Tuesday, January 01, 2008

SAD on New Year's Day

While everyone else is doing thoughtful reflective New Year's posts, meditating on the last year, expressing hope for 2008, I am home trying my best not to flip out. I'll explain in a second.

The resolution that seems the most pertinent at the moment is that in the coming year, I want to do a better job of acknowledging and managing what is almost certainly Seasonal Affective Disorder. I'm even a little anxious to name it, since on the one hand, it's the sort of thing that can debilitate people in real ways, and I don't want to minimize that with my own issues, and on the other hand, it seems to be discussed as one of those diagnoses that pathologizes "normal behavior," and is therefore the territory of greedy drug companies, hypochondriacs, and bad doctors, not unlike the over-prescription of Ritalin to kids.

But I'm going to try to suck it up and call this thing real. When I was a kid, it was a known fact that my grades were going to suffer in the third marking period, the one that extended from January to March. As a young adult, I entered therapy for several short stints, almost always in February and March, and often felt silly going to therapy by mid April, when I was doing, frankly, fine. When SAD started getting press, I thought, "Yeah, I've probably got a mild problem with that," but I tended to just want to call it winter blues or something.

Two unsuccessful stints on the job market led to two particularly bad winters, but I blamed the depression then on the job market failure. But last winter, when ostensibly everything else was going well, I had one of the worst winters I've ever had in terms of mood. I'd wake up wanting to cry for virtually no reason, and had a really hard time getting a handle on general malaise, or occasionally, pretty serious bouts of anxiety.

I'm having one of those anxiety days right now.

There are a few things that help me stave off the worst of it: activity/ exercise, whatever sunlight I can get myself into, social contact, sufficient regular sleep, and keeping my workload under control. For the new year, I want to try to be a little more proactive about all of these things to see what I can do.

So today, I hit the elliptical machine we have downstairs for a bit, tried to get outside for a few minutes here and there, etc. I slept in as much as I could today, and have spent as much of my day as possible staying on my feet: cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, cleaning the guestroom. The only reason I'm blogging right now is that I'm sitting in front of my therapeutic blue light for 30 minutes.

But there are also obstacles. Being alone for an extended period is one of them, and wonderful as MLA was, I spent a lot of time on my own, and have returned to an empty house--I pick up Willow and the kids this evening.

The other obstacle, and lately this has been a doozy, is snow. N ow our weather here isn't really any worse than the midAtlantic weather I lived in all my life before coming here, but the hilly terrain makes snow a major menace, since it a) usually means the sun is lost behind a low, dense layer of cloud cover, b) it's hard to really get out and be active (since being cold seems to be another problem factor), and c) snow renders my precious sense of control fairly moot. It forces me to change plans, and when I do have to venture out to shovel it or drive in it, the insecure feeling it leaves me with unsettles me pretty badly. It's gotten bad enough that a trip to DC with friends last February, that had us driving in some fairly manageable snow (though DC sucks for dealing with snow), saw me freak out pretty badly one morning when everything, was, without doubt, going to be fine.

So it's starting to snow here, as it will for the next couple of days. And I've got to pick up Willow and the kids at 9:30 tonight, at an airport that 's about 75 minutes away via interstate when the weather's perfect. THIS is why I'm trying not to flip. I suspect I'll be fine as soon as everyone's in the house tomorrow, since the grocery shopping's done, and no one has to work tomorrow. We can call it a snow day, drink warm vanilla milk, tea or hot cocoa, eat well, maybe even take naps. But today, sitting (or even bustling) at home alone, dreading the trip to the airport, and playing out all sorts of terrible scenarios in my head, has me feeling like maybe this isn't the best way to do New Year's day.

So this year: Be proactive about my seasonal affective disorder. Set a regular gym schedule. Enjoy the fact that my new office has windows. Stay on top of the sleep schedule, which means among other things, consuming less alcohol on nights when we do drink. Keep my social calendar as busy as I can. Try to stay on top of grading (this is a biggie, apparently). Use the blue light every day. Drink lots of water, and probably less caffeine. And look forward to April with a big, wide open hope that a sunny day at 60 degrees will make many many things better. It seems to every year.

So the blue light just ended its 30 minutes of goodness, and there's work to be done. Time to wrap up this post and get back on my feet.

Happy New Year, all. Hope yours is starting off better than mine, though I'm confident that mine will not be this anxious for most of the year.


Lucy said...

I'm sorry you're having a rough start to the year. I hope knowing what the problem is helps and your plan to deal with it works.
Happy New Year!

undine said...

Sorry to hear about the SAD, but you're doing all the right things. A lot of people also feel a letdown post-MLA, too, which may be contributing.

Horace said...

The post-MLA thing is certainly true, since I did have a lot of social butterfly action (and I'm a classic extrovert). The day has gone better than I expected when I finished the post, despite the multiple delays for Willow's flight. But the snow tapering off for a bit helped, too.

Anonymous said...

while i don't know you, it sounds as if you really do have SAD and i'm not convinced that time on the elliptical machine is really going to get rid of this for you. it seems as if you're both denying it and using it in order to do the things you wish you did more of last year: going to the gym, socializing more and being on top of grades sound like new years resolutions, not ways of getting over a real problem. i think you should talk to a psychologist. i am guessing that they have ways of dealing with it that don't involve pills.

Horace said...

Actually, 8:03, exercise is exactly what my doctor suggested (little thing called endorphins), that and the blue light (a newer version of the lightbox they've been touting for years), which actually helped quite a bit today.

And if you've paid attention to my blog, you'd know that exercise is not "the things I wish I did more of last year," since I lost 20 pounds and have kept it off through the fall. I am quite happy with how much exercising I did, and am simply identifying it as a strategy that I know works, one I want to remind myself of for days I'm not feeling up to snuff.

And the social contact thing is something I've been discussing for years with a therapist.

So no, I'm not in denial, and no, these are not just convenient New Year's resolutions. They're strategies I've been using for weeks, and I really felt (for the reasons I mentioned above) like today was the first day this fall I've really needed to pull them out and use them deliberately.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, you have my deepest sympathies. My own anxiety/depression stem from other causes, but wherever they come from, the feelings suck. Best wishes to you!

natalie said...

Naming a thing always makes it more real, and helps you to realize that something needs to be done. Good for you. Sorry that the year was off to a somewhat rocky start, but glad that the whole family will be together before New Year's Day is over.

Bardiac said...

Winter is hard at best, but when you're really affected, it's way worse. Sounds like you've got good ideas for working on things, though. Exercise makes a huge difference for me, as does just getting outside. And your doctor's involved, so that's good too.

Here's wishing you and your family a really good new year.

jo(e) said...

February is always a really difficult month for me -- always has been -- and I'm sure a big part of it has to do with the fact that I live in a region of the country which gets lots of cloud cover, lots of snow, and very little sunshine in January and February. And years ago, I was in a traumatic car accident after hitting black ice, so I am terrified of winter driving on top of everything else.

Exercise outside is the one thing that really helps. I try to get outside for a walk every single day (using snowshoes when the snow is deep), and I spend at least one day a week at the ski slopes, so that I'm outside all day on that day.

And on days when we do get sun, and I'm home alone working, I take off my clothes and lie on a sunny patch of carpet in the sun.

Last year, I injured my knee at the end of January, which limited my outdoor activity, and that resulted in an incredibly miserable February. I am hoping this year will be better.

Rent Party said...

Today was like that for me. I think it's nice you seem to be able to say "it's one of those days" and leave it at that - I tend to beat up on myself for it! I'll take your example...