By Stephanie Spillmann 10/21/17
Seasonal Affective Disorder is More Than Winter Blues
As the leaves make their final descent from the trees, my heart sinks and the familiar dread sets in. My glorious summer has come to an end, and the trees that I so adore are going into hibernation. I don’t think — no, I know I will never get used to the five months of winter we have in Colorado.
I am definitely one of those affected in some way by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). As the green and color in my world begins to fade and the daylight becomes more scarce, I struggle to keep my mood afloat. Ever since I was little, I’ve had a love affair with trees, flowers, and everything that grows outside.
Growing up in the South with 12 Dogwood trees and too many Azalea bushes to count in my backyard, it’s in my bones. Although things die back in the South when “winter” comes, there are still climbing roses cheerfully reaching towards the roof of my aunt’s classic stone house.
Winter is a relative term there, anyway. With an average low of 40 degrees, there are many types of trees, shrubs, and flowers that remain green and colorful. And then there’s Colorado. Although we don’t get piles of snow all winter in Denver like most may think, everything (except the pine and fir trees — which don’t count in my book) is gray and dead.
I was in shock in May 1995 when I could see from the plane the multitudes of “dead” trees — huge dead trees. I wondered what on earth was wrong with the trees here. They must have a disease. Silly me, the trees are all dead here in the wintertime. It would be years before I realized how hard this could be on a California girl who was born in Georgia.
What Exactly is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a specific type of depression that affects people seasonally, obviously. People who suffer from it most often are impacted by the winter, but some can be affected by spring and summer as well. Most can feel it coming on once fall is in full swing — that would be me.
It may be the shorter days and lack of sunlight that translates into lower levels of serotonin and melatonin which can cause sleep disruptions and mood changes. Serotonin is a brain chemical that provides essential neuro-communication within our brains. It is thought to have an affect on many things, including mood, appetite, depression, and many others. Medical News Today has a great article on serotonin, if you’d like to know more.
Not every case of seasonal affective disorder is serious, but you should watch for a few things to determine if you might need help. First of all, how do you know if you have it? If you’ve noticed a distinct downshift in your mood at a certain time of the year, and it’s following a pretty regular seasonal pattern, you may want to read more about it and talk to your doctor. Always find immediate help if you have feelings of severe depression, hopelessness, and/or wanting to harm yourself. For more in-depth information about SAD, this seasonal affective disorder article on the PSYCOM website is very helpful.
Oh Summer — Please Come Back
As October makes its appearance, I desperately wish for time to go backwards. Please don’t let the trees lose every bit of color and the grass turn its morose brown. My internal cries are always useless. This is Colorado, where we have real winters. My only saving grace is that our state gets around 250 truly sunny days per year. With this consistent sunlight, I do better than I would in a mostly gray winter location.
Let me be clear. I wish, with my whole being, that I could fully enjoy the fall here. It is truly glorious! Colorado has been called God’s country — and it truly, truly is. I have thousands of pictures of stunning scenery in every season over the past 22 years. It’s mostly as I’ve grown older, and I don’t have to maintain that “mommy” element of excitement for the changing seasons, that it’s become harder for me to handle.
As a mom of four girls, I didn’t have time to notice any particular feelings about seasons. I was too busy homeschooling and decorating our house for each new change in the year — every little happening and holiday. That’s what moms do. We live to make our little ones happy and to see the sparkle in their eyes with each new season.
My kids have always been lovers of fall and winter. It meant that birthdays and Halloween were coming — and Lord, let’s not forget Christmas. My favorite holiday is actually Thanksgiving. It gets no respect…Christmas comes the day after Halloween. That’s a rant for another time, however.
Winter meant pulling on snow pants, layers of clothes, boots, coats, and gloves, making snowmen, and finding the best hills to slide down. For me, it meant countless puddles on the floor and constantly taking on and off said layers when they needed to warm up. After 15 minutes, they’d want to bundle up and go back out.
Oh the dread of snow days. I know — that’s a sour attitude. But it’s a lot of work when they’re little and need help with everything. One winter, we did not get a winter at all (around 2004/2005?), and it was glorious. The girls were not happy one bit — we got no more than 2 -3 inches of snow that season.
Fall is Actually Here
… and Christmas is around the corner. I’ve always hated when people say that. It’s hard enough to adjust to the bleakness that’s coming. I don’t want to be thrust headlong into winter and Christmas before I’m ready to accept a world that’s void of color for the next five and a half months.
I am determined to find things to celebrate each month until April returns. Yes, in Colorado, all things point to April and May, though we sometimes get freak snowstorms on Mother’s Day. (This once happened 3 years in a row — pure evil!). October will be over soon, but November brings the joy of flying to San Diego, where my girls will meet us at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. The ocean will be a balm for my soul for those 12 days.
December will be a temporary break to my empty nest as my baby girl comes home from college for a month. One or two of my other girls may show up for a little visit also. I can’t wait. We’ll probably get a real tree this year, and the smell alone will boost my endorphins.
January and February will be all about growing these online businesses of mine, and taking a few finance courses. I’ll also be working on my German for our spring trip to Switzerland to visit my husband’s family. I’m determined to be able to converse a little bit this time. I’m already feeling better just thinking about my second trip to Europe. How did I get so lucky to marry this wonderful man whose family lives in Switzerland — glory!
By March, I’m already feeling better because I know that it’s a quick slide into April, warmer days, more sun, and the baby leaves that seem to magically appear overnight. Around this time, serious planning for our trip will be in full swing, and the excitement of that alone will pull me right out of my winter funk.
Read my related post: Perfect Gifts For Seasonal Depression Sufferers
If you feel like seasonal affective disorder describes your experience with winter (or other seasons), do some research and talk to someone. There is plenty of help out there for us. Make sure you don’t hibernate, even if you feel like it. And don’t ignore your feelings or symptoms if it starts interfering with your life.
This post is not meant as a substitute for medical help, and is for informational purposes only. Please seek professional and medical help if experience serious symptoms of depression or wanting to harm yourself!
I hope some of you will find this helpful. Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. It’s not shameful, and there are millions of people who are impacted by it. Let me know in the comments if there are things you find helpful if you are one who struggles.
Thanks for reading, and please Pin this so others can find encouragement also.