You're not crazy, you're SAD! Living with Seasonal Affective DisorderDec 31, 2006 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line Seasonal Affective Disorder interferes with more than 10 million people's lives a year. I was one of them. I beat it and you can too!
I don't remember exactly when I saw the pattern. In fact, I think it was my doctor who caught on before I did. Every year in late September, I would end up in his office. I didn't feel well. I was tired, headachy, running on empty. My motivation was out the window and I really just wanted to sleep.
Every year, he would run a battery of tests on me and every year, the tests showed the same stuff they showed in the summer. I do have a an underactive thyroid and I always wanted to believe I just needed to raise the dose of synthetic thyroid hormone I took and all would be well. But the tests always came back that everything was as it should be.
I was sent home, sometimes with prescriptions for antidepressants that I didn't fill, sometimes with prescriptions for antibiotics that I didn't need. (The doctor reasoned that I may be coming down with a sinus infection since I am so prone to them and thought he would nip it in the bud.)
I would go home, curl up on the couch and stay there until I went to bed. I dragged through the cold, winter days, avoiding going out if possible. I am not a cold weather person even though I have lived in snowy Central New York all my life so I had a great excuse to stay bundled up inside. I slept later in the morning and did less all day long.
Eventually, I started to feel better. Spring would roll around and the trees would start to turn green. The snow would melt and the sun would shine. By late May I was ready to rock and would be feeling fine. I didn't need as much sleep and I didn't feel achy or unmotivated.
After years of this exact scenario, my doctor finally "got it".
He diagnosed me with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I was greatly relieved that whatever the heck I had, had a name but what was this scary thing?
It turns out, it isn't scary at all but it sure is a pain in the butt to live with. I have tried many different supposed remedies to avoid the winter blahhhhs and finally hit on a few things that work for me.
I will get into those but I want to talk a little bit about the difference between actual SAD and that yecky feeling you get when the days are shorter and gloomy and you feel like staying home from work and sleeping in now and then.
For one, SAD doesn't happen now and then. People with true SAD have an almost exact starting point and an almost exact ending point. We don't have a day here or there that we feel cruddy. We have an entire half of a year that we feel that way.
Sure, some days are better than others but, in general, they all suck in the late fall and winter months. We slowly come alive again when the days get longer and the light outside is stronger. For me, it's mid September to mid May. Every year. Without fail.
Studies show that SAD affects more than 10 million people worldwide. Many times that amount have a slight form of winter depression often eased by getting out and doing something fun or other simple measures.
According to Dr. Carol E. Watkins in Maryland: "The typical symptoms of SAD include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. Symptoms begin in the fall, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. Some individuals experience great bursts of energy and creativity in the spring or early summer. Susceptible individuals who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD-type symptoms at any time of year. Some people with SAD have mild or occasionally severe periods of mania during the spring or summer."
Does that sound like you?
If so, don't live without treating SAD in some form. It gets worse. Every year, it seems to hit harder until it is virtually impossible to get out of bed or you are so depressed that you can't even manage to do your daily tasks.
I was there. I know how it feels.
Often, the first thing doctors do is prescribe antidepressants for SAD patients. Some prescribe them for just six months - the duration of SAD each year - and some keep patients on the antidepressants all year.
My doctor wanted me to take them for six months then get off them, then start again, year after year. That didn't fly with me. For one, I am very sensitive to side effects and I didn't want to wean myself on and off medication every six months. Plus, I am very anti-medication unless it is absolutely necessary.
However, this option may work wonders for you and you may find that no other action is needed. If so, good for you! You tackled a real and very difficult to manage disorder.
Way back when people looked at me weird when I told them about light boxes and light therapy (They still look at me weird but just in general now.), I bought a 10,000 lux full spectrum light box. The theory is that the SAD comes on because our bodies and brains are not exposed to enough light and that lowers our serotonin resulting in depression and sluggishness.
If you're very motivated and live somewhere where there is decent enough weather, taking a one-hour walk in the morning, every morning without fail, may be as effective as a light box.
But tell a person in the throws of SAD to take an hour walk in the morning and you will hear howls of laughter. They don't even want to wake up in the morning let alone walk around outside for an hour.
Light therapy has proven effective for most people who are affected by SAD. You need to buy a good full spectrum light box or lamp, ultimately at 10,000 lux (55 watt). And you need to sit with the light in front of you for between a half an hour to an hour at least once a day. Some people have to do it twice a day. It all depends on how you respond to the light.
Where do you get these lights? Well, you really need to be sure you are dealing with a reputable retailer of light therapy lamps. Full spectrum white light is the "in thing" these days but the type that is good for everyday use is not strong enough for those who have SAD. A box or lamp must be labeled for light therapy. Many health websites online sell these lights and any medical supply store should also carry at least a variation or two of light therapy lamps and boxes.
They're not cheap and not covered by health insurance. They would rather pay to have you on pills than to pay for a lamp that will last for years with reasonable care. Go figure.
One you get your lamp, you must commit to it. You can't use it now and then. You need to use it every single day during the months that you feel blah. You will know if it works for you after a few weeks. I knew after five days. It was amazing.
The light is so bright that you will want to have a book or something to do while you are sitting, basking in the "artificial sun". While you should be facing the light, you don't want to look directly into it.
The moment I typed "artificial sun" I remembered what I thought was a cure when I heard about light therapy. I figured I would go tanning! I would get some color and feel better. Bonus!
