorder, and two, WFSAMMCAEATT is both cumbersome and doesn't make an actual word. (And three, but less importantly: you aren't supposed to capitalize the And, And, or The but acronyms with big and small letters are kind of weird.)


This is a sort of PSA but rooted in a personal story because I believe that if you're telling other people what you think they might ought to do, but you've never lived through it, then you're a jackass.

Which I try not to be, with varying degrees of success.

(Also, I firmly support double modals, in case you're wondering.) 

So. We are in November, which in the Northern hemisphere means it's fall, with short days that get progressively shorter until December 21. And when the sun is out, the light is thin.

This matters.

OK, now my story. And then I'll get back to what may or may not be about you.

Two weekends ago, at Carolina, a friend asked if I've basically been skinny since those 40 pounds I gained in college.

The answer is no, and yes. Depending on the season.

Prior to antidepressants, I gained 10-15 pounds every winter. This is a lot on someone with small bones who is only 5'3". I'd lose it by summer, to gain it again the following year. My size was always in flux. I thought about my weight all the time.

I was great at not eating in the spring and summer. I could not eat and not eat, and run and run. I had energy, I laughed, I got skinny, and it was great. The longer the days, the better I felt.

But as it turns out, I'm extremely sensitive to light. So I'd notice the shift of light in August, and fully start being affected in September, when it didn't (then) make sense, because it was still warm out.

As soon as the light strength and amount diminished, I'd start the downhill slide. 

This for me meant eating more. I always ate sugar, no matter what else I was or wasn't eating. Mostly wasn't. I eliminated a lot of food over the years. But candy was my thing.

And running.

But once the days were short and the amount of light I got was not sufficient, I couldn't starve myself. I lost control.

It didn't ever matter how much I ran, because I could out-eat all the running.

Really, until I started antidepressants consistently, that was how I lived. Weight gain all winter, weight loss all spring and summer. I'm talking about my weight here, but I cried all winter as well. The crying went along with the eating.

It's not that I didn't cry in the summer, just a lot less.

Now I'm on a much more even keel, both weight-wise and emotionally. Not an even keel like someone who doesn't struggle with depression. But an even keel for me.

And since I've been on antidepressants, that big chunk of dread doesn't lodge in my stomach in September, when the sun is still golden but the slant and quality are wrong. I still get nervous; I won't pretend I don't.

But not like before.

With this level of removal, and no longer being all wrapped up in my own struggles, I can actually see and hear other people. And this is what I've noticed: Quite a lot of people have a hard time. They want to eat all the sugar and all carbs, all the time. They hate winter. They want to sleep a lot more, to never leave the house.

If you're someone who has said these things to me, yes, I'm talking about you, but absolutely not targeting you, because let me assure you: you're one of many. You are in great company.


There are a number of things I do daily that are helpful, although for me, they're not enough without medication. I know this; I've tried.

I don't always manage all of them, but the more I do, the better.

1. I use a light box. Here's a series of Mayo Clinic pages on light therapy.

2. I get sun exposure. I get outside when the sun is out. I either go for a walk or run.

3. I exercise. I do this almost daily, and whether or not I do it makes a big difference in my mood.

3. I eat protein and fats--two things I avoided for too many years. I've always loved veggies and fruit, and have always eat a lot of those (except, you know, when I mostly wasn't eating). Most significantly in my diet, I try to avoid sugar and fast carbohydrates. This is the hardest item for me.

I have drastically reduced my sugar consumption. I had no sugar, bread, pasta, rice, etc, for about five weeks straight. I was basically having a glass of wine once a week, and not every week. Once I quit sugar, my interest in wine went away.

Two weekends ago, I had a debaucherous reunion weekend, and I'm struggling to get back to completely eliminating sugar. I don't even know that this is reasonable for me over the holidays, and I am not going to beat myself up for it.

Stevia in my tea is not delicious the way sugar is. But I will tell you this: I'm sleeping better than I have in a decade. And sleep is more delicious than sugar.

Sleeping well is perhaps the part that has changed my life the most. It makes me feel way better and behave much more kindly toward every single human I encounter, my family being the humans I spend the most time with.

Now, I have a lot of mental health conversations with a lot of people. And lately people are complaining about winter. So many people hate winter.

I mention the fact that I'm on antidepressants in the same way I'd say, "The bus is late." I do this on purpose, because so many people don't talk about it.

And I often hear that people are having a hard time, but "It's not that bad."

I'm not in anyone else's head. I don't know how they actually feel, or what their threshold is.

I would never tell anyone that their bad is that bad, even if I sometimes think it. Sometimes I suggest it might be, gently and indirectly. If these suggestions are met with hostility, I back away.

Sometimes people get downright hostile when you suggest therapy or medication. I am not exaggerating.

But I hear what people are saying, and I see how people close down in this season in particular. I relate to their stated feelings. I know what happens to me, and I know what my threshold is.

Medication can help. Sunshine. Artificial light. Exercise. Talk therapy. Eating in a way that keeps blood sugar balanced.

There are lots of things that can help.

I'm not a doctor, and I don't even play one on TV. But I do know this: it doesn't have to be quite so hard.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Tell me about it.