How I Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re forced to come to your own rescue. After a year of unprecedented challenges, I was dreading the onset of winter 2022-23. I was already referring to the fall season as early winter since the bitter winds started blowing long before the official solstice date. Read my late 2022 entries and you’ll see some of the reasons why.

Maybe the frost of that Seasonal Affective Dis-ease that I usually feel during those darker days didn’t sting quite as badly because I was already frozen and locked into a solid determination to thrive, come hell or high water.

As I transition into the next phase of my journey, I’m grateful to have a new product line, some exciting projects on my calendar, significant advancement in my career and income, and a new journey ahead to show for all the shit I had to face last year.

It’s like getting promoted to the next grade or moving up a level in a video game after conquering the ultimate villain. Only, the ultimate villain is you.

All the clichés are true. Pressure can make diamonds out of the parts of your life that feel like lumps of coal, the heat of betrayal can forge a backbone of steel within you, and what doesn’t kill you can turn you into a real beast, if you let it.

I felt I didn’t have any choice but to ride the winds of change to a new and better me. After all, winter was nothing compared to what I was dealing with.

I started struggling with the cold season several years ago when a job in construction project management required me to get up before dawn each morning, prepare the kids for school, and get to work by 7 a.m.

I had always been a morning person, a self-starter who craved the sun. But once I reached a certain level at this job, there were no more raises, no more promotions, and the pandemic was in full swing. I was bored out of my fucking mind, because I felt like there wasn’t much left to learn, and I started getting antsy and ever more distracted on the job.

Mother nature was also doing a number on me as perimenopause began to set in. I entered a new territory where weird periods of sleeplessness, adult hormonal acne, weight fluctuations, and bouts of extreme irritability became par for the course.

It was the perfect time for me to experiment with a full-time writing career and work from home. The time on the home front would give me the chance to come off the corporate timeclock and have a slower start to my mornings for a while.

I wouldn’t need to rush my kids and myself around barking orders so we could all get out of the house on time. I wouldn’t have to drag ass to work at sunrise only to fully awaken a few hours later. In the past, I’d had two car accidents after falling asleep behind the wheel, and for a time, I wouldn’t have to worry about jumping through hoops to prevent another one.

However, I would need to be on in the mornings for my new copywriting job. Plus, winter eventually came again, and somehow during that first year at home, it was still a challenge.

At that time my mom was still living with us. Since she was partially retired, she kindly offered to oversee the kids’ morning routine so I could sleep in a little more before starting each day. Mornings, you see, are my biggest problem. As a mom, I’m usually the first up and last down—first to get up, last to go to bed.

During my second year at home in 2022, I realized the primary culprit in my S.A.D. wasn’t the cold, overcast days, snow, or the longer nights. There’s a mysterious night owl in me who craves rainy and snowy days in front of the fireplace and long nights with a good book-in-progress. I didn’t choose the moniker “Nightshift Novelist” seven years ago for nothing.

But there are only so many mornings when I can endure being ripped away from warm sheets for a day that leaves more to be desired. It’s like having skin ripped from my body. The lack of sleep really takes a toll in winter because that, it seems, is when my internal clock reads the longer nights as a cue to enter semi-hibernation.

I’m a sun child, after all, a Georgia summer baby who’s convinced she was designed for the tropics. Those who know me well know that I’ll take a “nekked hot” day over a cold one any time—basically, if the weather doesn’t allow for comfortable nudity, it ain’t hot enough for me. I was clearly misplaced in the Mid-Atlantic region by some overworked, distracted, and half fallen angel.

It was in the last several years that I learned exactly why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. It can drive a person to the edge. Add immovable responsibilities, uninspiring work, unhealthy relationships, and a few wild cards from the Universe like COVID, and you have a recipe for depression that can body slam you when the lights go out.

So, this winter, I was ready. I accepted the fact that the only way out of the dark tunnel was through it, since I was already barreling into the center of it anyway.

People died. Others changed. Some become distant, while the behavior of others forced me to back away. My daughter got sick. My mom was gone, headed for a new life that had everyone worried. My relationship proved to be a fatal error, but it opened my heart enough for the light of truth to shine on some things I had been blind to my whole life.

I was alone in the mirror of circumstances, and for the first time I could clearly see the limiting beliefs that I couldn’t make out before. I looked around and was forced to recognize that my own behavior patterns had led to many of the stresses that I faced and that my tendency to expect the worst was one of the biggest things standing in my way.

The therapist who I had stopped seeing actually turned out to be right, and now that I was alone with everybody else on mute, I could finally get the inner guidance I needed to do what she had always urged me to do.

It was like when I was learning to ride a bike at five years old. My parents, brother, and friend had spent days coaching me, guiding me along by the handlebars time and time again. Then one day, when everyone was doing their own thing and I was alone with the bike, I picked it up, hopped on, and started riding. All that instruction finally just clicked.

I’d never felt so remote, not even during lockdown. Yet, I’ve never heard the voice of God more clearly and consistently than I have in the last year. Now, no woman is an island, and I’ll be the last to tout the strong black superwoman trope. I’d gladly lay down my cape for healthy, balanced, enriching relationships and a life that is more aligned with our natural dispositions as humans.

