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S.A.D.


In this case those letters stand for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Basically the easiest way to explain this condition is an onset of depressive episodes as the weather turns to winter. There is no known reason as to why this happens, although there are a few possible explanations: upset sleep cycles because of the changing times the sun sets and/or a lack of certain vitamins that are produced by the sun, which people get less exposure to as winter comes on, as well as lower serotonin levels during the winter. According to Wikipedia, it is more common in northern countries–as high as possibly 20% in Ireland and about 9% in Alaska. Subsyndromal S.A.D. rates are even higher–an estimated 14.3% of the U.S. population (6.1% are full-blown) and 24.9% in Alaska.

I count myself among that 14.3%–I have (officially undiagnosed) subsyndromal S.A.D. It hits me first about the time I start school in the fall, and has for a couple years now. This condition often first manifests itself when a person is between the ages of 18 and 23, which is true in my case–I figure I was probably 19. It means that this time of year is the worst, at least in this part of the world–rainy, cloudy weather that lasts for days. It knocks my mood down terribly and means that I’m not awfully productive. When I’m at school I try to go do light therapy when I have a feeling that the next few days are going to stink–basically means that I go sit under a full-spectrum light for about twenty to thirty minutes and catch up on my reading and save my mental health.

This condition manifests itself in some odd ways. For me this usually includes a weight gain of about five pounds at the beginning of the school year, even when I have not changed my eating habits at all. This year was the first my weight held steady. It also means that I sleep a lot and never feel quite rested, so I’m always tired–this is worst in fall, but it means that I get into horrible sleep patterns in winter. I also crave carbohydrates like nobody’s business during this time of year–for most people with S.A.D. this means weight gain, but because otherwise my calorie levels are holding steady I often don’t gain too much weight in the winter. Although this year has surprised me, because I have lost weight this winter–I attribute it to eating healthier because I’m not eating cafeteria food and not nearly as much cheese and other dairy as previous years, but it could be a weird hormonal thing.

This also affects my relationships with other people. I try to make sure to tell the people who I am close to that my moods will change as summer progresses into fall and then winter–because they are the ones who will often take the brunt of my moods, so I like to give them a little warning. I try to be as social as I can, so others don’t think anything is wrong, and sometimes I manage to convince myself of that as well. In the winter much of the time my emotions fall on the negative side of things–sadness, annoyance, anger–much more frequently and easily than any other time. The depressive side of things means that I have a tendency to push people away during this time of year because I don’t want them to see this side of me–instead of drawing them close and asking for comfort.

It is common among sufferers of S.A.D. to have an almost manic period in the spring when the clouds lift and the sun comes back. We can become almost unsufferably happy, busy, and eager to change things up. This often combines itself in me with the lingering sadness from the winter, so I can seem almost bi-polar at times. The last couple years, around February, I get the urge to change things up–so I invite new people into my life and try to redefine old relationships–which ends up disastrously because I’m still not quite out of the depressive winter period. By about May I am truly out of the winter period–any relationships I form from then onwards have a tendency to stick pretty well, especially if they make it through February of the next year (I suppose; I’ve not actually had enough years to test this theory out). This is not just dating-style relationships, but friendships as well.

What I need to know at this time of year, from those close to me, is that I am loved/cared about and that I am secure in my relationship with them. What I need to tell those people at this time of year is that I care about/love them and I need to ask them to please stick with me through the dark winter months, because in the spring they will see a happier side of me again.

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