Guest Post: SAD or Sad?

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

When it’s summer, I become incredibly greedy. Whenever I have the chance to, I sit outside in the garden and read a book, taking in the sun. If it’s that little bit too hot, I’ll sit in the conservatory instead with the doors open, alternating between reading and just watching the garden. When I go out with friends or family, I refuse to walk in the shade – instead, I happily walk out in the sun and enjoy how warm my shoulders feel, whilst my companions moan about how hot it is, even under the canopies of green leaves. When we go out for dinner, I tend to ask if we can sit outside in the late evening sun because I desperately need to feel the setting sun on my face. 

I do all this because I know it’s only a matter of time before it’s winter again. And when it’s winter, my Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) kicks in and I find myself questioning whether I’ll be having a good day, let alone a good week, when I wake up every morning. 

SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern; it can be known as “winter depression”, as this is when symptoms become more apparent and severe. For me, my symptoms include a consistently low mood; feelings of despair, worthlessness, and paranoia; feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day; finding it difficult to wake up in the mornings; and a low sex drive. 

I only really figured out what was going on during university. I became withdrawn and kept myself locked away in my room a lot during the winter; I barely contributed to discussions in my lectures and seminars; I started feeling panicky and became convinced that my course-mates/flatmates didn’t want me around; and more. For a long time, I was ashamed and embarrassed – even now, it sounds silly to say, “I have depression, but only in the winter.” I was also convinced that it was normal because everyone feels moodier and a bit low during the winter. It’s a rubbish season as it is; it’s dark when you wake up for work and it’s dark on the way home, meaning that, when it is light, you’re stuck in an office. On top of that, it’s wet, cold, and just a generally miserable season. 

I finally forced myself to go to the doctor’s when one of my flatmates spoke to me. She told me that she and my other flatmate were concerned about my wellbeing; I’d barely spoken to either of them for about a week, and had spent most of my free time in bed, binge-watching Netflix and binge-eating junk food. I’d been walking around like a zombie, she told me, and that I looked, quite simply, dead behind the eyes. 

My doctor was incredibly kind to me when I explained why I’d booked the appointment. She explained to me in full what SAD was, before she ran me through an assessment on my mental health – she asked me questions about mood, lifestyle, eating and sleeping habits, plus seasonal changes in thoughts and behaviours. She took a blood sample too, before saying that I was borderline needing medication; I refused to take anti-depressants though, as I worried that I’d become too dependent on them - I’m both stupid and way too proud. 

In the end, my test results came back to say that I was lacking in vitamin D so it was suggested that I take supplements to counteract this. That, combined with moving back home to a support network after graduation, has really, really helped me. Like my family: they found it a rather confusing concept but have tried to help me in any way they can, which is always appreciated. 

My friends, however, found it difficult to be around me for the first full winter I was home because I was so low during the winter months, and they stopped inviting me out for a while – it really stung, especially when they were Snapchatting their nights out and I could see it. I did confront them about it and explained that, whilst I may not always be able to come out, an invite can actually motivate me if I’m having a bad day. They apologised, we moved past it, and things have been okay since. 

I know that every winter will be difficult but I try not to psyche myself up about it too much, otherwise I’ll work myself up into a state and make it worse. Instead, I just try to enjoy what is left of the summer months.

Written by Jess Tagliani 

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