Monday, January 29, 2007

S.A.D. and Cold

It took me most of last week to realize it, but this Winter has been particularly hard on me. I know, I'm not alone. All across the continent, people are saying this. There is snow where there has never been snow before. There's freezing rain and ice storms in unbelievable frequency. Ranchers are losing their cattle, croppers are losing their oranges. It's a rough Winter and it's really gotten to me.

At twenty-seven, I really didn't think my body and mind could surprise me like this. I know I don't like cold and snow, I know it puts me in a bad mood. What I didn't know is that the cold and snow, combined with working on an injury keeping me from running (not nearly as much as I'd like, anyway) are depressing. There, I said it.

Depression is such a strange thing- it's many levels, it's sneaky ways. I admit fully, I'm not comfortable with it. In fact, even as I began typing this just a few sentences ago, I didn't know I'd be talking about depression. I don't want to admit that though it's not clinical and relatively unharmful compared to many cases, it still is what it is. It's a lasting feeling of blah. A feeling of I want to do X, Y, and Z things but I don't get to them. Or, I do and I don't get any sense of accomplishment from them.

That's where it gets strange for me. Sure, this may be "seasonal" depression and quite common but I have this traditional picture in my head of a depressed person and it's not me. It's not me who works out daily, who longs for a fifteen mile run, who cleans the house from top to bottom, who goes to work each day upbeat and friendly. To me, that's not a depressed person. If I were, wouldn't my house be a wreck? Wouldn't my friends and family be neglected? Wouldn't I stop working out or caring about myself? Isn't that what a depressed person does? I don't accept it. In my mind, I am balanced and just in a lull. But there's also a part that just feels blah. I'm not sad, I'm not in darkness. But it's not bright.

It's such an odd thing to describe. I don't have any hopeless feelings (except that maybe I'll never be able to feel my toes again), I find joy in everyday things, I laugh and joke but daily, and it's worse when it's really cold, I find myself just moping.

It's been suggested in the past that I'm a victim of SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, also known as winter depression is an affective, or mood, disorder. Most SAD sufferers experience normal mental health throughout most of the year, but experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer. SAD is rare, if existent at all, in the tropics, but is measurably present at latitudes north of 30°N, or south of 30°S.

To that I would have to say, yah huh! Ya think? But also, it's a little scary to me. Depression is not scarce in my family tree, so that fear is always there. That fear that a few bad days could spiral into a few more, and that maybe I wouldn't realize it and then, one day when all is right with the world I'll find myself thinking nothing is. That's probably an irrational fear- it even looks like that to me. Nonetheless, that's the fear I have inside when eight straight weekends of snow put the smackdown on your city. That's the fear when your physical therapist points out to you the muscle that's "not working" and that you have to restrengthen it, almost from scratch. The quad muscle that you've always been proud of, that has always been defined and the least of your weight-lifting worries has now ceased to work. And to get better, you have to start over. It feels like a mighty tall order right now.

This is relatively small stuff, though, and I know that. Honestly, it's probably that thought that keeps me far away from that feared spiral more than anything else. It's still there, though, and it's not going away. We're expecting highs in the single digits later this week- I'm not going to get any warmer. My only conclusion as I type this now, is to continue to be grateful. To continue being me, albeit mildly diluted for the time being. It's to continue to clean the house, be with the friends, work hard at work and know two things: I'm conscious of how I feel, which apparently is half the battle, and Spring is getting closer every day.


Backofpack said...

Yes, the topic of SAD has been coming up around here lately. It doesn't seem as though any of us in this house suffer from it, but we know a lot of people who do. The house we had before this one was really dark inside and it really bothered me - I'm still the one that goes around every morning and opens the blinds to let the light in, the one who wouldn't buy a house without skylights. It makes me wonder if I have just a touch of SAD - enough that letting the light in takes care of it. Who knows?

I really hope you feel better soon. And that it warms up soon - way higher than single digits, or teens or even 20s!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I don't think I'm troubled by SAD, as I actually like grey days, but not too many in a row, thank you very much.

There certainly is an increased need for chocolate on those long winter days though!

