I thought it was me. I mean, I thought it was my personality. As a child, at the end of the first term going into winter break, suddenly my grades would start to slump. It wasn’t just the “winter blues.” I knew this about myself even in grade school. I remember thinking at the beginning of every school year “don’t lose motivation and slump! Persevere!“ and then it would happen all over again…Curiously, when we would return to school in the new year, I would have early difficulties but then pull through at the end of the year, happy to have redeemed myself and my grades to “normal.”
I look back on that time and think about how hard I was on myself. I remember thinking that I was lazy, and I still have to re-write that narrative about myself to this day. The truth is, I am a relentlessly hard worker. Co-workers and peers would never have accused me of laziness. Nor would my parents have…if we had known that I was dealing with an entirely different beast.
I was in high school when I realized that I had Seasonal Affective Disorder. I was dealing with a lot of other “stuff” when I talked to a professional about this form of depression. It was a revelation when she told me that what I “had” wasn’t self-inflicted laziness, but a sadness that was real and caused me to be different in the winter months. I took that information and trudged into college and then into career and marriage and motherhood.
SAD affects every single part of my life starting in November and usually lasting through April in my locality. It is something that I know I have to deal with, and that I work hard on. I have always tended to avoid medications, so for the last 10 years, I have been trying to “beat” SADness with exercise, food, prayer, and travel. And for the last 10 years, it has pretty much been working. I can feel it creep in, I can feel it sap my energy, and I can feel it weigh me down. Some days there is really no fighting it. I am stuck in its grip. Other days I manage the sensations of low energy, lack of worth, and hypersensitivity, and irritability. Winter blues wasn’t even close to describing those symptoms.
I am in the throes of it now. As I write, on December 2, I can say that I know exactly what date was of its onset this year, and I can tell you that I feel like an entirely different person than my “October” self. I crave carbohydrates, I want to sleep more, I feel like “people” don’t get me. It’s ugly. But this year, I am thinking about how it might affect my daughter. Babies sense everything. Sometimes, I swear, my 14 month old knows me better than anyone. She knows when I need a hug. Sometimes she’s the only person that can make me laugh. I worry that I will hurt her one day with my SADness. I worry that she will see me change, and like children always do, she will internalize it and be hurt by it.
Today I decided that I am going to try to manage it differently. I am going open up about it. I am going to ask those I love to let me know if they are seeing it. And when they do, I am going to hopefully understand myself better.
It happens in women more than men. It happens in the young more than the old. It is genetic. It is common. It isn’t me. I got this.
For info about Seasonal Affective Disorder, click here.