coping with seasonal affective disorder

black girl with afro lying down

When Doing OK is Good Enough

During my most recent depressive episode, one of my hobbies involved sitting in front of a window on a rainy day while listening to a sad song, which forced me to confront how horrible and worthless I felt. Inevitably, the tears would flow and I’d trick myself into accepting this activity as a healthy form of purging and not at all as self-destructive as it sounds. Facing emotions head on and then releasing them by crying were both actions frequently touted as mature forms of *doing the work*, *self-care* or other trendy buzzwords used to describe the act of dealing with one’s shit.  But now that I’m treating my depression with medication, I have zero interest in wallowing. And as a recovering pity party addict, it’s honestly the weirdest shit I’ve ever experienced.

The day I sat down to write this post, it was rainy and cold, which to me, is the most loathsome weather ever. Sure, I can wear all the cute BCBG sweaters I bought during an(other) emotional shopping trip, but aside from that, this gloomy season has routinely exacerbated my depression for the past decade. I’ve generally dealt with seasonal depression by exercising, eating healthy and keeping myself busy, among other tools I’ve picked up along the way, but surprise – none of those efforts at saving myself from myself proved foolproof. When September arrived, I was already struggling to cope with personal issues, dwindling income, freelancer burnout and a bunch of other pain-in-the-ass life events, and then, it happened: I started to feel that unwelcome familiar presence creeping in on me. By the time my birthday rolled around in October, I was a full-fledged disheveled mess, the upkeep of my house, my interest in working and socializing, my hygiene, my daily workouts and my will to live all completely abandoned and polluting the atmosphere like the pile of dirty dishes in my kitchen sink.

Two days after my birthday, I picked my sister up from the airport at 7:30 am and immediately pointed out how clean my car was, hoping it would help to distract from the fact that my house was in total disarray. The night before her arrival, I only managed three hours of sleep because depression maintains a white-knuckled grip on insomnia, much like a possessive kid clings to a beloved toy.

Ultimately, her candid assessment of my crumbling mental state and all the emotional shit that went down during her visit forced me to deal with the fact that I needed more help than workout routines and NutrilBullet shakes could offer. I laid all my issues out during my first psychiatrist visit and walked away with a prescription that I regarded as a potential life changer.

And so far, it hasn’t disappointed. I started a full-time job after freelancing for four years, something I had great anxiety over due to the possibility of re-entering a toxic work environment. But with a healthier mindset, I’m able to embrace it as a steady paycheck and a form of much-needed social interaction that I lacked when typing out articles in solitude was my sole revenue stream. My house isn’t spotless, but I attend to it more closely; I’m back to prioritizing hygiene and I’m utterly grateful that I let go of my anti-medication attitude because it’s held me back from mental stability for far too long.

This isn’t an attempt to convince anyone that medication is the route to go, or that things in my life are picture perfect thanks to a daily pill because that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, today is another gloomy, wet day, the some of the same issues I had before are still around and to top it off, I’m sick as a dog – another horrible byproduct of starting a job outside of the home during this winter season.

After years of struggling to deal with overcast skies, brisk temps and rain-soaked streets, the fact that I’m alive and relatively OK is good enough for me. Sometimes, it just has to be.

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SAD

Battling the Blues: 7 Ways to Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Many people approach the fall and winter excitedly anticipating the start of cuffing season or finally being able to pair their sexiest knee-high boots with trendy Olivia Pope-inspired coats. Unfortunately, I’m not at all consumed by the notion of cozy, romantic jaunts or flaunting fashionable ensembles that shield my body from the plunging temperatures. Instead, I’m preoccupied with summoning an extra dose of self-compassion to safeguard myself against the toll that Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, has invariably taken on my mind, body and soul every year for the past five years. 

To put it bluntly, SAD is a relentless, punctual bastard who shows up annually on my doorstep, trifling and empty-handed as ever.


Before I became better acquainted with its effects, I mistakenly attributed my annual slump to the inconveniences that seasonal changes bring (because driving in sleet and snow is a b*tch), and I thought that maybe I was traumatized by the unfortunate experience of nursing my first broken heart in the dead of winter (because that is the loneliest of loneliness). Until I was officially diagnosed with depression, those were just two of the reasons I used to try and justify why I felt like the absolute worst version of myself once the seasons started to change.

