Living with SAD

Most of you probably know what SAD is, or at least have heard of it – Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It’s a sort of depression that is seasonal, and if affects different people in different ways.  I haven’t updated my blog in a long time, because I have come to really value my privacy and personal life.  Although I enjoy sharing my life with people I am close to, I realized with this blog I couldn’t control who did and didn’t read it.  But this is a subject that I feel is too important not to share with everyone.

I love winter…sort of.  I love Christmas, I love skiing, I love snow.  I live in northern Vermont, so I willingly signed up for a large dose of winter every year!  However, I don’t love darkness.  And with darkness comes this winter time depression.  Before I got married to my wonderful husband, I had a decent handle on it.  I did preventative things and was able to push past the tough days until spring came again.  But this year, as a result of not preparing myself properly, moving even farther north with less daylight, having a very stressful new teaching job not to mention constant graduate courses, and not having friends close by made this winter a very hard one indeed.

It took me a few months to articulate what was happening to me.  In general this has been a hard year with regards to my career (but that’s another story), so for a while I just thought I was stressed and overworked.  But then I identified what emotion I was actually feeling: sadness.

Being married meant I had to share with Devin how I was feeling every day this winter, and to reflect on my emotions.  When I was single, I could just hunker down with a book and push down the sadness.  Now I had to face the depression head on, every day.  I think it’s a healthier way to handle emotions in general, rather than bottling everything up.  Still, it was challenging to find a place of healing and acceptance as sadness hit me full force.

Many days it was hard to get out of bed.  I cried at least twice a week, sometimes without knowing why.  I felt like I was drowning in self-doubt, anxiety, and crippling sadness.  I was often exhausted and felt like there was no end in sight.  My motivation was GONE – completely.  I would get angry at myself for feeling like this.  I would say to myself, “You are married to a wonderful man, your family is supportive, your students love you, you have a great church, so just feel better!  You’re 24, healthy, and strong!  What is wrong with you?”  But I couldn’t just be happy, no matter how hard I willed myself to be.  I was very hard on myself, and this depression affected every part of my life.

Teaching was especially challenging.  For those that don’t know, teaching music to 5-14 year olds requires, among many things, an intense amount of emotional commitment and energy.  I know that I probably didn’t do the most amazing teaching this winter, but I faked my way through it.  Usually I love being active and on my feet and singing my heart out, but teaching this winter was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Unfortunately, I felt completely spent when I got home every day, which led to the immense amount of tears that Devin patiently wiped away every time. I felt so loved when Devin looked at me one day and said, “You are doing enough.”  He has accepted every part of me, and helped me accept myself.  He has been completely wonderful and supportive of me every step of the way, shouldering enormous responsibility and maturity while I was in this depression.  He selflessly took on my half of the chores around the house, cooking (a task we normally share), running errands, and practically forced me into my coat and shoes to do a lap outside around the neighborhood as often as he could.

There were some beautiful moments where I felt like myself.  Devin and I would act silly and I found myself laughing, I would find joy in spending time with friends, or I would get a sudden burst of energy to do my schoolwork.  These moments encouraged me and helped me recognize that I would not be this version of myself forever.  Then, slowly but surely, the days lengthened and my spirits lifted.

Looking back, as spring is just starting to be felt in the [slightly] warmer air and the days are so gloriously long, I know there are things I should have done earlier in the winter to prepare myself for what I knew would happen.  I only feel like I’ve become myself again in the last few weeks, and some days are still hard.  But now I can finally see past winter – I can see flowers (in my imagination – there’s still a foot of snow outside), I can envision bike rides and runs, and I can plan my future garden.  Here’s what helps me get through winter…

  1. I have a special light that helps treat SAD – Devin calls it “Happy.”  He would say to me, “Okay, time for you to go sit in front of Happy for a few minutes!”  I should have started sitting in front of it earlier in the winter, but once I regularly began doing so every day I could my spirits lifting.
  2. Taking a Vitamin D supplement – it’s like sunshine in a pill form.
  3. Short walks during my lunch break at school whenever possible.  Skiing on the weekends also helped significantly.
  4. Yoga is my newfound love.  I’ve done yoga occasionally over the years, but never consistently.  I recently committed to doing a 30 day yoga challenge with a teacher on Youtube.  It’s been incredible and empowering.
  5. Getting enough sleep is also a huge one for me – when I don’t sleep enough, everything is impossible.  In the winter, even 8 hours a night was not enough.  9 or 10 is more adequate, but rarely possible with my busy life.
  6. Being supported from my friends, family, and husband.  They’re amazing.
  7. Reading my Bible and spending time with God made (and still makes) each day bearable.  Finding those few minutes of quiet time really helped get me through the winter as well.  Recently I have been dwelling upon a passage in Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls…”  This passage has helped me realize my winter weariness was and is not my fault, and I can find comfort in Jesus.

I guess I’m writing this to be more committed to doing these things when next winter rolls around to keep myself accountable, and also to educate you about SAD and depression in general.  I wouldn’t label myself as someone who is depressed, and yet here I am, declaring myself to have gone through horrible depression this winter.  I hope this blog post helps lessen labels and breaks down stereotypes about depression.  It’s such a real, raw, and scary disease that I don’t wish upon anyone.

I would say it’s probable that you or someone close to you has dealt with depression before, so I also hope that my words provide hope.  Thankfully, I’ve never had thoughts of suicide and I’ve decided that SAD is something I’m committed to treating without a prescription, but there are many people who are affected to an ever greater degree than I am.  If that’s you, please know: you are not alone.  Please reach out to get support, whether it’s to a loved one or a medical expert.  There is nothing wrong with you – a fact that I am still learning to accept about myself.

We live in a world where it’s so easy to judge others and make quick assumptions when we don’t know the fully story.  Instead, we should be spreading love and lifting each other up.  The more we understand depression and fully love those who suffer from it, the more we can erase the stigma that comes with it and help people overcome it.

So let’s commit to that, to fully support one another and love fiercely.  If you want to find me, I’ll be out enjoying the sunshine.  Be well, my friends.