Monday, March 1, 2010


I survived February!  

I can still remember the very first battle I had with the dreary month.
I was in 4th grade, sitting on the school bus and I thought
"Yuck! I hate February!"

Now many years later and a lot more education, I have realized that it isn't necessarily February that I struggle with but with Seasonal Affect Disorder or SAD.  As a therapist, I feel it is my responsibility to talk about this openly, although therapist or not, I tend to talk openly about almost anything anyways.
So what is SAD?

For me, it usually starts with a small gray cloud hovering over me in late November.  That cloud gets bigger, darker and heavier until in Febraury I feel it's weight resting on my shoulders. The cloud and it's weight starts to zap my energy and I sleep a lot more and struggle more to get out of bed. It makes everything rather gray and 'blah', even things that I enjoy. I will plan to do fun things like blogging, crafting etc...but just don't. Then I start feeling guilty about wasting my day and being so lazy which isn't motivating at all and just feeds the cloud. By February there is a knot in my stomach that makes me feel worse which feeds the cloud.  Can you see the vicious cycle and pattern SAD feeds on?

But one of the nastiest and cruelest symptons is SAD can cause you to believe that your not ill or struggling with a sickness but there is something inherently wrong with you, at your core.  So instead of getting help or trying to prevent, treat and cure SAD like I would if I had a cold or had cancer...  I thought thoughts such as "I should be able to do these things.  Everyone else seems to be doing them and doing them well.  How come it's so hard for me?  I must be stupid, lazy, unmotivated etc... I don't connect with other people. I must not be very likable. There must be something wrong with me."

Although many of the symptoms and causes for SAD are similar to Major Depression, they are different.  Lucky me, I have also fought an episode of Major Depression but I'll save that for a different post. SAD is predominately a vitaman deficiency, often Vitamin D because we are not exposed to as much sunlight in the winter.

Now after years of struggling with SAD, I have found many things that have helped me prevent SAD or lessen the symptoms. In early November, if I'm not already taking my vitamins regularly I start doing so. At some point when I feel gray consistently for several days I will start taking the herbal supplement St. John's Wort regularly.  The supplement seems to help me some but it may not help everyone.

I try to get as much light and sun as possible and expose my skin to it.  I do this by napping in the sun with my sleeves pushed up and my face uncovered. Also, there are special lights specifically to treat SAD and have been shown to be more effective for SAD than antidepressants. When I haven't been able to afford the SAD lights (because they can be expensive although with a prescription some insurances will cover them), I have at times slathered on the sunscreen and gone tanning.  It really does work for me although I don't recommend this professionally.  I don't want to be responsible for alleviating your SAD symptoms but then having you get cancer instead.

Then there is changing or balancing my thoughts.  By balancing, I mean making sure I'm not feeding myself and the cloud more negative thoughts than positive.  Also, making sure I don't believe or give more power to the negative thoughts than I do to the positive ones.  In therapy, we call this Automatic Thoughts and there is a good chapter about this technique in the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.  (Personal note: I don't really like the book as a whole because it's patronizing, discounting and rather cold... but the chapter on Automatic Thoughts is really good).
 Then there are the 3 sisters of good health: exercise, good sleep habits, and eating healthy. Sigh, why does it always come back to these?  But they really do help. Now when I start feeling the cloud getting heavy or the knot in my stomach is growing if I exercise it makes a world of difference!!!  I try to go to bed earlier instead of staying up late and try to get up early (the sun in the morning is supposed to be more beneficial to you than later in the day).  Eating green veggies is supposed to be the best for SAD, but I'm still working on making that a consistent habit.

Last but not least, I talk to my therapist and/or doctor.  Not always every year and sometimes I don't need more than a few sessions but it is truly helpful!  Please don't think this post can substitute talking to a professional.

In general, I did pretty good and felt pretty good this year but I'm still really glad February is over and in a couple of months I will be feeling 100% like my usual self.  I hope this post helps some of you!

Enough of this SAD are some fun pics from Feb.
Child Prodigy

Usual sleeping position

Enjoying the heat wave.

Thrill Seeker: She loves going fast, high and upside-down.


  1. Thanks for writing about this, I have always tried to blame the horrible person that I become in the winter on SAD, but I didn't know much about it. I usually convince myself that I'm just making excuses for being lazy and unreliable and horrible, but maybe I just need to take some vitamins and get out in the sunshine! I certainly can't wait for spring to get here...

  2. Aurora has such beautiful long hair!!

  3. That is very interesting, thanks for sharing. Now I know why I'm so moody in the winter!

  4. Thanks for sharing Esther, I have had a really bad day today and have been feeling sorry for myself, but this helped put things in perspective.

    Also, I love Aurora in her sunglasses. So cute!

  5. This really is so interesting, I remember talking to you about this one time in Kentucky when we went to lunch after institute. I have to think everybody gets a case of this during the winter time. I am sure some more severe than others, but it really is so hard to feel cheerful and optimistic in the dreary winter months. A great post, I am glad you wrote this.

  6. Just out of curiosity, are women more prone to SAD or is it not gender related? This is good stuff to know about. Thanks for posting!

  7. Esther
    How are you doing? Aurora is such a doll.
    Could you send my your address? Thanks, Mandy

  8. I forgot my email it is