Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fighting back SAD

Just a week and a half until February. The month is known to some for Valentines, Presidents Day, and Groundhog’s Day. But, for those of us with Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s just the %$^#iest month of the year. It’s like the opposite of a holiday – a dark time of year that looms over the rest of the calendar. At any given time I can tell you how many months are left until February. To me, the only benefit of it being February is that that’s the farthest place on the calendar from next February.

According to the World Wide Web SAD usually doesn’t strike until “young-adult” age, but I’ve been suffering since I was 8 or 9. It was especially bad for me in those days because in addition to the general malaise and lack of energy, I used to have manic swings of energy and insomnia. Like most parts of my life, the winter blues have gotten easier as I’ve gotten older, but they’re still no picnic. I get the typical bout of listlessness, distractability, anxiety, and ennui starting in late January and my symptoms are usually worst by the end of February, lasting through March or April. It’s a low grade depression, I never feel suicidal or bad enough to go on medication, but I’ve been known to throw a few elbows on public transportation and my consumption of coffee goes way up. And God help the person who drips toothpaste in my sink.

The worst part of having SAD is that while I’m suffering I can’t remember life ever having been different. My brain finds excuses for being depressed and angry all the time, and it feels like I’ll never get over feeling bad. Even though I know certain SAD-related habits are bad for me, I find myself slipping into them – staying inside all day to escape the cold, subsisting on carbs and sugar for the momentary pick me up, skipping the gym, and sleeping in late. I’ve been known to spend an entire Saturday eating cheese and crackers in bed with a book. Not in a book-nerd’s holiday way, just in an immobilized with lack of energy way.

So far I haven't gotten to that point. I'm mostly my normal self, besides feeling distracted at work, and some recent weight gain due to too many sweet drinks (remember those protein shakes I was raving about? Oops) and not enough veggies. But, before the worst month strikes, I’m taking some pre-emptive action to fight off whatever SAD affects I can.

From now until the end of March I’ll be:
- waking up 30 minutes early to journal in front of a full spectrum light
- going to the gym 5 days a week
- avoiding carbs and eating plenty of proteins and vegetables
- making sure to take a break from work between 10 and 2 to get natural light
- taking a muli-vitamin every day
- getting full 7.5-8 hours sleep each night (but no more)
- making at least 2 plans each week to get together with friends
- taking a walk each weekend

Besides that I like to have things around me to mark the passing of time. We have an Amarylis on our table that's partially in bloom, and another few to plant once this one's done. The flowers grow slowly, but they're so spectacular to see in bloom that it makes it worth the wait. I like checking every day to see how it's growing.

I'm always on the lookout for ways to brighten the darkest part of the winter, but even with all the precautions above I know I'll still be in a more introspective, quiet place than I am in other months. If I can cut out some of the worst affects of the dark months, maybe I can better enjoy the benefits of that quiet. So, in between the gym, vitamins and outings, I plan to do plenty of reading.


RLH said...

Full spectrum lights are amazing. One of my colleagues has one, and a few weeks back I was standing in her office, talking, and I felt good, and then she turned it off, and I immediately felt like something was missing in my life. It was very brief, because I realized why I felt that way pretty quick, but I was amazed by the affect it had on my mood.

Anonymous said...

Smart list of ways to fight. I try to make myself walk outside at least every other day. It's tough to want to sometimes, but it does make me feel better.