(I can see why JustA says more people should read your blog)

GirlGoyle said...

Not to add to the mysery but I'm sort of glad to hear I"m not the only one feeling somewhat "unfulfilled" lately. Though if you sent some snow my way I'd be a lot less S.A.D because boy I tell you it's quite depressing to try to ride your snowboard on ice and rocks. Have you thought of taking advantage of the winter and getting involved in a new sport that gives u the calorie burn but not the knee pain? Many skiers with bad knees revert to snowboarding and i assure you, it's a heck of a work out and a lot of fun. Then, if all else fails we should consider the cure and move to the tropics. I'm always up for coconut drinks, palm trees and sandy shores. Hang in there!

Danielle said...

I can totally relate to the non-activity and SAD being a bigger factor. I know before I got so back into running, winter (particularly January) would so depress me. Days and days without sun, cold, crap, etc...but running has countered that. Any physical activity should help. But if you really have about nothing you can do till things are 100% again, the back up plan...You konw they make those lights to help people, but they are expensive...another option, and one I've often considered myself. Take yourself to a tanning bed. Now I'm not pushing tanning, yes, they are bad, they can cause damage, etc...but if you only go for 5-10 minutes once or twice a week, it is supposed to be a huge mood elevator. "Fake" sun and it really helps brighten on those "off" days. (My one other secret I hold to, is putting highlights in my hair when it starts to get bad, my hair lightens naturally in the summer, so I convince myself that has happened by putting highlights in in January or so).

e.b. said...

That was really well written. It seems you have a grasp on the emotions going on, it is just a question of handling them once they appear. And that too seems to be in the works. Of course it is helped that as each day passes warmer weather is closer and closer.

I am of the thought that being aware and proactive helps (I don't know too much more about SAD - but depression is something I have touched). Keeping an eye out is a big thing and you are so on that just by writing about it.

runliarun said...

Many more people feel depressed than are ready to admit it or are even aware of it. I think it's just an ignored component of modern life, with its many hassles. And sometimes it gets to us, because we do not always have enough energy to fight it, for whatever reason, be it the too long winter or pain, guilt, loss, discouragement, and the other demons that plague us.

But there is a spirit in you that is stronger than you, and you can ask it and rely on it to pull you out of darkness.

Sizzle said...

i'm prone to melancholy but this winter business is wreaking havoc on my emotions i tell ya. i think it'd be even harder if i was a runner like you, trying to heal an injury and battling the snow. it's rough! i know you go to the gym but maybe something social like a dance class or something would help? or even, going to a tanning salon to lay under the rays. i heard about people in seattle doing that- not for the tan but for the chance at feeling the "sun."

take care of you.

justacoolcat said...

Have you tried a light box? I know a few people with SAD and they swear by them. I think you can even get them prescribed.

skinnylittleblonde said...

You are soooooo not alone. Long before they came up with the term S.A.D., people were getting sad in the winter. The days are shorter & colder, allowing us less time to get some stuff done & thus creating thsi sense of not accomplishing things we should.
I think I was about your age when I first started noticing what a negative impact it had on my spirit.

Some rough winters, I too, will go to a tanning bed ... not to tan, but to feel the warmth & boost my vitamin D levels. I would love to have a 'light box'

Since I love fires, I have found thta living someplace that has a fireplace is great for my winter blues. It keeps me toasty warm, is pleasing to the eyes & just makes me feel better.

P&L to You!!!
You are NOT alone!

Bre said...

For me, winter put a big ole "HALT" on my "run, all the time!" plan, and I think the lack of structure has made me crankier.

In general I just feel like something is missing and I'm thinking it just might be sunshine.

I hope you feel better soon!

Dawn said...

You need sun! I'm praying for sun for you!

Josh said...

Sounds like you need a Bahamavention!

Anonymous said...

A trip to STJ would probably help! :)

Joe said...

SAD? Yikes. I think I get that every winter. Here in Vancouver it seems like it starts raining on November 1st and doesn't stop until the beginning of May. It's ALWAYS dark and grey. But I manage to make it through. You will too. The good news is, all the famous groundhogs predicted an early spring today.