December is the cruelest month. I have always loved winter and Christmas, but since moving to Iowa and then Minnesota 11 years ago, I have felt the blues begin to settle in come end of November and beginning of December when the days get exceedingly short and dark and dreary. I drag around completely exhausted, with bags under my eyes. I have no energy or "unction" to do anything. I feel low and down and sad.
Each year it seems to get a little worse. A number of years ago, I began to notice the pattern and acknowledge my blues. I would tell myself I wasn't going crazy; it would pass. And it does...eventually. I have come to realize that I suffer from SAD; that is, Seasonal Affective Disorder.
This year, with Ben's death, one month ago, and the many stresses of 2011, I have really begun to feel the SADness deepen and settle all around me like thick, black fog. I feel as though I am slogging through wet cement, hot tears roll down my cheeks as I drive along running errands or sit typing out articles, I can't get enough rest and I can't muster the joy of the season no matter how much I try.
A Ray of Light
This year is especially low, but this year I have a SAD lamp. Years ago, my brother lived in AK and suffered from SAD too. He now lives in sunny and humid Houston and I am now the proud owner of a big, bulky, very bright and sunny SAD lamp. I have used it only a few times, but I am working on getting into a schedule of using it on a regular basis in an attempt to brighten my mood.
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD affects people in winter or summer, spring or fall, year after year. It can happen at different times of the year, but often occurs during the winter when a person with otherwise normal mental health suffers from episodes of depression.
SAD occurs more often in women than men, and those who live in places with long, dark winters have the greatest chance of suffering from this type of depression. Apparently, it's estimated that 20% of SAD sufferers are Irish; about 10% of those in Netherland are afflicted with SAD and 8.9% of Alaskans suffer from this disorder. Other factors include hormones, genes, amount of light exposed to each day and body temperature.
Symptoms of SAD
While there is no test to determine if one does indeed suffer from SAD, a health professional can make a diagnosis based on symptoms of the patient and by ruling out other illnesses. A person with SAD usually presents these symptoms:
Increased appetite and weight gain;
Irritability and unhappiness;
Lack of energy;
Difficulty concentrating and remembering details;
Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping;
Sad, anxious or empty feelings;
Loss of interest in work or other activities; and
Sense of hopelessness.
There are a number of treatments that can be very helpful for SAD sufferers. The most common treatment comes in the form of light; a very bright light. It helps to get outside and exercise during the hours with sunlight, but light therapy is best way to get the "sunlight" needed. This is accomplished with a special lamp with fluorescent lights up to 10,000 lux.
Studies have shown that light therapy of 3,000 lux for 2 hours a day for 5 weeks or 10,000 lux for 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks is effective for many. By sitting a few yards away and glancing at the light occasionally, the "rays" can help ease the SAD symptoms.
However, commercial light boxes are not regulated by law in the U.S. So, use caution when selecting a phototherapy lamp. They are not all the same.
And, of course, neither are we humans all the same. Therefore, light therapy does not work for everyone. In fact, 20 to 50% of SAD sufferers do not feel a difference with the light box. If that is the case and the symptoms are severe and unrelenting, other treatment could be sought; that is, vitamins or supplements, occupational therapy or antidepressants. As with any medical diagnosis or treatment, seek the advice of a medical professional before beginning any treatment.
For now, I'm sticking with my light box and trying to find the right time and place to use it each day. I have been told that starting off each dark morning for a 30 minutes of light and/or 30 minutes of phototherapy each evening when it's already dark will be helpful.
I am optimistic, as always, even through this very low time. I give myself pep talks and try to force myself to keep up my social calendar, but it's extremely difficult getting through each day. Much of the time, I feel like I am accomplishing only the mandatory tasks of each day and going through the motions, leaving much undone.
This may sound backwards and crazy to some, but I really feel that some bright and beautiful snow would lift my spirits. There is more light reflected and less darkness when there is snow. Now, where are you snow? Where are you Christmas? Please come to me in Minnesota and light my very dark winter, and lead the way to a soggy spring and beautiful summer.
Does this sound familiar? Do you or someone you know suffer from SAD? How have you dealt with the lack of sunshine during the winter months? Over and out...