NOT! The rays in tanning beds and booths are not the same as in the light boxes - not to mention if you tanned every day for an hour, you'd be beef jerky in a few weeks.
Commit to light therapy for a month before deciding if it works for you. You should begin noticing easing in your symptoms and your old energy should start creeping back.
Meanwhile, you really need to try to exercise a little each day. If you don't want to get out in the snow and muck like me, pop a DVD in and do a walk workout or any type that appeals to you. It is well known that exercise helps to ease depression and makes everyone feel better so it is especially important for us SAD victims. Don't go crazy but TRY to do a little bit every day even if you don't feel like it. Eventually, it will get easier and become part of your every day routine.
Because we tend to crave sweets and our appetites increase, we need to really watch what we eat during the winter months. I never really had a weight problem but my weight would go up by around six pounds in the winter. If I allowed myself to eat what I wanted to eat, it would have shot up but I was always aware of what I ate. I gained weight anyway! Sheesh.
As the light therapy kicks in, your appetite will decrease and the cravings will stop - or go back to what they were in the summer at least.
Some people need psychotherapy to deal with the depression and the mood swings they experience in the winter. If you feel like you could benefit from it, get it! There is no shame in seeking whatever help is available for any disorder, this one included.
I was at a point where I had to force myself to get into the shower. I would look at it and think of how hard it would be to step in, wash, shampoo my hair, do all the usual stuff, then get out, feel cold, dry off, get dressed. Ahh, it was a huge undertaking. There were days when I would just stare at the shower stall for a while, towel in hand, then turn away and go back to bed. I was tired THINKING of doing something I do every day without a thought - at least in the spring and summer months. Don't give in to that. Do what you have to do without pondering. Just do it, as Nike would say. Your worst enemy is thinking about how hard everything is when you have SAD. Pushing yourself is a necessity for normal living and you CAN do it. You'll just grumble a lot while you're doing it.
I have been using a light box for 10 years. I even took it with me on flights (back when they didn't mind me hauling a big glass and metal light box with me as part of my carry on stuff) to wherever I went when I was actively editing and writing for a magazine. I would wake up an hour early and use that light without fail. I even used it in Florida, Las Vegas, and California when I probably could have just walked outside. However, I had finally found something that worked and I wasn't about to mess with it.
So here it is, New Year's Eve 2006. I have found what works for me and have stuck with for 10 years through thick and thin. But this year, guess what? I fell off the wagon. This year has been very stressful for me and I have been super busy. My health, ironically, has taken a nosedive and I am being treated for some sort of auto immune disorder - you know, one of those nameless disorders that puzzles doctors and makes you afraid they will name a rare disease after you. I felt awful in August. You cannot even imagine how I feel in late December.
Last week, I finally got off my lazy, SAD-laden butt and got my light therapy lamp out and set it right next to my computer desk where I am most of the time. When I turned the light on, I remembered how much better I felt when I was using it.
I reveled in the light like I would in the sun on a tropical beach.
I don't feel dramatic results yet but I will. Next week, I should start to feel this heaviness lift. My moodiness should start to slowly lift and my darn cravings will disappear. I gained three pounds since September and haven't changed my eating but I have changed my mobility. I don't move. I type. I shower (and it's tough!) and I do what I have to do but I have slowed way down.
If you thought light therapy didn't work, please look to me as an example. I have lived without it and with it and without it again. I know now that I will not be able to give up the light therapy for the rest of my life.
If you suspect that you have SAD, talk to your doctor. Take notes. Do you notice that you feel worse in the winter than the summer? Do you have cravings, depression, low motivation, exhaustion, aches and pains, and an overall blahhhhh feeling during the winter months? Some people get extremely depressed and literally feel they are unable to deal with daily activities. Does any of this ring a bell? Set off an alarm? Raise a flag?
If so, talk to your doctor about your options. If you don't want to commit to light therapy, try an antidepressant or commit to going for a long walk every morning.
Whatever you do, don't let people convince you that "everyone feels like that in the winter". They don't. They may feel less active and kind of blah when they see the grey skies and snow piling up. But they have no idea what true SAD feels like and bothering to tell them isn't worth it.
Eat right, take a multivitamin, exercise, use your light box or lamp as directed and/or take prescribed antidepressants, and get enough - but not too much - sleep.
You don't have to lose six months a year to this disorder if you commit to beating it.
I would be glad to talk to anyone who thinks they have SAD or who does have it. I am no expert but I have lived with it for many years and have somehow come out through that dark tunnel that develops every September each May unscathed.
And now, I shall go snap on my 10,000 lux full spectrum lamp so that I can enter 2007 on my way to feeling better once again!
Here are some SAD lamps I have reviewed that you may want to look into. Buying a lamp is a personal and private choice dependant on finances, preferences, and length of time you want to spend in front of the lamp. Some say common fluorescent lighting works the same if used the same way. I don't know if that is true but I will stick to what I know works.
The lamp I currently use for light therapy:
Ultralux 55 Watt Full Spectrum Desk Lamp
I have a few of these in my home. Everyone benefits!
Ultralux 55 Watt Full Spectrum Floor Lamp
A lamp that is popular but not good enough:
OTT-LITE Vision-Saver Floor Lamp Graphite/Chrome
Read more about Seasonal Affective Disorder at these links:
The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association
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