BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
A friend of mine came by my office one morning last week and held out her hand. In her palm were a couple little white pills.
“Want one?” she asked.
“It’s 9 a.m.,” I said.
She explained what they really were: Vitamin D. I shrugged and popped them both.
“Meh, it’s worth a shot,” I thought.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known, appropriately, as SAD) is a recurring form of depression that usually starts around this time of year, when the days start getting noticeably shorter, and generally lasts through the winter months.
In the fall and winter SAD sufferers typically experience depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, heavy arms and legs, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in once enjoyable activities, appetite changes (especially a craving for foods high in sugars and starches), weight gain and difficulty concentrating.
In the summer (yup, SAD strikes then too) it comes by way of anxiety, insomnia, irritability, agitation, weight loss and poor appetite.
And while I’m lucky I don’t suffer from that long list of symptoms in its entirety, I do know when I peek through the crack in my bedroom blinds in the morning and the sun’s rays come spilling through, I hop out of bed with a little extra pep in my step.
I also know the years I spent studying in Halifax – a city notorious for grey, cloudy weather – I’d wake up every day hoping that day would be just a touch less gloomy than the last. It never really was.
Here’s medical proof I’m not imagining it all:
Norman Rosenthal, the American psychiatrist who first described the condition in 1984, conducted a number of seasonal mood tests involving participants from different geographical latitudes and found the participants from Florida – “The Sunshine State” – passed the test with flying colours, while those from northern states like New York and New Hampshire didn’t fair nearly as well.
The good news is, according to Rosenthal, between 60 and 80 per cent of SAD sufferers benefit from photo (light) therapy since it helps stimulate the production of dopamine and helps suppress the production of melatonin – hormones hugely responsible for mood.
For me, light therapy is as simple as getting out for a walk or a snowshoe every couple days (I also benefit from the fresh air). For others, it’s all about fluorescent light therapy units (a friend of mine even has a pair of glasses that you slip on for light therapy on the go).
While I’m lucky I get to enjoy spending a good deal of work days out and about, I do grapple with those occasional stretches spent in my windowless, beige-coloured office, writing for hours on end. The days I crave light more than ever are the days I know I can’t have it.
I guess that’s when I’ll have to count on my friends to bring me a couple of those little white pills.
The winter blues are real. It’s too bad you can’t sing these ones away.