‘Tis the Season? by
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(114 Stories)

Prompted By Hello Darkness

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Full disclosure: I’ve never had a clinical diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). But, I recognize I’ve had the “seasonal blahs” all my adult life, so darkness (the kind in the physical world) is a big issue for me. The problem is, I never can predict precisely when the low mood will strike, whether suddenly or gradually, how severely, or how long it will last.

It was dark, dark, dark, for days, and the bad air made walking outside impossible for nearly six weeks. And BAM, I was clobbered by SAD symptoms--in the middle of summer.

SAD didn’t have a name when my father clearly suffered from it. We knew that winter in New Jersey was a difficult time for him, as he often stared out the window looking for the last rays of sunlight. Thinking back on it, I understand why, after traveling to California on business, he was nearly desperate to move here. While the shortness of days still is a problem, California generally is sunnier than New Jersey.

When my own troubles with SAD began in my late 20s, typically the change to daylight savings time was a signal. Although occasionally it feels as if someone flipped a switch, more often I sense a gradual increase in malaise during the month of November, and by Thanksgiving I am not in a festive mood. Low energy and pessimism persist past Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day; problems seem to have one poor solution after another. Until, in early March, with the time change, the switch flips back to hope and energy, or at minimum my mood slowly improves and stabilizes by the end of the month.

There have been times when the pattern has been disrupted in a counterintuitive way. One was the time before, during, and after the El Nino flood that I’ve written about several times on Retrospect. It rained almost daily starting that November, through the actual flood in February, and frequently after that through Memorial Day, so full sun was all but absent. I remember being really worried about how I might feel, but had a complete absence of dark-related low moods. The same thing happened in the winter of 2001 when my father was seriously ill and died. I was stressed and sad, but didn’t have SAD. I can only conclude that because there were specific issues to be addressed, my mind focused on them instead of any general blue moods.

This year I felt fortunate that when California shut down it was March and there would be sunlight for a number of months. I began taking walks to get fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and to keep my spirits up, along with practically everyone else in the neighborhood. Then in the summer the wildfires came, and smoke blotted the sky like a painting out of a nightmare. It was dark, dark, dark, for days, and the bad air made walking outside impossible for nearly six weeks. And BAM, I was clobbered by SAD symptoms–in the middle of summer.

It took a few weeks to recover once the sun came back. Now, as the solstice approaches, I am careful to walk outside during the middle of the day, even if it’s for just 15 minutes. One of these years I’ll do some serious research on all those light boxes we see advertised, but this year my mind will still be busy focusing on the craziness of 2020 and looking forward to early March–for the time change and for the vaccine.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Marian, altho I haven’t suffered with SAD, my cousin Kathy does. I know she has tried light boxes to little avail, but everyone is different, so hope you try, and there is science behind it.

    And glad the spring-ahead time change will make you feel better, also looking ahead to Biden-Harris and a Covid vaccine will help us all feel better!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks for this, Marian. And what you say is very important. Indeed, I was originally skeptical years ago when one of the tax associates in our firm, who lived in Buffalo, complained of SAD right in the middle of tax preparer’s “busy season.” We thought this was all a pretext for a Florida vacation and dumping her work on her colleagues. Fortunately, we consulted with a doctor who enlightened us and we gave the associate the medical leave time she had requested — and needed.

    • Marian says:

      Hawaii does the trick for me, John, in “normal” times. It’s good that your firm recognized your colleague’s condition. I’ve always loved visiting the Pacific Northwest but resisted moving there because the number of days with gray skies was so large. I’ve heard that people in Seattle have a lot of trouble with SAD.

  3. Our wiring is so complex! I lived on the wet side of Kauai for nearly a decade and never once got “rock fever,” I love rainy days, and I get depressed on sunny days, mostly because, as a homebody, I feel guilty that I’m not outside enjoying them. I’m curious about what you do to combat the blues, Mare. Is there anything aside from walking that helps? I know you’re very creative…yet creativity can be stymied by depression. Chocolate?!?

    • Marian says:

      Chocolate can work, Barb, although the calories can add up. Any of the arts, either participating or doing them, are helpful. In normal times, small gatherings of supportive (that’s the operative word) friends have been really helpful. This fall, my Zoom synagogue services have been great for lifting my moods.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Good that you recognize the need for sunshine, Marian. I’ve read that being out in fresh air is really important during these dismal, lockdown days. As you will read, though I don’t have SAD, I’ve had real depression, so I can empathize with you. Understanding your moods and knowing how to cope is very important. As Dana said, I hope that 2021, and particularly, the change in the White House, brings some mood change for you. This has been a tough year for everyone.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, fresh air and sunshine help a lot, Betsy. Normally, for me, doing something with one or two friends also is helpful. I’m sorry about your depression and can relate to a degrees. On pop psychology quizzes I test as mildly dysthymic, but I’ve always been able to get up and do what I need to do–even though I don’t always feel good about it.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        I needed to keep going, even during my “blues” period, as I had a traveling husband and a needy child. One does what one has to, if we can. Thank goodness, I always could, just as you describe. And I agree, being with friends always helps.

  5. Suzy says:

    Interesting how your SAD has been linked to the time changes. They always mess me up, but not to the same degree. Glad you have figured out, at least to some extent, how to deal with your seasonal blahs. I know that I’m looking forward to the inauguration, the vaccine, and the return of daylight savings time to improve my mood immensely.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Like you, I look forward to March, the time change, and being able to be outside more. It’s cold here, but at least no snow yet. I agree that getting rid of Trump and getting people vaccinated will help all of our moods. I wonder why we still need the time change. It messes with our internal clocks as well as our moods.

  7. Thank us all for awareness! Mindfulness, if you will. With this remarkable event occurring in our solar system, the rare proximity of Saturn and Jupiter to each other, I wonder how our psyches have been influenced by the effects of a fully lit civilization. For most of the time that our psyches have developed, day and night and celestial events have probably played more powerful roles than they do today. How did day/night, the seasons, and the ever-present saga of the stars in the sky regulate our behavior before we lit the world? How would we respond to the all-powerful rhythms of light and dark for those long, long cycles of days, months, and years? Thanks for your awareness, Marian!

    • Marian says:

      You’re welcome, Charles. Putting on my science hat, I’ve read that in the past our sleep/wake cycles were much more in tune with the natural world than now, with our bright artificial lights. We slept when it got dark and were active during the light hours. Possible analogy is eating food appropriate to the season and location–fresh peaches in the summer rather than fruit from Chile in the winter. I don’t think our psyches have caught up with our technology.

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