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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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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