I Am Refined By: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal-affective-disorder

‘Tis the season!

No, I’m not one of those crazed Christmas-in-October people. Definitely not; my tolerance for carols is much too low for such an affectation. That, and I like Thanksgiving.’Tis the SAD Season.
Seasonal Affective Depression/DisorderWe’re all a little bit seasonal, as Dr. Rosenthal mentions in his book, Winter Blues. For most people, it’s normal to feel a little lazier after the exhaustive work of the holiday season is over or to find it harder to get up when the sun isn’t. For some people, like myself, it gets in the way of everyday activities.  I describe it like riding a train through the tunnels in the Rockies, with each tunnel representing a season. I know it’s coming, but not exactly when, or how long it will last, but I know there’s light and beauty at either end of it.
Each case of SAD varies in both severity and duration. Mine usually waits until the end of October to start and has eased up by mid-March, with the worst coming in late January or early February.

How Do I Cope?

So what does this mean for me?
Well, first off, I socialize less. Socializing is stressful and exhausting for an introvert like me, and requires even more energy and recovery time during SAD season. Also, many people try offering assistance in helping me return to my cheerful self, and it hurts watching my friends fail like that.

Writing

Participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) helps in two ways. It takes place in November, which is usually when I need to kick up my antidepressants. It also provides a novel excuse for avoiding social functions. “I’ll come if I’ve made my word count for the day,” is a more comfortable excuse than “I might be too physically exhausted by my depression to make it,” for both the giver and receiver. Most of all, the act of creating something gives me that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment President Uchtdorf talked about in October 2008 actually does do something for me. It shows I haven’t wasted my time, even if my acknowledgements page is better than the other 80.

Day-Plotting

On a practical note, it also helps me structure my day. Routine is very important when I’m prone to depression. I’ve developed something I call “day plotting,” which is basically a chronological to-do list. When I am depressed, I actually have to include things like “shower,” “brush teeth,” and “eat” or they won’t get done. If life were a video game, and each thing you did used up some of your power bar, people with depression (and most other chronic illnesses) use more energy for each task, even daily ones. Day plotting helps me determine what I can do with the energy I anticipate starting the day with.

Light Exposure

Light, in and of itself, provides energy. I need a home with lots of un-obstructed windows. One of the best gifts I ever recieved was a sun lamp. Light therapy helps. I didn’t realize how much until I started doing it. With it, I’m able to use fewer antidepressants, which helps with medical costs.
The Light of Christ also helps. One year, I spent an entire day in bed.  For no reason.  I got up and out of it three times.  I didn’t eat, took one drink of water, didn’t sleep, didn’t read, didn’t surf the internet, didn’t even cry.  In the two days it took my back to recover, I realized that, on that day, I hadn’t had a reason to get out. Doing things for myself is not enough (which is why frodins are a staple in this bachelorette’s freezer); I needed someone expecting me to be somewhere in order to go anywhere.

Temple Attendance

I settled on the temple as a solution. At the time, I was attending monthly baptism sessions with my ward, and decided that I would add myself onto a session whenever there was a Saturday that I didn’t have anything planned. (The other 6 days were taken care of between work and church.) Those remain some of the most memorable and uplifting sessions, even after serving as an ordinance worker for over 300 sessions (of initiatories, endowments, and sealings).

Music

Hymns, especially about the Light of Christ (or weather in general), provide added assistance in coping with SAD. I became tuned in to this after I attended a farewell testimony meeting for missionaries returning home. The power went out while we were waiting for them to arrive from the temple, and I joined with some of the sisters in singing songs about light and darkness; very tounge in cheek, we were. Some of my go-to’s are:
For the Beauty of the Earth (92)
The Lord is My Light (89)
Lead, Kindly Light (97)
Redeemer of Israel (6)
There is Sunshine in My Soul Today (227)
Be Still, my Soul (124)
The Day Dawn is Breaking (52)
Let me conclude with the words of Elder Holland last fall (which were delivered mere hours after I received a priesthood blessing to help cope with my depression):
Watch for the stress indicators in yourself and in others you may be able to help. As with your automobile, be alert to rising temperatures, excessive speed, or a tank low on fuel. When you face “depletion depression,” make the requisite adjustments. Fatigue is the common enemy of us all–so slow down, rest up, replenish, and refill…. If things continue to be debilitating, seek the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills, and good values. Be honest with them about your history and your struggles. Prayerfully and responsibly consider the counsel they give and the solutions they prescribe. If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation….try not to be overwhelmed with the size of your task. Don’t assume you can fix everything, but fix what you can. If those are only small victories, be grateful for them and be patient. Dozens of times in the scriptures, the Lord commands someone to “stand still” or “be still”–and wait. Patiently enduring some things is part of our mortal education.

I Am Refined By Seasonal Affective Disorder

One of the most noticeable ways that I am refined by SAD is it has kept  humble. There are things I can knock out of the park in August, but, come January, I can’t even swing at them using my own strength. Just about everything I do during the SAD season is done because the Lord has granted me the strength to do it. Having SAD has also helped me be more compassionate to people with emotional disorders and chronic illnesses. In some ways, I’ve become a personal advocate for helping understand depression. Sometimes I feel like I live in a fish bowl, and I know that being open about this has helped others feel less alone about living with their depression. Which is also pretty humbling to know.
*If you’re looking to talk to a nonprofessional about SAD, I encourage you to email me at [email protected] or find me on twitter @seashmore

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