I knew I had an intense dislike of winter weather and grey skies when in college I seemed to lose every ounce of energy when the sun hid behind the clouds. Nothing but bright, white skies and not a sliver of the warm, yellow sunlight in sight seemed to bring me into an unfamiliar depressive state. Even if something amazing happened to me that day, if the sun was away and clouds were all I saw, I couldn’t figure out why I felt nothing but melancholy and emptiness.
A sunny day would randomly arise during the winter months and I would notice myself relishing in the warm feeling of the sun on my face. The first thing I would do upon waking was check the weather and look outside the window, hurrying myself to get ready so I could run outside and feel the sun. Even on my worst days, the sun seemed to have an intense, uplifting impact on my emotions and energy. And upon these realizations, I began to research why I was like this as my friends didn’t seem to understand and did not mind the gloomy, silver skies.
I stumbled upon seasonal affective disorder (ironically forming the acronym SAD), otherwise known as seasonal depression: a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year. Reading the unsettling word “disorder” made me immediately think that was not something I could have, because I knew for sure I did not have a “disorder”. Yet, studying more into the topic, and realizing how common it truly is, felt comforting. Disorder is a strong word, but S.A.D. is an even stronger, sometimes debilitating matter that affects a large group of people.
What has upset me most in my struggle with S.A.D. is that many people do not understand it. Somebody with S.A.D. does not simply just dislike cold weather or hot weather, it affects us deeper and changes our serotonin levels, just like regular depression does to others. It is not an aversion to cold and a preference of warmth; it is feeling depressed versus feeling normal because of something we as humans cannot change: the weather.
So next time a friend of yours says they have seasonal depression, maybe don’t say, “Ugh, me too”, unless you actually do, because that only minimizes the struggles we deal with on the inside that may only surface to others as irritability, tiredness, depression, anger, or indifference.
Those who struggle with seasonal depression can have Spring and Summer depression, or, like me, Fall and Winter depression. The causes of seasonal depression are typically due to ones circadian rhythm affected by the reduction or increase of sunlight, drops in serotonin, or the change in ones melatonin levels during the change in season.
While there are various ways to treat S.A.D., such as light therapy, Vitamin D supplements, or anti-depressants, I treat mine in a milder way. I make sure to have a good amount of windows open around me, letting all the bright, natural light in – whether or not it is cloudy or sunny. I also make sure to be outside as much as I can, and I even went so far as to purchase sunglasses with a slight yellow, warm tint that can make a cloudy day look almost sunny. However, my S.A.D. still impacts me greatly, as I unfortunately practice the art of checking the weather everyday and counting down the days until Spring. On the bright side (pun intended), that gives me something to look forward to, no matter how far away.