Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Writing

Fall has finally arrived (despite the 80 degree weather today). Orchard trees are heavy with ripe apples. Pumpkins and Halloween candy already line the shelves. And Starbucks has a line a mile long for a new pumpkin-spice drink.

Oh yeah, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is kicking in.

In short, SAD is a type of depression that’s brought on by changes in the seasons. While most people are afflicted during the fall/winter months, there are those, like a few close friends of mine, who struggle with spring/summer SAD. Both are forms of depression, but while winter depression leads to oversleeping, craving carbs, weigh gain, and low energy, summer depression deals more with insomnia, weight loss, and anxiety. Of course, each person is different, and your symptoms may vary.

I can concur, though, that when winter depression starts to set in, I generally want to hibernate. The dream of wrapping up in a warm blanket with hot cocoa and carbs and nesting on the couch with pumpkin bread sometimes gets me through the day, even if it does make me less productive later.

I know there are people out there who don’t believe that SAD is a thing. How can the weather have such a change on people’s moods? Well, if weather changes can lead to someone having migraines, why is it so unbelievable that they can cause depression as well? For winter depression, the longer nights and lack of light tends to set off people’s circadian rhythms in a negative way. I already have trouble sleeping, and winter depression makes it harder for me to get up in the morning to face the next day. I find myself wandering around my house at night, unable to get myself to sleep because I don’t want to face the morning, and then I’m even more exhausted come sunrise, which doesn’t prep me for a good day at work.

The low energy, trouble sleeping, and difficulty concentrating can have a very negative impact on my writing as well. When my brain is snarling with negative thoughts (guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness), sometimes the last thing I want to do is put my fingers to the keyboard. NaNoWriMo can pull me out of that mood for about a month, but then it’s back to me curling up on the couch, not wanting to move or even look at my screen. I’m probably the least productive during my winter months simply because I just don’t have the energy to come up with ideas.

It’s a wonder I’m actually able to launch books in December.

SAD isn’t something to take lightly. When things get bad, it’s not unusual for people to have thoughts of death or suicide. That likely is what pushed me towards my near attempt in February. The depression was just too much to handle, and I slipped over the edge.

So what can you do to combat it? Treatments can include light therapy, medications, or psychotherapy. I started light therapy last winter, and I could tell it made a difference. I set up special light boxes and just sit in their glow for 30-45 minutes everyday. The light is supposed to simulate sunlight, which can help with my circadian rhythm and mood. I’m actually going to start using the boxes again starting today before it gets too dark outside, just so I can start to feel their affects.

I’ve been told, too, that an increase in vitamin D can also help with your mood during winter depression. However, you want to be sure you talk to your doctor about that before you take pills, to make sure you’re not getting too much vitamin D.

Other things to consider if you’re struggling with SAD:

  • Be kind to yourself. You’re not alone in this struggle, so don’t beat yourself up for feeling this way.
  • Create a safe, comfortable environment for yourself. If it means setting up blankets and pillows for you to snuggle in after work, then do that. At least you’ll know it’s waiting for you.
  • Reach out to friends or family if you’re struggling and maybe go spend time with them to get your mind off of the depression.
  • Hot baths or showers, massages, or other things that bring physical comfort.
  • Light-hearted movies/shows. My depression often gets worse if I watch sad stuff, so try to have back-up things you can watch to make you feel a little better.
  • Put up Christmas lights. I know this sounds silly, but I’m always a little happier when I have bright Christmas lights up during the dark months.
  • Keep a journal and write out your emotions. Writing can be very cathartic especially when you don’t understand why you’re feeling so bad.
  • Have the suicide hotline available: 1-800-273-8255 If you feel low enough that you’re afraid you might want to take your life, please call the suicide hotline, visit your local hospital, or reach out to someone you trust. It will get better.

Depression can feel like a dark tunnel without a light at the end, but in the case of SAD, it doesn’t last forever. The changing seasons can bring you relief after a long, difficult episode. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re feeling this way. Like I said, this affects many people, and you’re not alone at all in your struggles. Just know what steps to take to help you safely through it.

Do you struggle with SAD? What kinds of things do you do to help yourself? List them below!

Depression and Writing: Don’t End Your Story

People often ask me why I write. I give them plenty of answers like, it’s what I was born to do (cheesy, I know), it’s as vital to me as the air I breathe (also cheesy), I love to create new worlds, I have stories to tell, etc. etc. Writing is also my outlet when I’m stressed or depressed. When I slip into the text and the world falls away, I feel a warmth in my chest that dissipates every awful thing I’m feeling. I’m lost in the story, and everything feels right with the world. In a way, my writing saves me from my negative emotions.

But what about those times when it can’t? What about the times when writer’s block is so strong is drives me into a downward spiral of depression?

I’ve written about anxiety, depression, and writing before, but what happened a week ago is very different.

On February 2nd, my depression almost won. I won’t go into great detail, but I checked myself into a psychiatric ward with the guidance and support of a friend so that I could take care of my mental health.

So I wouldn’t end my story.

You see, I love writing, but I do the same thing many writers do. I attach my self worth to my craft. If I can’t write, I feel like something’s wrong with me and I stress myself out more than necessary. It’s habit. It’s worse when I have a block on a big project I want to complete such as Purple Door District 2. For months I’ve struggled and felt disconnected with my craft. That’s bad enough, but when writing is supposed to be an emotional outlet, and I lose that, I sometimes feel like I lose my purpose too.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of things compounded over the months to make me so depressed, but not being able to write was a huge part of it. Writers tend to forget about their mental health when they’re so busy creating. We get swept up in what we should be getting done or how we’re not doing enough that we forget the warning signs our brain sends us when we’ve pushed ourselves too far.

-Lack of interest in the things we love

-Unable to deal with daily stresses

-Losing sleep over worry

-Beating ourselves down for not writing because we see ourselves as failures

Sound familiar? I was feeling all of this, and yet I didn’t realize just how depressed I was until it was almost too late. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not shy when it comes to talking about my mental health. Several writers on twitter have been told that they shouldn’t discuss their emotions or mental health because it’s “unprofessional” or “no one wants to hear their drama.”

Bullshit.

Talking about how you feel makes you more real. It makes you more human and relatable. If Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blog posts are your outlets and the only places you feel safe talking about your emotions, then do it. The United States has such a stigma about mental health, like it’s a hush hush topic that no one should talk about.

Again, I call bullshit. If we talked about it, then maybe more people would know when to reach out for help. Maybe more creative minds would realize they’re not alone in their struggles and there are people who care what happens to them.

You are not your craft. Your worth is not measured by your word or page count, or your amazon reviews, or the number of books under your belt.

One of the things that struck me the hardest about going into the psychiatric ward was when the therapist said, “You’re a writer? Oh yeah, I’ve probably seen most of the writers in the city here.” What does that tell you about us creative folk? We push and push and beat ourselves down when we should be lifting ourselves and others up for our/their accomplishments.

So in case no one has said this to you today, you matter. You are amazing. You are loved. And you have a purpose. No matter how lonely you feel, there’s a community out there that understands what you’re going through. If you’re too nervous to call someone for help, then try #writingcommunity on Twitter, or any number of writing hashtags on instagram. Believe me, you’ll find that there are more people like you than you even realize.

And during those really bad moments, when you feel like the world is coming down and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, please consider calling the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Your story isn’t over yet, and the world wants to hear it. You’re not alone.