WILLIAM RUTHERFORD: Symptoms of seasonal depression

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The fog steals the mountains of North Idaho as it lays heavy on the valley floor. Ten days of low visibility reminds me that autumn is passing and the cold, gray, short days of winter approach. Starting my car I wonder, do I need a raincoat? Unable to determine if there are rain clouds above the mist, I run back into my house and grab my heavy coat — I hate being cold.

Driving to work I wonder — feeling in an extremely low mood for lack of the beautifully blue sky of my hometown — how soon I might be able to go home and crawl into bed. Feeling like a huge black bear searching for a cave to hibernate in, I crave my fireplace, a warm blanket and a dark room. It is too early for these thoughts at 7 a.m. I mentally scream at myself, shake my head and resolve to change my negative attitude.

Arriving at work, I attempt to enter the building with my electronic key, which denies my access. I try again; red light. Frustrated, I throw down my coat to free one arm, swipe my card one more time, enter my code on the access pad and the keypad turns green unlocking the door. As I fumble to open the door with my cold fingers, I drop my ham and cheese sandwich on the ground, soiling my lunch. My attempt at adjusting my attitude is unsuccessful and I become increasingly grumpy.

Understanding the signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder, having treated numerous clients in therapy for the disorder, I begin to analyze myself. I refer to the information from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct my diagnosis.

According to NIMH, Seasonal Affective Disorder is not considered as a separate disorder. It is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern. To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least two years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.

Symptoms of major depression:

• Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

• Feeling hopeless or worthless

• Having low energy

• Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

• Having problems with sleep

• Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

• Feeling sluggish or agitated

• Having difficulty concentrating

• Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.

Symptoms of the winter pattern of SAD include:

• Having low energy

• Hypersomnia

• Overeating

• Weight gain

• Craving for carbohydrates

• Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

Do I have low energy? Yes. Feel sluggish or agitated? Yep. Feeling hopeless or worthless? No; I feel great hope and believe I have value. Have thoughts of death or suicide? Never! I love life and want to live into my 90s. This back and forth addressing each symptom quickly confirms my mental wellness while reminding me that sometimes a grumpy day is just a grumpy day.

My self-evaluation does not dismiss this disorder of many in our community. SAD can be debilitating and make participating in typical daily routines impossible. The key of this disorder is the diagnosis of a major depressive disorder. Major depression is different from feeling sad.

To highlight this difference, allow me to offer a conversation with one of my clients with SAD. When asked, “Tell me about how you’re feeling right now,” my client describes her feeling with no emotion, laboring to push enough air out of her lungs to speak while tears fall off her cheeks.

“I sit here looking at my beautiful daughter, barely able to muster the power to move, and I have absolutely no joy for this kid — I can’t laugh with her, I can’t smile at her, I wish I could die, but I have no strength to kill myself. Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to get home. Gathering the energy to pick up my daughter and open the door is too hard. Please help me.”

Do I have SAD, absolutely not, but many people living above 38 degrees longitude do. This disorder is real, debilitating, but with treatment can be managed effectively. If you are concerned with seasonal depression, please make an appointment with your family doctor. Your life might depend on it.

• • •

Send comments or other suggestions to William Rutherford at bprutherford@hotmail.com or visit pensiveparenting.com.

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