Vaughn Hardacker here: As I write this I am looking forward to setting the clock ahead one hour! I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (better known as Seasonal Depression) and this winter has been possibly the worst (defined as longest) that I can remember. We got our first snow on October 18 and, unlike most years, it stayed with us; add to that a cumulative snowfall of 152 inches (we are forecasted to get another five inches on Monday and Tuesday, March 11 & 12). Considering that we usually get snow through mid-April we could set a new all-time record
for cumulative snowfall.
For years I’ve been told that I suffer from S. A. D. but never really understood what it was. All I knew was that I hated winter (truth be told, I still do) and for many years made a point of never returning to Maine from November to June. In 2009 I returned rationalizing that snow and cold are only a problem if you have to go out in it–and as a retiree I could stay inside as much as I liked. I did not account for one thing . . . a phenomenon we call cabin fever.
I researched Seasonal Depression (S. A. D.) and here’s what I’ve learned
Seasonal depression is a mood disorder that happens every year at the same time. A rare form of seasonal depression, known as “summer depression,” begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall. In general, though, seasonal affective disorder starts in fall or winter and ends in spring or early summer.
While the exact causes of SAD are not known, some scientists think that certain hormones made deep in the brain trigger attitude-related changes at certain times of year. Experts believe that SAD may be related to these hormonal changes. One theory is that less sunlight during fall and winter leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical linked to brain pathways that regulate mood. When nerve cell pathways in the brain that regulate mood don’t function normally, the result can be feelings of depression, along with symptoms of fatigue and weight gain.
SAD usually starts in young adulthood and is more common in women than men. Some people with SAD have mild symptoms and feel out of sorts or irritable. Others have worse symptoms that interfere with relationships and work.
Because the lack of enough daylight during wintertime is related to SAD, it’s less often
found in countries where there’s plenty of sunshine year-round.
People with SAD have many of the normal warning signs of depression, including:
- Less energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Greater appetite
- Increased desire to be alone
- Greater need for sleep
- Weight gain
- Less appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
If you’ve been feeling depressed and have some of the above symptoms, see your doctor for an assessment. He or she will recommend the right form of treatment for you.
There are different treatments, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Traditional antidepressants are often used to treat seasonal depression. Bupropion XL (I use this, it was sold as an aid to quit smoking under the brandname Ziban) is currently the only medication that is FDA-approved specifically to prevent major depressive episodes in people with SAD.
Many doctors recommend that people with SAD get outside early in the morning to get more natural light. If this is impossible because of the dark winter months, antidepressant medications or light therapy (phototherapy. I have a special lamp provided by the VA and it does seem to help somewhat; however sunlight works best for me.) may help.
In closing, I’ve been at a number of writing events where people ask “Why are there so many writers in Maine?”. I’ve heard several writers say: “The winters are long.” I understand where these people are coming from, but if, like me, you suffer from S. A. D. you may find the winter months to be your least productive. It’s now half-past March and May is a mere six weeks (seems like months) away and finally I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!
By the way . . . anyone know of a place with Maine summers and Arizona winters?
I hear you! My energy level curls up in an underground den with hibernating bears. Thank heavens Beth talked me into doing aquatic exercises twice a week in a 90 degree pool. And don’t get me started on snowbanks! I swear every time I climb up and shovel the one on the left side of the driveway so we can see to back out without getting attached to the grill on a semi, we get more damn snow! BTW that photo of the snow coming through the porch railings could have been taken on ours.
I agree with the length of this winter. We didn’t get either our brush pile burned our our garden readied for winter. They have been snow covered since November and our porch looks just like yours. I try to make myself go for a walk outside where there is sunshine but this year the snow banks make that dangerous. I appreciate your sharing your experience and what has helped.
I tried light treatment and it helped somewhat, but what has been most effective for me is taking Vitamin D supplements. It has truly changed my life, almost completely alleviating my S.A.D. symptoms.