With blaring effectiveness, Tonya’s alarm clock sounded the seventh hour of the morning. It was Monday, and, after a non-restorative weekend, Tonya dreaded the prospect of facing her day. The dread was about to be wrested from her as her children became active, busying themselves with morning routines. Her daughter, Kamisha, was old enough now to not only get herself ready but she also assisted her younger brother. Michael was diagnosed with autism in kindergarten and, while his position on the spectrum afforded him much independence, he still needed assistance with some tasks. As such, Tonya sat up in bed, put her feet on the ground, and her shoulders slumped. Even with the curtains drawn, she could tell that the day was dreary, the sun was hidden, and what could only be a cold breeze batted against the single-pane window. It took every ounce of Tonya’s ability just to stand, but her pace elevated slightly when Michael started yelling. Slowly, she made her way down the short hall to her son’s bedroom, but he was not to be found. Instead, he and Kamisha were in the bathroom, where she discovered her children trying to get toothpaste off Michael’s pajama top. Sighing slightly, Tonya waded into her morning.
Thanksgiving was coming in a couple of weeks and Tonya was not excited to see her family. She much preferred the family excursion to the lake in May. Something about the sunshine, blue skies, and green foliage gave her a sense of hope and calm. However, now, shortened days and abrasive weather confronted her. This left Tonya feeling empty and listless. She always gave up on her cherished book club and exercise routine for a few months until the trees started budding again in Spring.
Tonya had her thirty-fifth birthday last week, but at the party thrown by her friends, she plastered on a fake smile and nodded her head through the celebration. This was her experience of fall and winter: depressed mood, emptiness, lack of motivation, tearfulness, and fearing the weather. Tonya did not understand why her mind and body failed her around this time each year, but something tangible changed with the colder weather and the quicker sunset.
Tonya is not alone.
A student in my eighth grade class was frequently absent and other students wondered about the reason for her missing so much school. One day, she arrived at class with her mom who explained that her daughter had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This meant that our classmate’s mood was dramatically impacted by the time of year. Just like Tonya, our classmate experienced a sense of worthlessness and inability to concentrate when colder weather prevailed. Even as a child, the young girl with SAD had significant weight gain during this time, a fact that led to teasing from others and deeper depression. Her mother did the correct action by trying to support her daughter, but as immature children, we did not have the empathic capability not to ostracize her after this encounter.
Like Tonya, my old classmate needed support, patience, and camaraderie. Currently, SAD is no longer a separate diagnosis, being instead a subset of Major Depressive Disorder. This new classification underscores the legitimacy of the experiences of Tonya and my classmate. Due to stigma, bias, and even well-intentioned ignorance, many people do not understand the serious effect of seasonally driven depression. Individuals with this condition need support to pass through the darkness, literally and metaphorically.
Tonya’s daughter can offer some support, but it seems unfair to require her twelve-year-old to co-parent. However, Tonya did notice that during the colder months, she was slower to respond and soothe her son. She spent less time helping Kamisha with her schoolwork and she lost touch with family and friends. Tonya wore that same fake smile through Thanksgiving and the holidays, as she could barely function, let alone celebrate. Finally, Tonya knew that her children were affected by her disposition depending on the season, but she had no idea how to remove herself from the daily spiral. Tonya could benefit from counseling, an unbiased person there to help her navigate the down seasons.
Likewise, my classmate endeavored to better her situation, and, despite the teasing and prejudice, she sought help at a young age. Seeking therapy is not a sign of weakness or defeat. Instead, it shows courage and dedication to self-improvement for your sake and for that of your loved ones.
For those who do not experience symptoms as acute as the examples depicted above, you may still feel a downturned mood, an attitude of apathy, or just feeling sluggish through the colder months. The weather facilitates isolation, holidays invite stress and burnout, and the days seem to end abruptly and close around us with their darkness.
Just like for Tonya and my classmate, many people need support, patience, and camaraderie. So begin with support by practicing self-care or time dedicated to increasing calm and joy. Aspire to continue the activities that provide happiness and replenish hope even when those pastimes are onerous and seem unimportant, unfulfilling. Second, maintain patience with self and try to recognize that some days just might suck, and, yes, that is a clinical term. Allow extra time to accomplish tasks and give grace when a poor outlook takes over, and sometimes persists for days. If you or someone you know has mood changes or depression affected by seasonal changes, have patience regarding the affected person as he or she navigates this seemingly burdensome time. Finally, create a strong support system that understands that isolation during these months is counterproductive and dangerous. Family and friends can encourage the affected person to engage and be present-minded. So, instead of isolating or simply trying to push through, reach out. It is always okay to seek during overwhelm, despair or there simply is a need to talk to someone. There is such a thing as maintenance therapy, and it is perfectly normal to vent or work on deeper issues.
At this point, you likely realize that the common turn of phrase “It must be the weather” can have more meaning than originally thought.
Do you or someone you love suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder, let us support! Click HERE to learn about all of our Wellview Services today. We look forward to connecting with you soon.
– Richard DeBord
M.S. Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC)
Mental Health Specialist | Email Richard