I spent half the night awake. My nose was blocked and snotty, the cat was crying and the rain was hammering against the window, so it was an absolute joy to wake up to, well, more rain, dark skies and absolute hellish weather.
I hate October because with all the dark mornings and rank weather comes SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.
It’s no coincidence that when I was first diagnosed with depression it was on a freezing cold December evening. I’d struggled for the past two months with low moods, zero energy, anxiety, hair loss and a lack of interest to do anything – I’d taken myself off to bed at 8pm at my own Christmas party and left the guests to drink mulled wine and eat mince pies without me.
For me, this start of colder weather signals the likelihood of a flare up. Whilst I’ve been off anti-depressants for a good few months now, I know that for me, the hardest struggle will be battling through to Christmas.
Most commonly December, January and February are the worst months for sufferers of ‘the winter blues’, for me it’s earlier. It starts to creep on me in early October once the rush of my birthday and an Indian Summer have passed, and seems to become less apparent in the weeks before Christmas.
I have suffered with the delightful perks of winter depression since I was a teenager, although was only really aware of it that ghastly December of 2012. I can even remember publicly declaring that October and November were the worst months EVER in a Myspace Bulletin from my bedroom whilst in year 11. Good one, Hannah, you absolute laugh.
The thing with SAD is, it’s more than three times more common in woman than men, and is most apparent in people aged 18-30, which makes young women the most likely culprit.
Up to 20% of the UK suffer on some level from the winter blues, and for the majority of those it’ll probably be noticeable grogginess, a desperate need to stay in bed and well, a bit of a grump, for two per cent, it’ll mean a stint of serious depression.
What does serious depression look like? For me, I never actually wanted to kill myself. I just felt numb, this emptiness inside me combined with every thought under the sun crashing in my head – feelings of constant guilt, feeling sick, spontaneous tears, this indescribable lack of being able to concentrate on anything. All I ever wanted to do was sit and stare. Sitting and staring feels like the best thing when you have depression, the easiest thing. No music, no TV, no people, just silence as you stare.
Sometimes i’d stay in bed and just stare at the wall and sometimes i’d take myself off to the beach and just stare at the sea. Staring was everything.
You have this fear that everyone is watching you and getting annoyed with you, that everyone thinks you’re making it up, that you are ruining everyone else’s time, that you are the worst.
And if you’re on your own then you’re not annoying anyone, you’re not subjecting yourself to scrutiny, you’re not bringing additional anxiety into your life.
It’s weird to think that a simple change in temperature and amount of light we have can change so much in your mind, and push you into the depths of a mental illness, but it’s all to do with hormones.
Sunlight produces certain hormones in our brains that control things like mood, sleep and appetite. Without high enough levels of those hormones we feel groggy and low. Some people are able to regulate their levels and won’t suffer from SAD symptoms, but some people can’t and will fall into a state of depression, whether mild or severe.
It’s also likely to run in families. So, although I always ignored my mum’s demands that she has SAD and I had it too when I was younger, she was probably right. I’m under no doubt that those already susceptible to mental illness are at higher risk, and are more likely to develop seasonal affective disorder (here’s a link to Mind, for more info) , because I see it as a catalyst – something that worsens symptoms that are underlying or already be present to some degree.
So, what can we do if there’s this gigantic mental storm brewing that we can do nothing about?
We prepare ourselves.
I’m lucky, i’ve got myself into a situation professionally which means i’m able to get the sleep I need every night. And that’s not the 7-8 recommended sleep, that’s the 10 hours sleep a night my body needs to feel right, especially in winter. I light candles, keep flowers, and allow time out to do things like read, cuddle up with a blanket and cook – time to let my brain feel at peace, feel good.
I’m thinking about investing in a light box too – a ‘natural light’ that can help regulate your sleep pattern and wake you up with sunlight rather than dreary dark skies, and also be kept on your desk so you’ve got constant sun exposure to help those pesky hormones.
I’m also sat facing a window as I type this, so that even if it’s grey, there’s still a brightness from the sky shining onto me which can only be doing good things, right?
More than anything, I’ve become aware of early warning signs and i’m not afraid of asking for help, so I feel confident that this winter I won’t be posting lame comments on social media for you all to cringe at (sorry Myspace friends).
And also, it’s a 20-minute drive to the beach from where I live now, and that seems like an awful lot of petrol money to spend on staring….