How I Got Over Seasonal Mood Disorder

I woke up the other morning feeling happy to be happy. I got out of bed excited to start the day, and I did not take it for granted, because it hasn’t always been that way.

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Five years ago, I hit the darkest, lowest point I could imagine. I’d always found winter a bit hard – the short days and extra hours of darkness weighed heavily on me, but until that November, I’d never realized how much it could actually affect me.

Night after night, I would cry and tell Ben I just didn’t want to wake up the next morning and deal with another day. I had no energy, and everything seemed too overwhelming to deal with.

It all reached a climax one night right before Ben was leaving for a week to take a group of students on a missions trip. He felt horrible about leaving me alone with the girls in the condition I was in, and was trying to figure out what to do. He kept asking me things like, “Why are you dreading tomorrow morning so much? What is it that overwhelms you?”

I tried to explain to him how I was feeling – it was dark when I went to bed, dark when I woke up, and everything in me also felt dark. Every day was the same, every day was heavy, tiring, too much for me to bear. It was so dark and cold and depressing….and it went on and on.

I’m not sure how many times I used the word “dark” before Ben finally clued in to what was happening, but he finally said, “I think you have Seasonal Mood Disorder.” As soon as he said it, it seemed silly we’d never recognized it before. We read up on what to do about it, and Ben got himself to Costco as quick as he possibly could to buy a “happy light” for me.

Things didn’t improve overnight, but gradually I felt as though the weight was lifting, and that winter felt easier than it had in the past.

I made a lot of changes in my life over the next couple of years, and in December a few years ago, it suddenly hit me that I’d sail through November without even thinking about it. The happy light stayed in the closet, and I’d never thought of getting it out. I felt light, joyful, excited about Christmas coming, fully able to enjoy the season without any of the old sense of dread. If you’ve also been down to the depths, you can imagine how amazing it was to feel that way.

I think of this every November. When I hear other people talk about the struggle this time of year, I hurt for them, because I remember.

There’s a lot of information out there about how to deal with Seasonal Mood Disorder (here’s a good article to start with), but I also want to share what I did, with the hope that it might help somebody else who’s struggling with this time of year:

Happy Light

I can’t find the exact light we bought from Costco, but this one is similar. It’s easy to use – I would sit by it for about 30 minutes every morning, and I started noticing a difference within a few days.

Vitamin D

It’s recommended that anyone living in the northern hemisphere take vitamin D, but it’s especially helpful for anyone who struggles with winter. This is the vitamin D our whole family uses. It tastes great, and all of us can take it because it’s in drop form – one drop for Everett, three drops for the girls, and six drops for Ben and me.

Get outside

Going for a walk everyday is the cheapest therapy there is, but it’s not the easiest when it’s cold and windy! Fortunately, this has been the most beautiful fall weather, so I’m trying to take advantage of it!

I always knew exercise was important, but I was still surprised to learn that getting outside for daily exercise can be as helpful as taking antidepressants. We talked about getting a treadmill last winter, but in the end, I bought myself a really good pair of winter boots instead! I bundled up every single day, no matter how cold it was, and got myself out the door. I noticed that missing my walk for too many days in a row affected my sleep and energy levels quite significantly.

Balance Your Hormones

This was huge for me. I noticed a big improvement in how I felt after our family started seeing an herbalist. He was able to figure out exactly what was imbalanced in my body, and recommended what supplements to take in order to get my mood, energy levels, and hormones back into balance. I know some people feel weird about going to see naturopaths or other alternative health practitioners, and when you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, getting yourself out the door to an appointment seems way too hard. I get that. There are options that can be sent right to your door, if you want the easiest method possible. I’ve tried a lot of stuff, so let me know if you want to hear about more options.

Find the spiritual connection

During his popular years, Rob Bell once said, “Everything is spiritual.” We are complete beings, and the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual are all connected.

This gets tricky, though, because it led to feeling like I was a “bad” Christian because I couldn’t beat my depression. I cried and prayed and hung onto Jesus in every way I knew how, but in the end, there remained a physical aspect that needed to be taken care of.

Having said that, there is a spiritual aspect which continues to help me every fall. While reading the book Naked Spirituality a few years ago, I was introduced to a completely different way of viewing fall. I always used to see November as such a dark, dreary, ugly time of year – the scenery depressed me almost as much as the shorter days.

