My husband suffers. My kids suffer. I suffer. We all suffer.
A little over six years ago, we moved from Michigan to North Carolina. People often laugh at my response when they ask why we moved but for us it was no laughing matter. We moved because my husband couldn't stand the mood swings that accompanied the cold, dreary months and in Michigan, cold and dreary describes about eight months out of the year.
I've always wondered if the absence of winter during my early years was a contributing factor to my SAD. I was born in Michigan but I only experienced one winter in my first eight years of life. We moved to Kentucky, where winters were very mild and then spent four years living in the tropical climate of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
I vividly remember our first winter back in the States. The gentle kiss of the sunshine dancing across my face, which had served as my morning wake-up call for as long as I could remember, was replaced with cold, dark silence. I remember blinking my eyes repeatedly thinking that if I blinked enough times, my eyes might eventually open to something other than pitch black.
This morning, I couldn't help but blink a few extra times, desperately wishing to see something other than black. I miss the sun peeking through my window as I take my first waking breath. I miss stepping outside and being hugged by the warmth of the thick summer air. I miss feeling alive.
As I watch the seasons change from fall to winter, I feel the life slowly draining from me. With each leaf that falls from the tree, I feel a piece of my soul starting to die. As the days shorten and the sun drifts farther away, I feel an emptiness inside begin to swell.
My husband suffers. My kids suffer. My friends suffer. I suffer. As the emptiness grows, its cold, hollow fingers reach up into my brain and flip a switch. I can feel it happening but there's nothing I can do to stop it. I become edgy and irritable. My anger fuse shortens to almost non-existent. It feels like a bad PMS wave that just won't go away.
My brain starts to fire differently than before. It spits out random thoughts that get stuck in my consciousness and play on repeat like a broken record. The thoughts keep me up at night and wake me early in the morning. I feel tired all day long and my muscles and joints being to ache. My tear ducts open and forget how to close.
I feel isolated and alone, even when I'm surrounded by a room full of people. The web that I've weaved, my connection to life, gets ripped apart and I start falling, flailing and grasping for air.
Since we moved six years ago, my SAD is much shorter than it used to be but it's still just as fierce. Daylight Savings serves as a cue that it's time for me to step up my treatment game.
Things that typically work to treat my anxiety and depression — such as stepping outside and breathing in the fresh air or sitting in the sun and feeling the warmth radiate my skin — aren't as readily available. But there are effective alternatives I've found that help.
Sunshine is my medicine; Vitamin D shifts my mood in a way that nothing else does. During winter months, I do what my doctor refers to as UV therapy (a tanning bed). A few doses each week helps lift my mood and breathes life back into me. I have to make an extra effort to stay connected with friends. My depression feeds off of isolation and loneliness so I have to ensure that I have human contact on a regular basis.
Art therapy, running my hands through kinetic sand, and having dance parties with my kids are also a must. Most evenings you will find us with the music blasting and kitchen utensils in hand, singing and dancing around the house. Another great outlet is baking; it helps me to feel alive. I enjoy creating, experimenting and indulging in the products of our creativity.
Yesterday, though, I was a SAD bitch. It's been cold and rainy here for days; I haven't felt the sun melt my skin in over a week. My kids have been sick and I haven't shared a connection with another human being. I was angry; I lost my temper. I felt cold and clammy from the unsettled nerves that were bouncing off my skin. I didn't sleep.
But today is a new day. Today, we dance.