Yes, its a real thing.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. With symptoms that start in fall and continue through the winter months, we’re the moody hermits who seem to drop off the face of the earth around November and reappear bright, breezy and back to normal in March. Characterized by moodiness, withdrawal from social activities, over consumption of carbs, excessive sleepiness and lack of energy, sub clinicial depression and decreased sex drive (no, its not him.. its you), SAD actually impacts around 20% of Northern Europeans, 14% of New Englanders, most of Russia, the Nordics and everyone in Canada. And you thought they were just naturally grumpy and slightly alcoholic.
Yes, its a real thing. (Its in the DSM-IV and everything).
Which for me and a whole lot of northerners, means its time to break out that HBO subscription and your wool socks. Stock up on the pasta and wine. Its hibernation time.
I have always wondered why I spent the winter feeling like I was hiking a mountain covered in treacle. Why getting out of bed went from a trampoline bounce in April to an army crawl in October. And most significantly, why I spent my summer jumping into every social occasion but even the idea of even leaving the house in the winter, a dreaded torment. I figured I just didn’t like the cold.
But when I moved to Colorado and spent 8 months of the year basking in 18 hours of sunshine every day, it seemed like every October a switch was flipped and I dropped off a cliff. The thought of talking to friends was exhausting, leaving the house in the dark complete insanity, and man, what was life really all for? I mean really? Why bother? We’re all going to die one day.
Then one winter, as I was tucking myself into the bed at 7.30pm, ignoring repeated phone calls from friends and consuming a literal ‘house of carbs’, I realized I might have a problem. At this rate I’d soon be sleeping more hours than I was awake and they’d have to airlift me out of the house by springtime. 1 week later, I found Romana.
Romana hailed from Bratislava and was a dead ringer for a female Dracula. She spoke in a low, solemn monotone, her skin was practically transparent and she looked on the brink of tears every time I saw her. I wondered who was meant to be treating who. She sure looked in need of a pep talk, never mind me.
‘You have the SAD’, she intoned. ‘I have the SAD. Europe, Russia, Britain…we all have the SAD’
Delighted to hear that I wasn’t on the bring of some major depressive episode or finally feeling my age (I had considered that sleeping 14 hours a day might be what a 38 year old person actually needed. I mean those people in Boca are practically comatose), I breathed out with relief.
‘So I have the SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder?’ (I can’t help but mirror other’s speech patterns; its a curse). I was relieved.. it sounded…fixable. Not scary at all (I had spent the previous week checking WebMD for symptoms of brain tumors and MS).
‘Yes. It is the SAD. It is why I live in the Colorado. For the sun….’, she almost smiled, ‘…but I still have the SAD. It is bad. And you will always have the SAD. Is…. sad’
I felt like I was in conversation with Sesame Street’s Count Von Count. How many times could one say the word ‘sad’?
‘The SAD is for the women’, she intoned, ‘the serotonin – it drop. The melatonin – it drop. Is like the depression.. but different. But is easy to treat’, She smiled wanly and pulled out her prescription pad with vaguely purple hands.
Phew. Ok, so my doctor is a vampire, but I’m not dying or in need of long term psychiatric care. Could be worse.
Romana assured me that while my SAD wasn’t going anywhere ( ‘Is for life’, frowny face Romana sympathized), but I could make it easier for myself with mega doses of Vitamin D and a ‘SAD lamp’.
‘You, you take 6,000 units of the D… I take often 10,000 units’, she prescribed, ‘but I am Slovakian‘. I expected her to break out a sword or at least a bottle of vodka with this fierce pronouncement, but no, we were done. Me and my pansy-ass British SAD. Not even exciting enough for 10,000 units of ‘the D’.
So, come each October, as I find myself dragging, starting to loathe the notion of socializing and considering the merits of an 8pm bedtime, I break out the SAD lamp and the mega bottle of D. Its magic really. Sure I’ll never spring out of bed like I do in the summer months, and socializing will always involve an internal argument until March, but it does prevent me pondering the meaning of life too deeply or sobbing as the dead leaves fall. I’ve learnt to stay away from Bon Iver, limit my sofa time and hike like a motherfucker during the weekends. My dog loves my SAD.
Apparently my lot in life is weird medical complaints.
Last week as temperatures fell, I looked around me at the people who seem unaffected by the seasonal change and feel a mix of anger and envy. While I do get the positive impact of SAD (come mid March, I’m positively bouncing off the walls with joy), I’ll never quite feel their excitement around the impending ski season, new boots and the coming holiday season (HallowThanksMas). I’ll never quite wring the joy out of winter that I could, though I will power through the grey fog that is SAD in order to stay sane. After all, I’m SAD, not terminal. And did someone mentioned new boots?