The Conundrum of Seasonal Affective Disorder

I must admit, I get a little pissy when I explain to people that I have extreme Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD, S.A.D) and they attempt to commiserate by saying, “Yeah, I get a little of the winter blues, too.” I really can’t fault them for their ignorance of comparing ‘the blues’ to a crippling months long depression that impacts every aspect of your functionality. Let’s face it. The world at large is very ignorant of mental health issues, period. While we have certainly come along way over the last 40 years or so about knowledge, stigma, and acceptance…It’s just one of those things that most people see as ‘if it doesn’t apply to me, I don’t need to know about it.”

Except if you have someone in your life, be it family, spouse, significant other, a friend, who has been diagnosed with extreme S.A.D, it would be very supportive for those around us to learn about the disorder so they can better understand why we have mood swings or sink into despair. It’s not merely winter blues. It’s like a shutdown of function and it is debillitating to live life that way 6-8 months of the year, depending on your geographic location and weather extremes. I give points to those who try to commiserate by admitting their winter blues, mind you. It’s just not a fair comparison.

I live in Bumfuck, Midwest, population 590, and the weather here gets pretty extreme without much consistence. For example, yesterday it was 92 and scorching. Today it’s 66 and the sun is peeking out after an hour long rain. While rain and lower temperature is certainly more comfortable for me, the sudden shift also leaves me reeling a bit. Fall and winter are the same way. One day in the 60’s, then it can drop to negative 3 the next day or rain for 3 straight weeks. It’s difficult to regain equibrium and even footing. I’ve been asked a zillion times, why not just move to a better climate? And I always point out the dollar signs factor. Just moving 7 miles out of town has nearly broken me. Can’t imagine what moving halfway across the country to warmer climate would cost.

The conundrum here, however, is that my other disorders are both helped and worsened by weather changes. I changed to a different med, got off the secondary antidepressant, and the winter turning to spring has helped immensely, even if it took the midwest til May for spring to actually appear. What happens to me during spring and summer is the polar opposite of fall and winter 90% of the time. I go hypomanic some days. I have more energy, more zest for life, more desire to keep fighting all the crap flung my way. But ALSO, since activity outside rises during warmer months, my anxiety metastasizes with all the noise triggers. People are out and about. There are lawnmowers and chainsaws and cars and kids on bikes shrieking and of course, my kid being her social butterfly self, always bored, always wanting a friend to play then she spends the entire time MOM MOM MOMming me to death because the friend makes her annoyed or angered. That’s the flip side to the depression lifting. I feel like I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown every single day because my sensory overload is tipping the scales that way.

In contrast, my anxiety goes way down during the winter (except during family helli-day get togethers) while depression seeps into me, slowly at first, and then BAM. Ninja depression has completely seized me and I can’t enjoy the calm because I’m too far down that black depressive rabbit hole.

It really sucks to endure life this way and hey, if someone wants to adopt us so we can relocate to warmer pastures with more steady climate…here we are, lol.

I think the biggest misconception about S.A.D though, is that it’s the same as ‘winter blues’. Those I know with winter blues don’t go days without bathing, or want to go to sleep at 6:30 p.m. or spend four months in layers of clothing under Fort Blankie because they can never get warm. SAD is a whole different beast. I’ve tried everything for it- aromatherpy, light therapy, color therapy, talk therapy, I even had my bloody chakras aligned during some new age phase in the 90’s. The doctors and therapists are so hung up on these ‘sun’ lamps that mimic natural sunlight and this is suppose to be some major boost or cure but for me…it does nothing. Except the same as extreme exposure to sunlight-give me massive headaches because of light sensitivity. I know light is healthier for easing depressive symptoms but it’s no cure and it definitely has a down side for me.

I resent how casually the professionals approach seasonal affective disorder. For them, I guess it is just winter blues. For me, around October, it means I start sinking in mental quicksand and know I won’t come out the other side til April. To say it hinders my life is understatement of the bloody year. It impacts my hygiene, my ability to go out on errands or keep up housework (already a Goliath sized chore for me), even the quality of parenting my kid because I retreat so far into darkness-not by choice- that she says she misses ‘fun mommy’. And I can’t say I blame her cos frankly, I miss fun me, too. But alas, the doctors just harp on that damn sun lamp and I flail for months and months, hoping my meds at least keep me propped up or I can try something different that might help. And this time, by stopping Wellbutrin and doing singular anti depressant therapy with Cymbalta, I am coming out on the other side.

Where my overly stimulated senses point me to a nervous breakdown.

Man, if I could just have two things on Earth, it’d be the higher mood of spring and summer and the lower anxiety during fall and winter YEAR ROUND. I want off this crumbling mountain, on solid ground.

But, then again, that’s pretty much the hope of any of us with mental imbalances so I am in good company.

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