Every year, for as long as I can remember, the month of September ushers in seasonal depression that remains until late March or sometimes, well into April. It wasn’t until after my twins were born that I actually realized the pattern and spoke to my doctor about it.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. Symptoms generally start in the fall and continue into the winter months. SAD zaps your energy and personally, makes me a bit moody.
Symptoms of major depression that MAY be part of SAD are:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having low energy
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Fall and winter SAD
Symptoms that are more specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression or winter blues are:
- Tiredness or low energy
- Problems getting along with other people
- Hypersensitivity to rejection
- Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
While the specific cause of seasonal affective disorder is not known, some factors may include:
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Some of the factors that increase the risk of seasonal affective disorder are:
- Being female
- Family history
- Having clinical depression or bipolar disorder
- Living far from the equator – it’s more common in those who live further north than those who live in the south.
Apart from SAD, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, OCD and ADHD. And while there is no formal diagnosis for social anxiety, I have experienced mild panic attacks on several occasions over the last several years.
The struggle is real. I’ve tried different medications to treat the different disorders, but what works best is just dealing with it one day at a time and staying home as much as I possibly can.
A few years ago, I did seek the help of a therapist to help understand the plethora of disorders I carry. It didn’t take long to figure out where much of my quirkiness stems from. I’m not one of those who accuses her parents of being neglectful. I just realized that certain LIFE circumstances, early on, contributed to the little breaks in my brain here and there.
I think if everyone were honest, they would be able to see we’re all a bit broken – being normal is SO overrated, don’t you think?
This winter, I intend to combat SAD by going back to where it all began. I hope you will join me in this journey – while some of it does make me sad to reflect on, in the end, all the little experiences along the way are what has made me who I am today.
It’s a little something for me to look forward to over the winter, while I wait on the arrival of our first two grandbabies.