Living with Seasonal Affective Disorder

The timing is never good. Right around the holidays, as trees are being decorated and presents being wrapped, my energy level plummets. Just as we rush toward the end of the semester and final projects pile up to be graded, I grow tired—deeply, down to my bones exhausted.

Depression comes along with it, and the guilt. The guilt that I don’t have the energy to write as much, to keep my house as tidy, to prepare as complex of meals or run as many errands. It’s seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to WebMD

“While we don’t know the exact causes of SAD, some scientists think that certain hormones made deep in the brain trigger attitude-related changes at certain times of year. Experts believe that SAD may be related to these hormonal changes. One theory is that less sunlight during fall and winter leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical linked to brain pathways that regulate mood. When nerve cell pathways in the brain that regulate mood don’t function normally, the result can be feelings of depression, along with symptoms of fatigue and weight gain.”

It’s the lack of energy that gets me. As you may have noticed, I haven’t been blogging as much. Don’t worry. It’s not the depression that’s getting me. It’s the exhaustion. And the longer I’m exhausted, the harder it is to think of things to say.

So how do I deal with it? Here are a few ways:

1.) Fix simpler, less complex meals and freeze the leftovers. I’ve only done freezer meals a few times, but I plan on doing more in the years to come so that when winter rolls around I have to cook less—meaning more energy for other things.

2.) Push myself to do yoga or pilates. It uses energy, sure, but exercise is a proven way to combat depression and anxiety. The trick is actually getting off the sofa and onto the yoga mat.

3.) Practice self-kindness. This is by far one of the hardest things for me, year-round. I hold myself to impossible standards and will beat myself up for even the smallest of things. I’m trying to learn to be more forgiving to myself when I don’t meet my goals.

4.) Set more realistic goals. A few weeks ago I was writing 8,000 words a week. That probably won’t happen through most of the winter. So my goals need to be lower and more achievable given that my energy is lower.

So that’s the plan. What about you? Do you suffer from SAD or know anyone who does? How do you or they deal with the symptoms?

Lastly, a ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Not a super-productive writing week, but I did finish a read-through of A Prince in Patience Point. It’s currently a novella of about 30K, but I’m toying with the idea of expanding it. We’ll see what happens as I revise.

Reading: Read The New Policeman by Kate Thompson. Really well done and a great twist on Irish mythology. Would recommend.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop.

Do you get the winter blues? If so, how do you beat them?

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8 thoughts on “Living with Seasonal Affective Disorder

  1. Hugs on the SAD. I suffer from clinical depression. I don’t think I have SAD but I tend to feel worse in winter, so I’m not really sure.

    I think those are great things to keep in mind. I also have fibromyalgia, and I fight exhaustion with that as well (and chronic pain). I try not to beat myself up too badly — I’m like you, I set high expectations and then hate myself when I don’t meet them. Self-kindness is key.

    As for writing — three years ago, I went through a health crisis and had to stop writing for 3 months. (I was terrified I’d have to stop for good, b/c it dealt with my left eye). As time went on, I found myself literally going insane from the pain I was experiencing and not writing, so I promised myself 100 words a day. Super low goal that even with the worst pain possible I could probably meet. And, it worked. I didn’t set the world on fire on wordcount but I was at least writing again, creating fiction (flash fiction, actually). It took me a long time (until about now) to get back to where I was with wordcounts and goals. I had put off a book release which sucked, but couldn’t be helped. I had to force myself to stop beating myself up for everything I wasn’t doing because that, too, would have driven me insane. Instead, I celebrated everything I still could do, and the fact that I didn’t lose my vision, which was really scary. I think you need to put things into perspective and reframe it as a positive. I’m not doing this because I’m exhausted, but I was able to do that, and that’s what counts, you know?

    I still fight it to this day, but I learned so much from that experience. Hopefully maybe what I’ve said will help you. 🙂

    • Depression and anxiety can be hard to overcome, and I’ve faced down both. You’re right that we need to practice self-kindness. That is one of the things I’ve been working on lately, is not setting impossibly high standards for myself, then berating myself when I don’t meet them.

      So sorry that you struggle with depression and fibromyalgia. At least it sounds like you’ve found a way to work around them. It’s good that you realized you needed to set smaller goals and work toward those. That is what I’m trying to do. And not to compare myself to the level I work at when I’m not depressed–or, even worse, to the level that other people are working at.

      It sounds like you have a great perspective. Focusing on what you did achieve, not what you didn’t, and setting smaller goals can go along way to alleviating the guilt that comes along with struggling with any illness. There’s always this feeling that we should be doing more. I’m glad you’ve been able to celebrate your accomplishments. It’s something I’m working on.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment! Take care, Erin!

  2. So sorry to hear you’re dealing with SAD. It’s a thing my husband has struggled with most of his life–and he was born and raised in Milwaukee, so it was especially hard in those years we lived there. On the positive of living there: He was trained as a doctor of oriental medicine, so learned of nutrition and other aids to help work through the debility of the season. In particular, he sits in front of a 10K lumen light several hours a day, takes high doses of vitamin D, and, most recently has added a supplement called Bio Super Food. (In case you’re interested, he is an affiliate of the company and has a link to their product page on his site: http://www.acuhealnova.com/herbs-and-nutrition/.) We’re not sure he’ll ever get through winter unscathed, but his energy is noticeably higher this year with all these strategies in place.

  3. Unfortunately, depression is not just limited to the holidays. Sometimes, the holidays make the depression and anxiety worse. But it’s usually during those times where my wife reminds me that I should write. That usually helps. But sometimes, I’m baffled on what I should write about. But I’m encouraged to write anything, even if it’s just a sentence.

    I hope the holidays don’t get you too bummed out.

    • Actually, I love the holidays–the decorations, the wrapping of presents, the food, the company. It’s just the weather that gets me down. It’s actually tougher in January and February because we’re in the heart of winter and there aren’t any festivities to distract from the winter blues. You are right–writing helps a lot, even just a few hundred words.

      Thanks! 🙂

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