It is the shortest day of the year, which means it’s winter. Winter where I am means shorter days, more clouds, rain, cold, a lot of wind, and no snow.
To me, winter also means depression. I get up and it’s dark. I get home and it’s dark. The dog gets a walk in the dark (and by walk I mean I let her loose in a paddock while I feed up). I don’t want to do anything. My weekends are filled with lie ins and days cuddled up on the couch.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is an encroaching depression that exists in autumn and winter and alleviates in spring and summer. It’s often characterised by a change in sleeping patterns – typically to sleeping too much. Some people have a craving for carbohydrates and an increase in weight, others will lose their appetite and lose weight. Many still will have feelings of uselessness, an unwillingness or no desire to do things they once found enjoyable, and intense restlessness.
To me, winter means exhaustion and an overwhelming feeling of sadness. It means sleeping more, a reluctance to move or get out of bed, or do anything at all. It means days of intensely painful restlessness where I want to get in my car and drive anywhere it doesn’t matter but an inability to do so. It means a longing to move, to uplift my entire life and disappear off into the mountains, or by the sea. All this, and a feeling of hopelessness.
It’s agonising. It is physically painful. I twitch a lot, and it is one of the few occasions where I vocalise with little hums or grunts. I’m not as able to regulate my anxiety as I normally can, and auditory input easily overwhelms me.
This year I’ve taken steps to reduce the effects of SAD, with daily vitamin D and magnesium supplements. I spend a bit of time in my noise cancelling headphones with happy music on, and make sure I’m relaxed enough to go to bed in good time. The addition of 5 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning has helped me regulate myself a lot better than the last years. It’s not got it under control – that will be because it’s simply exacerbating a pre-existing depression rather than existing by itself – but it has improved things enough that I can manage.
There are other treatments out there – light therapy is one of them, and I know a number of people who are looking into the proper light set-ups. Cognitive behaviour therapy does help (with the right therapist for you, which may not be the therapist you’re seeing, you’ve just seen, or who your friend is seeing). So does medication. If you’re struggling through winter and you just want to be an amorphous blob, take a tiny step and next time you’re at the supermarket (and can afford to), pick up a container of vitamin D pills and take one with dinner each night (do not take it with or around caffeine). It may give you just enough energy to be able to get more help.