I know what it feels like to pull myself out of bed every morning, long after the alarm has gone off repeatedly, feeling like I’d drunk a half bottle of wine the night before when I hadn’t had any alcohol at all. I know what it’s like when winter feels like a heavy, wet gray blanket weighing you down. My best explanation when I tried to explain it to non-SAD sufferers was that I felt like someone had gone through my body and shut off all my energy systems, and I didn’t even have enough energy to argue with myself.
And that, in effect, is what Seasonal Affective Disorder does to us. Studies have demonstrated that sunlight triggers regular cycles in our bodies and systems, the Circadian rhythms that influence many of our bodily processes. Without enough light, we fail to thrive.
This is one of those times that what you don’t know can hurt you. Learning more about SAD and the winter blues, and learning more about how your body responds to seasonal changes can help you make more informed choices about your health.
I had to figure this out on my own eight years ago when I finally made the connection between how miserable I was feeling and the fact that it could be due to SAD. There was not as much information available on the Internet then, but I found a reference to the one definitive book on SAD, “Winter Blues” by Dr. E. Norman Rosenthal. He was the lead researcher of the team at the National Institute of Health that discovered and defined SAD in the early 1980s.
I immediately bought the book. I read, I researched and I bought a light box – online from the manufacturer because local medical supply stores wouldn’t sell me one without a prescription. And I began light therapy treatment. It worked. Like magic. My energy came back, the depression lifted, and I started to feel like myself again.
It wasn’t as easy the next fall, when I found I needed more light therapy to lift the blues. I was just treading water and it scared me. I did more reading and research. Because I was self-diagnosed and self-treating, I decided it was a good idea to get a professional opinion and scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist who had advertised in my local paper for people with the winter blues to participate in a clinical study.
To my disappointment, the psychiatrist had only general knowledge of SAD. I realized I probably knew about as much as he did, based on my reading and research. He had a SAD therapy light but had never taken it out of the box because he thought it needed assembly. He didn’t know SAD lights are always ready to plug in and use.
Because I had already started my light therapy program, I wasn’t a candidate for his clinical trial. But I agreed to try an antidepressant for the three weeks it typically takes to work and the side effects to diminish. I was terrified I would slip under that gray blanket and the idea of a backup plan – the antidepressant – seemed like a good idea. He gave me a three-week supply of Wellbutrin, a commonly prescribed antidepressant with fewer side effects.
The short story is that I had a low-level pressure headache for the three weeks I took the medication and saw no noticeable change in how I was feeling. At the end of the three weeks we agreed it didn’t work for me and I discontinued the medication. Without this backup plan, and still unsure of how much I could rely on light therapy, I focused on finding out how my diet might be contributing to the SAD, and began exercising in front of my light box. It worked.
Fast forward to this winter. The SAD assessment test I took in December 2008 rates my SAD at “mild,” a huge improvement from the “moderate to severe” ranking I had in 2000. I no longer dread winter and fall. I no longer postpone projects for fear I won’t be able to sustain my concentration. I no longer avoid social activities. I don’t need two alarms and a dawn simulator to awaken me in the morning. I’m no longer so late for work I fear for my job.
And I’m now a professional health coach who can help and support people who are struggling through winter and who don’t know how to – and don’t have the energy to – sort through all the information on SAD and how to manage it.
I’ve finally found a way to share with people quickly and easily the life-changing information it took me years to figure out for myself – and support them as they make these changes during the time of year when it’s very difficult to even think about changing a familiar, if uncomfortable, routine.
In my SAD Support Class I will teach you how to make small, but significant, shifts in your life and routine and take tiny steps that will help you feel better fast as you banish the winter blues. The core of my SAD coaching program is light therapy – proven in medical studies to help more than 80% of those with SAD.
Because SAD increases carbohydrate cravings, we’ll also look at how you can easily modify your eating patterns to shift the odds in your favor. We’ll explore ways to look at the world through “SAD” eyes and find more fun and joy in the season.
Join me on one of my free teleseminars and learn more about how to manage SAD and the winter blues with simple, practical steps that will restore your energy and put a smile back on your face.
Professional Health Coach