In reality, SAD is a potentially life-threatening form of depression that is directly linked to changes in the season. According to Psychology Today, SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans, most of whom are women. While it commonly strikes during the fall and winter, reverse SAD can also take its toll during the summer months. Clearly, it’s not a joke, but neither is the way I handle it. So before seasonal sadness swoops in for its annual roundup, here are seven methods I use to cope with the effects of SAD:

Be proactive. I’ve never been much of a planner but dealing with SAD has forced me to seriously step up my game. Imagine if you threw an annual party and you already knew a particular individual showed up to each gathering like clockwork to act a damn fool. This isn’t Basketball Wives, so you wouldn’t stand around and watch the drama unfold, and thanking SAD for its services and dismissing it isn’t a viable option. Instead, I like to treat SAD like that person who only gained entry to the party because they name-dropped depression at the door. 


When it arrives, I already have a plan of attack: a list of methods that did/did not help me cope in years past, the names of people who’ve agreed in advance to support me when the going gets tough, as well as some cash set aside to finance extra date nights or a quick getaway with the hubby because getting out of the house is essential to my personal self-care routine, especially when I’m depressed.

Pinpoint your triggers and avoid them at all costs. Triggers include literally anything that could potentially offset your SADness. They could range from attending family gatherings where relatives you don’t like will be present, to getting all caught up in mushy holiday commercials that make you feel extra lonesome, not to mention broke. I’m not particularly fond of either activity, so I turn down the invites (anybody who doesn’t like it can stay mad) and I hit up Netflix so I can choose what the hell I watch on TV (eff yo’ sappy Black Friday propaganda).

Be vocal about your feelings. Like the total hater that it is, SAD thrives on isolation. The urge to physically and mentally burrow into a hole with your emotions can be overwhelming, but it’s super important to remain open with a trusted friend or relative, even if you feel like a burden. Depression layers a thick haze over my self-awareness and ability to think clearly, so I tend to use others to gauge my behavior. If I slightly detect that old familiar unsettled feeling, I have no problem asking my husband if there’s any disturbing patterns that he’s observed from me. Sometimes I think I’m OK when it’s clear to him that I’m not.

Watch your diet and ease up on the booze. I know, I know. The season to be jolly beckons, plus Beyoncé warned us to “never drop that alcohol.” But when it comes to SAD, consider coming up with a personalized, liquor-free remix to “7/11.”

Also, keep in mind that you feel what you eat. Overindulging in rich, sugary, fatty meals turn me into a sluggish, anxious mess, which only exacerbates the impact of SAD.  

Get active. To someone dealing with SAD, the word exercise sounds downright offensive. But the endorphins released during a workout are the real deal. They boost your mood and your ability to focus, which will help you think clearly and balanced, unlike the muddled, irrational thoughts depression wants you to accept as the truth. I recently enrolled in a Bikram yoga class that has done wonders for my anxiety in a short period of time, so it’s officially on my list of anti-SAD activities.

Write or vlog it out. Don’t be alarmed—these personal musings are not for the ‘Gram. They’re strictly to help you come face-to-face with your reality. So many people use the mirror solely to check their physical reflection, but they never bother to look past the surface. As horrifying as it sounds, I saved a video of myself from when I was really down and watched it back as soon as I recorded it. It was extremely sobering and almost felt like observing a stranger for whom I had an immense amount of compassion. And who am I kidding—it also made me cringe like hell. But in the end, it motivated me to do whatever I needed to do to stay afloat, because I never want to see myself in that condition again.

Seek therapy. We’re only a couple weeks into the fall, but I already have my therapist on deck because this time of year is when I need that extra bit of support the most. In December 2013, my seasonal mood swings became markedly more pronounced and a heated argument culminated in suicidal thoughts, which ultimately led to my roughest bout with depression to date. I’ve grown stronger since then, but relapses are always in the back of my mind. However, knowing that I have at least one go-to person who provides ego and judgment-free assistance helps me to keep SAD in check. If the thought of speaking to a stranger face-to-face makes you uneasy, consider reaching out to The National Prevention Suicide Lifeline, or Imalive.org, an online network of certified crisis intervention volunteers. In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week, don’t hesitate to research and secure resources that help you manage. Because #Iamstigmafree, I realize that my struggle is way too real to go unaddressed because a misguided, uninformed segment of the population believes people with mental illnesses should suffer in silence.

The bottom line is I refuse to allow SAD to come barging into my party simply because my depression insists on handing out invites without my approval. I’m expecting it to arrive any day now. Meanwhile I’m busy hiding my good china, warning my other guests, and preparing myself for its impending foolishness. I may not be able to completely rid my life of the annual SAD visits, but I can make sure that it wipes its feet upon entry, and understands that while I might waver, I won’t back down from the fight of my life.

This post was published on xoNecole.

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