I’ve suffered from seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) for as long as I can remember. Every winter, just like the frost inconspicuously permeates the ground until it is frozen solid, the S.A.D. wraps its gloomy tendrils unknowingly around me and squeezes tight until it consumes me. I fall oblivious and seem to forget about the S.A.D. until I’m suddenly suffocating in anxiety and depression. My relationships suffer, my work suffers, and most of all, I suffer. And when the frustration of being able to no longer outsmart the bleakness with positive self talk and a change in mindset truly sets in, I suddenly remember:
It’s the weather.
I’m not certain why this blindsides me every year, but it does, and this year has been no exception. I thrive in the warm, sunny months, and struggle every winter. The acronym for this disorder could not be any more appropriate.
My go-to anti depressant is exercise, and as long as I stay consistent with it, I hover right above the fine line where I start to crumble and the S.A.D. wins. Exercise has proven to have a positive effect on melatonin and serotonin, both of which are thought to be linked to the cause of seasonal affective disorder (more specifically, a drop in both due to decreased sunlight.) This year, I managed to coincide the most miserable month we’ve had as far as sunlight and weather goes with my surgery, which has forced exercise to take a back seat. Weeks of dark, cold days with zero depression fighting endorphins working on my behalf. Result? I’m struggling.
The other day I posed a question to my Facebook friends and family, because in 2015, that’s what you do instead of pick up the phone and call someone. The question was “how in the hell do I deal with a sudden onslaught of anxiety, when my normal go to solution, running, is off the table?” The answers varied, from “drink some wine” to “identify what is causing the anxiety”. The latter was the one I struggled the most with. Where is this anxiety and depression coming from? I have a number of hot topics in my life that cause me stress and worry, the situation with my kids, money (as in, never having enough), the usual stuff. But I have plans in motion that are helping me to achieve goals and overcome those anxieties. And for all intents and purposes, I am happy. So what the hell is wrong with me?
Oh yeah. S.A.D.
We hear it all of the time, but I would like to reiterate: there is such a stigma in our society with mental health. There is some shame and embarrassment in admitting to the world that you are struggling, especially for those of us who others often look up to as a typically motivating, positive person. People throw around words like “train wreck” and “hot mess”, when in reality, this could happen to anyone. It happens to more people than you might think, unfortunately so many suffer in silence because of the stigma and fear. With S.A.D. people often tell you to “suck it up”, we all hate the cold weather, and so on, not realizing that this disorder goes much further than simply “cabin fever”.
Further, it’s incredibly hard to reach out to your loved ones and confide that you are struggling, only to have them almost turn their shoulder because they don’t know what to say or do. That, for me, is the hardest part. If ever there was a more fitting scenario for the old adage “adding insult to injury”, this would be it. It takes a lot of guts to admit you are hurting. It sucks when you are met with, well, whatever the opposite of “open arms” would be. Indifference? I’m not sure. I’m also not sure I can blame them; I often don’t know how to react to these types of situations either.
The good news is: I’m going to be OK. Simply the act of recognizing the pattern between my mental health and the weather is always an eye opener (more like a slap in the head) that almost instantaneously makes me feel better. Awareness makes taking the steps to solve the problem so much easier. And I am now taking those steps.
Further good news includes:
1) I can run again. The last two days I’ve hit the gym, slowly, but surely. The first day was a mile of run walk intervals that while not hard nor painful, came timidly as I felt my incision moving around. (Sorry squeamish folks.) The next day a straight mile came with far less hesitation. I reckon I’ll be back to my old treadmill marathon running self by next week (though no treadmill marathons are planned for next week).
2) 22 days left until the first day of spring. We are almost there, damnit. It can’t snow forever.
3) We are moving South before next winter. Granted, ya’ll (I used that just for you) are suffering through an unseasonably miserable winter as well, but your few days below freezing are nothing compared to our -17 degrees (before added windchill) and 4 feet of snow that falls, routinely, every Monday. Sorry.
4) I have a race this weekend. I’ve chosen to back off from the 30K distance of this weekend’s FRIGUS snowshoe race and take the more conservative, “you just had surgery two weeks ago” 10K option instead. I was initially bummed to miss what is promising to be a challenging, yet beautiful course, but every now and then I actually make wise decisions regarding my racing. This is one of them. Regardless, simply being in the atmosphere of a race with some people that I truly admire and love (three cheers for local races) is going to put a smile on my face that will likely last until the next race.
There were a number of reasons for this post. One, writing is therapeutic for me. Two, I overshare because I truly hope it helps somebody. If you are struggling for whatever reason this winter (or any time), please don’t be afraid to ask for help. And please know that you are not alone: 1 in 10 Americans will suffer some form of depression at some point in their life. It is nothing to be ashamed of.
So, thank you for reading, and as always, thank you for your continued support. Soon enough we will return to your regularly scheduled running-muddy-adventure blog posts.