We didn’t see it coming. We moved to Lawrence in December of 2000 from Manhattan Beach, Calif. (We know that makes us suspect for many reasons …however, that’s for another column). We survived that winter (and it seems to have been the worst winter during our nine years here) without even a whimper. We thought we had the winter thing down. Then something strange happened about October 2001. Somebody turned out the lights on Ed.
Why did it seem so dark? Ed had seen darkness in Manhattan Beach. A Southern Californian’s ego may rarely set; however, the California sun certainly does. Why did it seem that the sun set in Lawrence and didn’t rise again? Sure, Ed is a UCLA fan in KU country, but UCLA still had a good team then. October should not have been that troubling. However, the darkness seemed to settle into his psyche. It was as if his brain couldn’t see the light anymore. By November Ed was Prozac-seeking. Ed had spent most of his life in California, and now, living in Kansas, he was subjected to winter seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
What is so disturbing about SAD is its initial subtle relentlessness, slowly meandering through your experience, not really revealing its true destination. It seems to start with an experience of emotional discomfort, then downright edginess, followed by a strong desire to tear something apart, and then, in its worst manifestation, near incapacitation. As a client of ours once said, “It is almost as if internally you start mirroring the external darkness. And there seems there is no way out.”
We offer here what has worked for Ed and many of our clients. Please note: Medication is an obvious option; however, we have not listed it here. If you want to consider medication, please consult a physician.
For most everyone, a combination of these options will work best. Before engaging in any of these options, be sure to consult a physician, naturopath or dietician.
• Herbs: Sam-e; 5-HTP or St John’s Wort.
• Supplements: D3 (the sun vitamin) and omega-3s (like fish or flax oil). You can get a blood test to determine D3 levels in your body. The latest studies suggest D3 levels are key signs for possible mood disorders and physical illness.
• Exercise: There is no doubt that plenty of aerobic exercise produces essential chemicals for the brain to help fight off depression. Find a way to do 20 minutes or more daily.
• Diet: Stay away from alcohol if you are prone to SAD. Sugar and other simple carbohydrates aggravate depression symptoms. Lean protein, lots of veggies, complex carbohydrates and lots of water are the key.
• Light therapy boxes: We need about 20-30 minutes of sunlight a day. During the winter months this can be very difficult to get. Light boxes emit light that mimics sunlight. Many of our clients with SAD swear by them. These boxes can be pricey. There are small portable boxes available through several internet sites.
• Brain training: There are some very helpful technologies out there for SAD. Brain Wave Optimization and biofeedback are excellent options.