I had learned to dread the month of November.
For five years, while everyone around me was planning their holidays and enjoying the winter weather, I was mostly focused on surviving until the days grew longer.
For those five years, I wasn't struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)— I was drowning in it.
This disorder is characterized similarly to depression: feelings of hopelessness, despair, difficulty keeping up with daily responsibility, weird sleep habits, and a lack of motivation. What sets it apart from depression is the fact that it only lasts during the winter months, usually showing up right around the fall-time change, and gradually dissipates as the days grow longer and the weather gets warmer.
But experts believe SAD has little to do with the weather and is actually the result of your biological clock being out of sync with sunrise and sunset, and the shorter daylight hours.
The thing about SAD is that it's really very different from person to person. I can't really tell you what everyone who deals with SAD experiences, but I can tell you what the experience has been like for me.
My first experience took me completely off guard. I'd never heard of SAD and it took three long, hard winters before I was able to put a name to what was going on with me. I never experienced depression before either, but I was a freshman in college and was struggling to adjust to my new environment.
At first, I wrote it off as circumstantial. I was skipping classes and spending as much time as possible in bed while my roommate tip-toed around me for months. I felt restless, hopeless and bored, but I was completely unmotivated to do anything to change my situation.
In year two, right around the "fall back" time change, I started to notice the same pattern. By the third year, I'd learned what to call my seasonal depression and had learned to dread the month of November.
That was my worst year by far. I was newly married, and when I thought I should be living the happiest year of my life I was having trouble convincing myself to get out of bed in the morning. I'd lay on the couch in the evenings, crying to my new husband about how worthless I felt and wondering if I would feel this way for the rest of my life.
I wasn't until my fifth dark winter that things began to change. I made a new friend who understood what I was going through and offered me advice on how to make the winters a little easier. I discovered I had a vitamin D deficiency, and was able to take a supplement and spend as much time as possible in the sun.
I learned to predict the hard days, usually they were overcast, and reach out to my friends for support. I learned to eat plenty of healthy food, since high-nutrient food seemed to help me feel at least a little more energetic.
I'd go as far to say that I have my SAD under control and can say that it no longer controls me. I still dread the time change and I still struggle with purpose, motivation, and maintaining a positive attitude during the winter months. But learning to care for myself has made all the difference.
Finding support for hardest months of the year was exactly what I needed to make winter survivable again. Simply knowing I wasn't alone and knowing someone would say, "I get it," gave me to hope to keep my eyes fixed on the arrival of spring.