Seasonal Affective Disorder, Couch Potatoes & Hating the Holidays

I love everything Jackie Farwell writes. Her piece today in the BDN encourages us to be proactive in managing Seasonal Affective Disorder, which happens to have the greatest acronym ever (SAD). I know that S.A.D. is a real condition that affects millions, especially those in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.  I also know that for many of us, S.A.D. is a cop out by which we passively blame our depression on diminished hours of sunlight.

I struggle with any declaration or belief system that dictates passivity and absolves one of personal responsibility. If I get my ass kicked by something that happens with clockwork predictability and have chosen not to be proactive, then I have behaved irresponsibly.

Managing our physical health is in large part a maintenance regime of self care. Neglecting it generally manifests in very clear cause and effect fashions. Managing our emotional and mental health is an investment in our quality of life that’s far easier to overlook and the cause and effect relationships are far less discernible. Only through accountability and rigorous honesty with self can we achieve happiness.

It starts just before Thanksgiving. I listen to folks complain about the weather getting worse. I point out that weather is one more thing we’re powerless to control and that by virtue of choosing to live in Maine perhaps it’s unreasonable to be perpetually disgusted that it’s cold 5 months of the year? This is when folks explain to me their S.A.D. is kicking in. I ask what they do to manage it? They most often reply, “What can I do? I just ride it out and wait for spring.”

I hate rhetorical questions. What can you do about it? Start with the basics – eat healthy food, exercise, get out and socialize. Take up a hobby, join a new social circle, take a class, get a light box, make any number of other changes in your life. Stop focusing on what you cannot control and invest in what you can.

What I find is that too many of us are stuck halfway between dread and regret. Regret is pain from the past and dread is anticipated pain in the future. At the end of most diatribes folks offer about their S.A.D. there is usually a sentiment about how they’re dreading another holiday season.

The joy of the season is lost on the lonely and those of us who come from unhealthy families. The holidays force us to take stock and be more aware of our lives. Too many of us embrace the black and white choices of spending time with people we don’t like or being alone.

All year long we have opportunities to seek connection, cultivate friendships and build new families. Our inhibitions and attitudes result in missed opportunities, which become regrets. We take time out of our busy days to wallow in all that we have missed rather than invest in what can be.

I totally get that depression is hard – I’ve suffered it myself. What I have found is that there are three reasons why people are depressed:

  1. Chemical Imbalance – your brain doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do with Serotonin, Dopamine and the like. Medication corrects this.
  2. Factors beyond our control (physical health, thyroid, illnesses & diseases) or in  your environment (S.A.D. tragedy, loss,) result in depressive episodes. We go through difficult times and our downfall is that we tend to go through them alone.
  3. Our quality of life is unsatisfying. We’re lonely, unchallenged, unfulfilled. This is the leading cause of depression and it’s curable…but it’s hard…and it sucks…and it hurts.

It’s also totally worth it. Work hard. Reach out. Get better.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.