What It's Like to Live With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Even though I live in the south, winters can be brutal on my body, mental health and self-image. I have finally come to terms with the fact I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a disorder that saps my energy and mood, beginning with the weather changes in fall and into winter. When my friends and family ask me to attend any events in the winter and I refuse to go, it’s not because I am antisocial; it’s because my body is aching, my mind is foggy and I am tired. SAD does this to me every year, even after light therapy and changes in my diet.

My body feels heavy, bloated, and I lose all feeling in my hands and legs throughout the day. My feet hurt and are frozen most days. I pile my body inside comforters, blankets and soft pillows for relief. Most days, I sleep until noon, making it impossible to be productive on my full-time job. I crave sunlight; however, I am much too tired and sick to go for my usual walk and when I do, I am unable to walk very far. My mood with SAD leaves me in a perpetual fog. It’s akin to having a heavy, dim cloud follow you around every day, weighing on your back. Even though I try to have a healthy diet, my body craves carbohydrates and fats, and it’s all I can do to just grab something hot and easy to prepare. The pain, extreme fatigue and lack of energy cause winter weight gain and my body feels like a zombie for much of the winter months. Having SAD makes me guilty and I feel lonely from the isolation.

So, why don’t I smile in the winter? It’s because I am melancholy, and SAD lives up to its name. There are times when the weather is extremely cold and if I bear to brave going outside, I sit in my car with the heat blaring for hours, unable to walk inside stores or work. I fear I won’t be able to make my way in the world and that people will think I am lazy. As of yet, I haven’t been able to rearrange my life to fit into the will of the disorder, although the disorder takes over any will I have to be creative. For many months, I thought my light therapy was working, but after a while, I noticed even if I got out of bed after a few hours, I was back into the sunken place of depression and zapped with body pain.

Sometimes, the sadness is so pervasive I can’t even cry. I find myself humming underneath the blankets with my pillow over my head in an attempt to put all noise and unnatural light out of my way. The underlying effects of the depression I face when the sun goes away is brutal and affect all areas of my life. I just want to stay at in a warm house with the heater in my face, under a blanket, because it hurts to move, to think, to smile and be happy. I have spoken with my counselor and doctors. I have tried homeopathic remedies such as cutting sugar out and using various teas to enhance antioxidants in my body, along with antidepressants, which only have given temporary relief.

What I wish others understood about SAD is that it’s a real disorder, and it takes a real effort to move and be a part of society when I am experiencing the symptoms in bulk. Also, I am not mean or attempting to be aloof; I really can’t think or make myself be productive. It’s a disorder that keeps me from being me — the me I am able to be during spring and summer. However, I am not giving up on learning new ways to best cope, and I remain open to any support that can be found so I can thrive during the cold and darkness of fall and winter.

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