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I have always gotten the Winter Blues. They’re a little late in their severity this year – they just seem to have hit now. I am subdued. I am quiet. I am teary. I anger quickly. I am despairing. And I just figured out this morning, when I looked at all the bare trees and felt my soul sink, aching for want of green leaves, that SAD had finally struck.
When I first started noticing it years ago, it hit in January. In recent years, it’s moved up to hitting in November or December. This year, while I was, as usual, disgusted with the cold, and only satisfied with the snow when it was too deep to leave the house, I wasn’t experiencing the exceptional indigo blues that typically accompany winter. Yes, I had the blues, but between divorce, the holidays and the cold, that was to be expected - they were your standard Crayola Blue blues.
Today, they hit me like a ton of sapphire bricks.
While Seasonal Affective Disorder is not, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM-IV), a mood disorder with its own classification code, it is what they call a “course specifier”, which means that it can contribute to major depression. It appears to be a biochemical imbalance in the brain due to the shorter days of winter. There have been arguments made that SAD is a natural response to cold and an absence of light – a sort of hibernation response that might very well have been a survival technique of our distant ancestors. I’d believe that.
Symptoms of SAD can include:
- fatigue – got it, but what else is new?
- lack of interest in normal activities – kind of got it
- social withdrawal – no more so than usual
- craving foods high in carbohydrates – no, no cravings thanks to Atkins
- weight gain - again, kudos to Atkins for keeping this one at bay
While you might think that SAD would be worse in countries towards the Arctic Circle, such as Iceland and Norway, it’s actually less so. Researchers suspect this may be some kind of genetic adaptation, or it may have to do with the large amounts of Vitamin D that people in these countries consume. (Did you know that Icelandic people eat 225 pounds of fish per person per year? I didn’t.)
SAD is primary treated with light therapy. A special light that emits full spectrum bright white light can be helpful. I used one off and on when I first started feeling the severe effects of SAD. I pointed it to the backs of my knees (yes, I know, but it seemed to work) every morning for about 20 minutes. I should probably retrieve it from Pat’s house, but it’s pretty big, being one of the first of its’ kind. I’m sure they have more compact models now.
Other suggested treatments are:
- Medicines – already doing that
- Changes in diet – I can do that – fish are golden on Atkins
- Learning to manage stress – Bah-Hah! SNORT! Yeah, right….
- Going to a sunny climate for the cold months – That one sounds like the best of all plans to me
One of my bosses insists that my SAD should start abating on December 22, when the days start getting longer. He considers that date to be the beginning of spring. I have tried, but I am unable to buy into that theory.
I am just going to have grumble and mourn my way through the cold until the first crocuses start appearing. Until then, just be sure that all knives and sleeping pills are well out of my reach. And keep the Kleenex handy.
Today’s guest poet – Joyce Sutphen
Naming the Stars
This present tragedy will eventually
turn into myth, and in the mist
of that later telling the bell tolling
now will be a symbol, or, at least,
a sign of something long since lost.
This will be another of those
loose changes, the rearrangement of
hearts, just part of old lives
patched together, gathered into
a dim constellation, small consolation.
Look, you will say, you can almost see
the outline there: her fingertips
touching his, the faint fusion
of two bodies breaking into light.