What It’s Like Having Seasonal Depression on Top of Regular Depression

NOTE: If you have noticed yourself thinking harmful or suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You are loved and cared about. Contact a friend, family member or other trusted person to talk with, and consider calling the National Suicide Pervention Life Line at 1-800-273-8255 for help 24 hours every day.

You know when you’re sad, so you listen to sad music just to feel sadder? That’s kind of what having seasonal affective disorder, or “SAD,” on top of normal depression is like. Obviously, everyone with depression experiences it a little differently, but as someone who takes medication to manage depression every day year-round, I know how much it can really suck to have extra dreariness and darkness during the colder months.

Without my medication, my “normal” depression has been practically unmanageable (meaning I’ve ended up in inpatient treatment) and I’ve been pretty damn miserable during any given month of the year. With it, I’m able to feel some sort of “normal” mood, or at least a more stable one. However, when November and December roll around, I find myself more and more in my head.

We all know how it goes. The days get shorter. It’s harder to get out of bed in the morning, maybe even harder to eat breakfast because of how weird it is for some of us to be up when it’s so dark out. This can put eating habits out of whack. The excess darkness and gloom is an easy and obvious mood-depressor and can affect way more than you might think. You might feel less motivated to participate in activities you are normally interested in, like school or extracurriculars.

If you deal with depression during other times of the year, SAD can make things feel even more intense, or, less so. You might also want to consider other possible risk factors for yourself, like family history, where you live (the farther you are from the equator, the higher the risk factor is), and having another mental health condition such as bipolar disorder.

If you do think you have SAD, you might notice a sort of numbness, serious lack of motivation just to get out of bed in the morning, or oversleeping. You might notice yourself moving a little slower, not having such a normal appetite, or even having physical changes such as weight gain or weight loss. Notice, especially, any increased agitation, difficulty concentrating, or feelings of hopelessness and/or guilt. These are all symptoms of SAD, according to Mayo Clinic.

It’s important to realize that depression of any kind is no joke and neither is SAD. Consider getting help particularly if you notice yourself withdrawing socially or performing poorly in school or work. It can be easy to spiral into depressive thoughts once any symptoms set in. Be aware of how you are feeling, and check in with yourself every morning and throughout the day to notice any changes in how you are feeling. What triggered those negative thoughts or behaviors? Is it possible you are feeling more sensitive to certain triggers because of the weather and time of year? If so, think about talking to your doctor about certain alternatives. Personally, I’ve tried a few for an extra boost during this time of year.

Several of my friends who experience SAD have tried and loved using a “happy light.” This is a sort of therapy lamp that you can get easily online from Amazon or other retailers. The idea is pretty simple: you’re experiencing a depressive episode due to the extra darkness, so add a little light. Brands like Verilux, Nature Bright and Philips design the therapy lamps that you can sit in front of to combat SAD. Verilux, for example, describes their light therapy as “a box that mimics daylight by providing full spectrum light without harmful UV rays,” according to their website. Medication is another option for treating SAD, and can be especially useful if the symptoms are severe. Talk to your doctor about this so they can help you find the right kind of medication that will work for you. They may tell you to stay on it past the winter months or have you start it a little bit before winter starts each year.

Psychotherapy is a great tool for coping with SAD, and works very well in combination with medication too. Talking to a professional can help you identify your negative patterns and learn healthy coping mechanisms to grow stronger and learn how to deal with SAD on your own as well as manage stress.

Some people might also prefer a mind-body connection approach to treating SAD, and use meditation to cope. This can be an excellent idea, as well as exercising daily, practicing yoga, or using art and music as a form of therapy. You can also play around with alternative medicines like essential oils, herbal remedies, and dietary supplements. You should still consider asking your doctor before using any sort of alternative medicine on yourself.

 

It’s good to fight back! You deserve happiness and the ability to accomplish whatever you want without depressive thoughts and feelings holding you back. Remember: you are not your mental condition. You are a whole human being with goals, friends, passions and a beautiful life to live. Treat yourself right!

 

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