Over the past few months, during the dark, dreary days of winter, I have become less and less motivated, less and less interested in the things around me. All I feel like doing is watching TV and sleeping. Maybe reading a little. I get up, I go to work, I come home, I have dinner, I go to bed. On the weekends, I sleep in, get up, and grump around the house, feeling like I should do something, but not actually wanting to do anything.
At first I thought that I was just exhausted from the frenetic pace at work. However, since the project deadline has been postponed, we have been enjoying a brief respite. Yet my has apathy persisted. I finally came to the conclusion that I am depressed. As I mentioned in a recent post, I believe that I am suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I usually get into a bit of a funk in the winter, particularly in February, but this year it has been particularly bad. My mood improves somewhat on sunny days, hence my suspicion of SAD, but the sun has been pretty scarce this year. The past three weeks have been particularly gray and rainy, and the last ounce of energy and motivation and caring has dropped away from me. My winter blahs have turned into a nearly debilitating problem.
I have not been to a doctor, so this is not an official diagnosis. I don’t feel sad, or weepy, or hopeless. I just don’t care. I don’t have any energy. I feel bland and washed out. I feel as gray as the unending winter sky.
I don’t feeling like running, gardening, or playing my bass. I would rather just go to bed. And I am not resting well either, making me feel even more tired and rundown.
Depression is something that I have experienced on and off throughout my life. I suffer from cyclothymia, a rare mood disorder, which is a little like bipolar disorder in that it involves mood swings, though not as extreme. I took medication for years, but found after a while that I was able to manage my symptoms through regular exercise and regular sleep. People with mood disorders such as mine are much more prone to experiencing SAD. I know that as the weather improves, my depression will fade away. But it doesn’t help me right now.
In addition to late winter, I have found that I am most likely to experience bouts of depression around late August and early September. I attribute the end-of-summer doldrums to the now-absent, but still ingrained life-change trigger of back-to-school time. From the time I started school and on up through college, I loved going back to school. As an adult, I no longer get to enjoy that anticipation, the possibility of new friends and new knowledge, the change of scenery of a new classroom. That feeling that anything can happen. A time of year which previously heralded new beginnings now passes unremarked. But apparently the software to expect change was installed in my formative years. It continues to run once a year, but now only reminds me that little is changing. And it bums me out.
I have begun to handle my lack-of-back-to-school blues by using that time of year to draft and initiate new projects, either at work or at home. So far, this process works relatively well, as it tricks my brain into providing the proper feedback to satisfy the software.
Now, I have decided to handle my winter blahs as well. I am not going to suffer through this for another year. So I did some research and purchased a light therapy lamp, which should arrive tomorrow. I am hoping that use of this lamp for short periods of time once or twice a day (always in the morning or early afternoon) will help alleviate some of my symptoms, at least enough to get me back on my feet and functional again. I have a sister who lives in Seattle and also suffers from SAD. She uses a light therapy lamp, and has found it extremely helpful, so I have hopes for this treatment.
Many people suffer from depression, whether seasonally, due to life changes, or for some other reason, and it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. However, you cannot just “snap out of it” – it’s a real thing that needs actual attention and management. If you suffer from depression more than occasionally, you might want to see a doctor. Mild antidepressants such as Zoloft generally have very few side effects and can be an enormous help (I took Zoloft for years, as did my husband at one point). Therapy can also be helpful, particular if depression is tied to a specific problem or event, such as a divorce, death, or other life change.
My point is – don’t suffer alone. Life is too short to spend any part of it feeling as non-living as I have felt these past few weeks. Don’t wait until depression has driven out the things you love from your mind. Don’t let it rob you of the joy of living.