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Hello Spring: Emerging from SAD

We talk a lot about how to cope with the changing seasons, and things we can do in the depths of the winter to fight Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is for good reason, as fighting SAD for almost half the year can be exhausting and debilitating.

At the same time, it doesn’t seem like there are discussions about what it’s like to emerge from the annual winter battle when we greet each spring. I’m someone who’s lived with SAD for many years, and it somehow took me until 2021 to realize how drastic this whole thing feels. Why do we not talk about what it’s like to come out of SAD? 

It all hit me a few days ago, as I was catching up with a friend. They asked what I was up to, and when I replied that I was about to attempt a workout, they asked how my regimen was going. This was a fair question, as I had been following some exercise routine back in the summer. I thought about it for a second before answering honestly: “It’s non-existent. In the winters, I find trying to survive through the day strenuous enough.” 

It’s true: the clocks change, and I soon realize that I’m functioning at what feels like 30% of my usual capacity. Things that I love in the summer become chores that I know I’ll never get to in the winter. Life just feels different, and it becomes more difficult… even though the only thing that shifted was the weather. To learn more about SAD and why that is, you can check out mindyourmind’s Illness Section

But this blog is about what it’s like when the fog starts to clear, so let’s get into it. Just in the past few weeks, I have noticed that I: 

  • Can make decisions more easily, and am not overwhelmed by having to choose between the smallest of things. I always have an inner dialogue, but lately, that voice has been calmer, less distressed, and more forgiving. It almost feels more mature, like I have the subconscious of a 25-year-old and am not reverting back to my angsty 13-year-old self.
  • Have more motivation to do things that require energy, like working out. This week I did 3 workouts, a feat that I have not accomplished since September. I also cleaned my apartment from top to bottom (while thinking to myself, ‘wow, have I really not dusted properly in five months?’).
  • Am able to sleep just a little bit more each night. In the depths of winter, I was averaging three to four hours of decent sleep at night (and it wasn’t for a lack of trying, because this was the case even if I was in bed for 12 hours). Now, I fall asleep faster, wake up more easily, and am starting to feel well-rested after six or seven hours of sleep.
  • Have started to initiate text conversations, schedule phone calls, and plan catch-ups with people I haven’t spoken to in a while. I don’t flinch or throw my phone across the room every time a name pops up on my phone, and my 273925 notifications are slowly creeping closer to 27 by the end of each day.
  • Crave sweets, fats, and carbs less. I’ve never restricted myself in the winter (like I said, I just give my body anything to get through the day), but it is nice to be able to regulate my eating habits through mindfulness. Lately, I’ve been able to get more nutrition in my diet because I want to, and it means that I usually feel better throughout the day too.
  • Require less to be happy. The other day, my coffee was perfect. Great shade, perfect amount of milk, just sweet enough… and that was enough to make my whole day. Now that the winter is subsiding, I find myself less cynical and able to appreciate the little things like this.
  • Go to sleep not just dreading needing to get through the next day (to finally be able to get in bed again), but thinking about the things in my schedule I may actually enjoy.
  • Have been able to think about my future and ambitions without as much of a sense of inadequacy or trepidation. Life feels like it will go on, and things will be ok.

So, I’m definitely not complaining about spring being on the horizon. Even though I still manage my regular (and pandemic-induced) anxiety and depression every day, it is nice to finally feel like myself again.

But as people with SAD, how do we reconcile with this? 

It’s such a strange existence, to be living 6 months of the year at a fraction of what you feel your full capability is. To have a simple concept titled ‘daylight savings’ dictate a good part of your life is bizarre, to say the least. Or even to be tired at the changes your body endures, every single year, and almost in shock at what you just went through by the time you get to March. How do we reconcile with feeling like two different people, with each one depending on what it looks like out your window? 

These are questions that I’m still trying to wrap my head around... and am far from answering. Of course, treatments like SAD lamps, medications, therapy, and even daily walks help make this disorder more manageable. But each spring, I do believe we need to talk more about emerging from Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s a great feeling, and it can also be quite disconcerting. Saying hello to a new season and bye to the symptoms of a whole disorder is quite a drastic transformation.

So, while there’s joyful hope on the horizon, I will also be spending the next few weeks unpacking and reflecting on what the f*@k just happened to my body! I hope you do the same, and I hope we can talk about it too.