But as I read that book, the author talked about how each season relates to a spiritual season of life – we have the vibrant, exciting time of new growth in spring, and the rich, productive time in summer when we can watch the fruit growing. But after harvest happens, we enter a time of rest. I used to see it as a dry, dead time, but Naked Spirituality views it as a time of quiet, tranquility, and drawing close to God. We can stop working and striving, and just rest in His presence. The trees are stripped of their leaves, and they are beautiful in their stark nakedness, pointing to heaven. I think of it every time I go outside, and it reminds me that this time can be beautiful and restful, instead of dark and dismal. It can be a time of snuggling under blankets while I do my devotions in the quiet, dark mornings. I see the sun coming up, and am reminded there is still so much light.

I keep hanging onto that. God is calling me to rest and refreshment so that when spring comes, I will be ready for a new season of vigorous growth.

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There is no easy answer for this delicate balance of emotions and physical limitations. I don’t think there’s a quick fix, either – at least I wasn’t able to find it. But there was still a lot of goodness, beauty, and hope, and some helpful little tools along the way.

Let me know if you have any questions, or if you just need to hear some reassurance that change is possible!

 

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The Season of Nothing

Anika was looking out the window yesterday at the rather dreary view, and said, “There’s nothing on the trees, and nothing falling from the sky, and nothing pretty. It’s the Season of Nothing.”

I agree with her. I love every season, except late fall.

Early fall is fantastic. I feel light and joyous in early fall. But late fall does me in each year.

Especially last year. Last fall, I crashed – physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, I ran into a brick wall, and there I stuck.

Time-change happened, and it was as though someone flicked the switch off in my life, and everything went dark. It sucked, and then I wrote this post about it.

There were a number of reasons for it – the isolation of being at camp in winter, the lack of sunshine in the dark little house we were living in at that time, Ben being gone on a 10-day missions trip right during my weakest stretch, the stress of trying to decide if we were going to leave camp.

Oh, what a dark, horrible time. I look at that list, and I still almost want to just curl up in the fetal position.

It was not a good fall for me.

But someone in their sheer brilliance once decided that Christmas should be in December, right after the Season of Nothing, and thus I was saved.

My parents showed further wisdom when they said, “Come stay with us in sunny Florida for three weeks while Ben is gone on another missions trip in January.”

After those three weeks of Florida sunshine, and a happy reunion with Ben, I was ready to handle life again. Spring was on the way.

And it certainly didn’t hurt to be planning our new home – I was dreaming a light, bright, open, airy dream, and before I knew it, spring arrived.

In spring and summer, it’s hard to believe a lack of sunshine could make me so crazy. And it’s a breeze for me to get through early fall, in all its brightness of orange and yellow leaves.

But when that nasty wind blew all the leaves off the trees a week ago, and ushered in “Ugly Fall”, I could feel myself slipping. November is coming!

I felt fear coming right along with November’s approach. I also felt dread – I was scared to go back to that place!

So the other day, I decided I just wouldn’t go back there. I will not let this fall be dark.

This is not last year. New year, new approach.

I am telling you now that November will not get me down without a very big fight this year.

Fortunately, there are a whole bunch of things which can be done to help with the winter blues. Last winter, I discovered a few things which were very helpful for me:

1. Using a happy light. We bought a blue light from Costco last fall, but I’ll have to do more research on it, as I’ve since heard that blue lights can do damage to the eyes, and it’s best to use a fluorescent happy light.

2. Getting outside. Every single day, no matter what the weather.

3. Being with people. Fortunately, living in Niverville will make this winter a lot more social for me. It’s hard to get used to the busy schedule we have in comparison to the pace we lived at camp, but I think it will really help me to get over my November slump.

4. Lots of lights and color.The Christmas decorations are going up early this year! Ben doesn’t like early Christmas decorations, but he actually brought up the topic of outdoor Christmas lights on his own the other day. I think he’s desperate to do anything that will help me cheer up for the month of November, and avoid a repeat of last year!

I need something to anticipate. I need something bright, warm, and exciting.

I think I’ll go candle shopping….

Much to my delight, one of my favorite health blogs posted a wonderful list of ways to deal with winter blues, so I will be trying a number of new ideas this winter, as well. I’ll let you know which ones work well! Except for #6 on the list. If #6 works well, you won’t be hearing about it from me. We don’t talk about stuff like that on this blog.

And now I’ll go paint some leaves with my girls, or buy more pumpkins, or find some way of getting some color and excitement into this gray, rainy day.

Any good ideas out there for getting through the Season of Nothing?