I can almost set my clock by it. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a sneaky illness, at least in my experience. I’ve had this leafy, dark cloak in my closet for about seven years now. It comes out only from about mid-October and gets shoved away at the end of February, and weighs heavily on my back.
As I’ve got older, the intensity of my symptoms has increased. I’m still without a diagnosis, but I feel I haven’t got the energy I need to fight to prove that there is a real pattern to having depression as the weather deteriorates into dark mornings and dark nights that seem to be endless, with rain falling and sunlight in scarce supply.
I find SAD really difficult to explain to others that have never had it or any other mental illness, because we all experience things differently.
2020 is the first year I have really spoken this openly about my SAD, as previously I was afraid to mention having my mental health affected by the seasons changing, that others just think it would be an excuse for being grumpy, or in ‘one of those moods’.
To finally stop all the self-stigmatising, to stop all of the behaviour that must look really odd to my work colleagues and friends, like making a strange excuse to rush outside for some precious vitamin D in a freezing wind with a winter sun.
Seasonal affective disorder is real, and can be a serious issue. January tends to be the worst time of year for me, as it gets colder, it’s still dark a lot of the time which is reflected within my mood. It isn’t only the feeling low in mood, it’s having a short fuse, sleeping problems, it’s the feeling of ‘do I really have to face the day again?’ on some mornings, opening the curtains to dark grey skies and heavy rain with an instant inner sigh. It’s the lacking in motivation, the knowing that no matter what you say, someone won’t ‘get’ it and will somehow find it funny or wind you up. It’s happened too many times where I’ve snapped at someone and instantly regretted it, or burst into tears over a single comment.
The additional anxiety that comes alongside it is quite debilitating too, making my existing social anxiety and generalised anxiety disorder worsen, but this is almost invisible to most.
There are things that I have found incredibly helpful though. Medication, though it doesn’t work for everyone, including vitamin D supplements, really helps maintain my mood at a manageable level. I invested in a special SAD specific lightbox, which has made a tremendous difference – the light produced by the light box simulates the sunlight that's missing during the darker winter months, and I use it while having breakfast for around 10 minutes a day, which has had a dramatic effect!
I also have found that listening to my favourite music helps a lot, and so does writing, either creatively or in poetry – getting how I feel down on paper is really good for my mood sometimes. I go walking in nearby nature spots or parks, or even just around the block for 20 minutes, and combine this with my other passion of photography, and find it really calming and uplifting to listen to the world around me, although some day I have to almost force myself outside for a walk because I know if I don’t then I’ll feel a lot worse for not doing so. Having someone to talk to that doesn’t try and fix you is incredible, or even one that just listens to you.