The Season of Sadness
By: Leslie Bailey
I should have seen it coming.
The constant exhaustion, the extra glasses of wine, the forgetfulness and restless sleep. At first, it's every few days, but then suddenly, it's falling down the slippery slope until I only want to lie in bed and stare with hot tears burning my eyes at the crack just beyond the ceiling fan blades
I'm one of the millions of Americans who suffer from anxiety and depression. And like many Hoosiers, I'm feeling the winter blues in a major way. I don't usually take the weather into consideration when it comes to my mental health (I cherish a good thunderstorm), but I can't help but think that the constant extreme-cold temps and gray skies are taking their toll.
"Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real," said Stephen McCaffrey, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Indiana. "It's not whimsical or to be ignored."
SAD is considered a subtype of depression. The diagnosis can give mental health professionals and physicians a better idea of a person's condition and the best course of treatment.
If you've never experienced major or chronic depression or SAD, please understand, this is not a case of "It's so cold, I think I'll stay in and watch a movie instead of going out tonight" or "Woe is me, I haven't seen the sun in three days."
My boyfriend — once a non-believer — sat helpless as I cried my way through a breakfast skillet at Le Peep last weekend. He can assure you depression is real.
It's a feeling of absolute emptiness that makes your bones feel so heavy, a forklift couldn't get you out of bed. It's a deep sadness that usually comes with something like the loss of a loved one, not an average Tuesday night. It's an achy neck and irritable snaps, racing thoughts or no thoughts at all. It's exhausting.
Thankfully, there are things that help. Despite my resistance, medication has proven to be a crucial part of my treatment, as has regular yoga workouts and keeping an organized schedule. It can be different for everyone. For two years, my friend Shireen has been using a lamp that simulates sunlight to help her get through the winter months.
"I work indoors six days a week, so I don't get the vitamin D I so badly need," she said. "There's only so much help I can get from lamps and anti-depressants and exercise. At the end of the day, my depression is a chemical imbalance, but it definitely helps keep symptoms less extreme."
Like me, Shireen has been dealing with her depression long enough to see the signs in advance.
"I know I'm slipping when I see myself get grumpier. I can see the way my internal focus shifts. Everything is terrible, and nothing is OK. And the problem is, I can see these things happening. I know what's happening. I know where my brain is headed, but I can't stop it," she recently wrote on her blog.
For the 1 in 5 people who are at lifetime risk for depression (1 in 4 women), please take care of yourself this time of year. The extra effort to stay active and healthy and happy is worth it. For those who haven't experienced depression, please don't be dismissive, and take note if you see signs coming from the people you love.
Here's to sunnier days ahead for all of us.
Call Star reporter Leslie Bailey at (317) 444-6094
and follow her on Twitter: @Lesalina.