Fall can be a beautiful time of year. Cool crisp mornings, brilliant sunrises, autumn leaves and football. Summers can be exceptionally hot where I live, so the drop in temperature can be a welcome change. Of course there are some down sides as well. The sunrises may be amazing, but they come later and later each day and sunsets come earlier. I love having my morning coffee on the porch but with the chilly nights I am not comfortable outside getting up as early as I do. I sometimes think I’m solar powered; I draw energy from being in the sun, even on the hottest days of summer. As the days grow shorter my energy levels start to drop. And there is the biggest problem of all; anticipation.
There are negatives just being in the fall season, but I really hate the wintertime. The hot summers may be uncomfortable, but the cold of winter makes me hurt. It’s completely dark going to and coming home from work and getting any sunshine at all becomes all but impossible. I’ve lost most of my family and holidays are especially hard. And a lot of bad things have happened in winters past that bring up painful memories and sorrow.
Holidays didn’t use to be so difficult. Thanksgiving was always held at my grandparent’s house on the farm. The house was full of aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins, nieces and nephews. I loved the farm and somehow the gray days and bare trees were comforting; it was just part of Thanksgiving. Christmas too was an exciting time. We spent Christmas Eve at my grandparents again with all the same family as before. And of course as a kid, what’s more exciting than Christmas Morning! Santa didn’t wrap his gifts, and getting up before dawn and seeing all the presents spread out with just the lights from the Christmas tree was magical. As I got older the holidays changed, but were still a special time. We still did the Thanksgiving at the farm, and the Christmas excitement was relived through my own children. Then things started to change. First my Grandparents sold the farm that I loved and moved into a house in the city. We still did the Thanksgiving we them, but it would never be the same. Then my grandparents passed away, and with them gone was the gathering of the family went away too. As a teenager my paternal Grandmother died the day before Christmas Eve, and we spent that years’ holiday driving to the next state for the funeral. Annual depressions started to set in, and one year I spent the entire Christmas holiday locked up in a mental hospital. I still enjoyed Christmas with my children, until the year my Father got sick on Christmas Eve, and died a week later. As much as I loved my children’s excitement, it was overtaken by the sadness of the anniversary of my Fathers’ death. My third marriage ended horribly the day after Christmas. Due to the circumstances the marriage was over in an instant, and I had to hitch a ride to the airport at 5:00 in the morning and fly home by myself to get out of a really bad situation. Then several years later my Brother died the first week of January. The holidays became memories of death and disaster. And now, there are just my children, and my Sister. Thank God I have my Sister; she still puts on the Thanksgiving feast for her family, and I and my children are always invited. My kids have their own lives now and have to balance their time between us and their boyfriends’ families and friends, but I’m glad I get to see them for a little while. As thankful as I am for my Sister, the fact that there’s only the two of us left out of the family to get together makes me sad. Last year I spent Christmas completely alone. I didn’t see a soul at all, and was left alone to my memories and loneliness.
So even though the autumn season isn’t horrible, it is overshadowed by what I know is coming. But I believe that even without the anticipation of winter, it would still be a depressing time. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. Typically the symptoms start every fall and continue into winter and not resolving itself until the next spring. It’s been documented that people with bipolar disorder have a higher incidence of SAD then the general population. There’s no doubt in my mind that, in spite of all the external reasons, the root cause of my fall depressions is SAD.
There are a few things I can do to help with the onset of SAD every year. Light therapy with full spectrum lights can help compensate the loss of natural daylight. As with any depression, getting enough exercise is always important. With my changing mood I can work with my Doctor to make medication adjustments. I can spend as much time as possible with my friends and try to reconnect with old friends and cultivate new ones.
It’s my hope that my awareness of this disorder can help me manage the symptoms and avoid falling into the same old patterns.
Maybe this year I won’t be so SAD after all.