The Growing Darkness
Like some of you, there were many years when I could not enjoy the entirety of autumn due to my dread of winter. By Thanksgiving, I often felt the weight of depression descending upon me. With the shorter days came darker moods and darker thoughts.
At that time, during the holidays, there was usually turmoil surrounding my extended family, (Can I hear an Amen?) Therefore, my inner dread increased as the season approached. It was difficult to navigate the joy with my children – playing in the leaves, their activities surrounding Thanksgiving and our own faith traditions at Christmas – with the growing darkness I felt inside.
I’m confident many of you can relate.
One year the darkness became unbearable. I contemplated suicide. My husband insisted that it was time to seek help.
That’s when I learned about SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is depression that is more than the winter blues. It usually starts in the fall, worsens in winter, and gets better in spring…every year. Depending on where you live, it’s normal for us to feel emotionally less motivated in winter months due to the cold. Being restricted from outside activities doesn’t help.
But SAD is more than that. SAD is a form of depression. And depression needs clinical treatment to help us through the difficulties of this season in life.
What is SAD?
Researchers tell us that approximately 5% of the adult population experiences SAD. Unfortunately, ladies, of that 5%, 75% are women, although scientists don’t know why. It usually begins in young adulthood and increases with age.
SAD can also be hereditary. It is more common in people who have relatives who had other mental illnesses such as major depression. However, keep in mind, those who seek treatment usually see improvement within weeks. There is no need to continue suffering all winter, every winter.
Furthermore, a third strike against people with SAD is that their bodies don’t make enough Vitamin D, which is believed to promote serotonin activity.
How Do You Know You Have It?
SAD is a type of depression; therefore, the symptoms are the same as those of major depression, plus a few added on. Let’s look at the following:
- Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain
- Extreme fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate
- Limbs feeling heavy
- Loss of interest in usual activities, including withdrawing from social activities
- Sleeping more
- Thoughts of death or suicide
People who have winter SAD may experience:
- Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
- Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)
If you are experiencing four or more of these symptoms, and have been every day for 2 weeks or more, please tell someone who loves you. Then, I urge you to seek professional help.
It doesn’t mean you are weak. It simply means your brain works in a different way for reasons no one completely understands. However, no one is destined to misery. Help is always available.
If you feel suicidal, please call 1- 800-273-8255. Someone will answer 24 hours a day.
Treatments For SAD
Not surprisingly, light therapy has been the main treatment for SAD since the 1980’s. The idea, of course, is to replace the missing natural daylight with an artificial light. The person sits in front of a light box, which is 200x brighter than normal indoor lighting, for 30 to 45 minutes each morning during the shorter, darker days of fall and winter. Consequently, researchers believe it is effective in changing the brain chemistry in SAD sufferers.
A second treatment approach is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In a nutshell, this type of therapy teaches people how to replace negative thoughts with more positive or realistic ones. Moreover, there are now CBT-SAD therapy groups that assist people with SAD to change their thinking toward winter and the perceived hardships they equate with the season.
Furthermore, I read the Psalms daily. They were a different brand of CBT.
A Place of Refuge
Shelter or protection from danger, trouble, etc.: to take refuge from a storm. a place of shelter, protection, or safety. anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief, or escape.
Throughout the years, as I battled with depression – primarily SAD, God was a refuge for me. Initially, it was difficult to understand what was happening to me. Therefore, it was equally challenging to attempt to explain to anyone else what I was feeling.
But I could talk to God. Psalms were my songs in the night. I journaled what was in my heart and God met me there. He comforted me when no one else could.
In Psalm 27, the Lord promises to hide us in the time of trouble. He will hide us in the secret place of His tabernacle. How wise of our Lord – to know the depressed mind and our longing to isolate and hide. He invites us to hide in Him and find rest for our souls.
Proverbs 18:10 echoes the same assurance to us: The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe. That word picture is powerful to me; I pray it is for you, too.
Finally, sisters, I could take you to Isaiah 25:4, or Psalms 31:20, 71:3 or 91:1-2. However, the entire Bible bears out the faithfulness of God to us. He is our refuge in times of trouble. Any of us who have faced SAD or depression at all know the challenges it presents. We need a faithful refuge while we heal. God is our loving refuge who provides our ultimate healing.
Trust Him. He didn’t fail me. He won’t fail you.
In case you didn’t know:
As a former mental health professional, I offer online mental health coaching with the assistance of Zoom. If you would like to contact me for this purpose, I have included that capability with this blog post. There is a modest fee.
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