But I recognize that there are times in life when we must be secluded to grow. All the things that hold too much of our attention or provide a crutch that arrests our development have to be taken away, and we must be shoved off the cliff of our comfort zones.

How else are we going to see that we can actually fly?

“What’s a man to a woman touched by God?”

I asked myself this, remembering that scene in “Harriet” when Janelle Monae’s character, Marie Buchanon, encouraged Harriet to forget the first husband who fell short and focus on her destiny. That destiny would, in time, include union with a man who was much better equipped to be her partner and lover, anyway. I’m no Harriet Tubman, but I too can appreciate that there are bigger fish to fry and plenty of better fish in the sea.

I referred to my old therapy notes and learned to release my mother with love, understanding that responsibility for her choices was one more thing that I could remove from my long to-do list.

Grief over lives lost eventually became gratitude and fading friendships evolved into valuable lessons.

I knew my period of involuntary isolation wouldn’t last forever, but for as long as it did, I’d use it to accomplish the inner work that was being demanded of me. When the school year began, I locked into some habits that would help me to be fully present with the kids every morning and keep me grounded through each day. This is my natural order.

For Winter 2022, I became laser focused on one creative project that would move my business forward—BookGems, my new line of hand-crafted bookmarks made with gemstones, freshwater pearls, and genuine silk. The brand debuted with 10 designs, and they’ve been a real hit at the shows I’ve attended this year.

Production wasn’t without challenges. A deal that I brokered with a local school to create the first crop of inventory fell apart when a shortage of teachers at the school resulted in less quality control and sub-standard craftsmanship. I had to dismantle nearly every item that the students made and redo them.

Ultimately, though, creating the entire product line myself kept my hands and my mind rooted in something that was inspiring and fun through the coldest winter months. This lifted my spirits and my vibration.

I also perfected my morning routine. I got dressed before the kids, like in winters past, but I made a point of doing several things that helped me check in and engage in meaningful self-care before interacting fully with them.

I found a B-complex vitamin and began taking it daily along with a supplement for hormonal support. I squeezed in a 15-20-minute morning HIIT workout some days, a few more than I would have in the past. I meditated outside, hydrated with 1-2 full glasses of water, slowly sipped my morning cup of tea, and got grounded.

From this frame of mind, I could calmly guide the kids through morning chores and preparations and give each of them a kiss goodbye with a prayer. I never want to send them out of the house in the morning or to bed at night in a state of angst or with casual disregard, and these simple acts of mindfulness help us set the tone for a peaceful and productive day or a restful night.

Later in each quiet day, I realized I had the freedom to stop and listen to my body whenever I needed a nap. So, I took one, every single day. My taxed nervous system desperately needed the reset.

Finally, I had discovered a formula for kicking S.A.D. to the curb—creativity, mindful mornings, exercise, and a little more sleep.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that the answer for everyone dealing with S.A.D. is the same as mine. If you have this challenge, you’d have to self-reflect long and deeply enough to learn your triggers and find their solutions.

I honestly can’t even say that I’ve beaten it for good (partly because I’ve never been officially diagnosed). Maybe one could say it’s in “remission”, and as my life evolves and schedule changes inevitably occur each year, I’ll need to run this obstacle course of resolution-finding again.

It’s encouraging that this method worked this time and that I was able to avoid slipping into the black hole of numbness and mental fog that had plagued my winters for several years. I have the raw materials of meditation, prayer, biofeedback, exercise, quality food and nutrients that feed the brain, creative work, and a willingness to self-examine at my disposal.

Family and friends haven’t been completely distant, either. I can never say that I’m completely alone or unheard, even when the cosmos declares a period of solitary confinement for me. Help and encouraging words always come when I need them most.

My coping tools consistently help me land on my feet every time life’s winds send me swirling. Knowing that I can flex with the circumstances to find the solutions I need at any given time helps to abate fear of the unknown.

Taking full responsibility for my thoughts and habits and developing an intentional plan to tackle this challenge for the first time helped me to overcome something that I thought was completely out of my control.

And that is ultimate empowerment.

Several weeks ago, when all the dogwood trees were donning their full pink and white regalia and the grass was deep green for the first time this year, it nearly moved me to tears. It caught me off guard.

Now wild and irreverent wisteria is taking over the roadside woods, and the lush, purple haze makes me smile every time I see a tree dressed in her cloak. A couple of Sundays ago, I drove the kids to the beach, and we walked on the sand. The simple pleasure of crashing waves and passing dolphins gave me more reasons to look forward to every coming season with joy.

She’s back, just like we knew she would be. Spring, Eostre, Ala, Inanna, brighter and more robust than ever. It was inevitable that she would overcome the darkness and cold. In fact, she needed the period of dormancy to incubate the seeds of all her flowers and fruits.

All we had to do was mind our business and wait.

I’ve shared this blog post as an account of my own experience with S.A.D. for informational purposes only. Nothing here is intended to provide medical advice.

According to the National Institute of Health, Winter Pattern Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a form of severe depression that can begin in Fall and continue until early Spring. It’s believed that reduced sunlight and its subsequent effect on the hypothalamus disrupts the production of melatonin (the hormone that regulates circadian rhythm and sleep cycles) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter that mediates an individual’s sense of pleasure, happiness, and optimism).

If you believe you or someone you love may suffer from this condition, it is advisable to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional.  

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