The Long, SAD Winter

Last updated on March 3, 2020

There is a bit of a difference between the “winter blues” and Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. The winter blues happen to almost everyone as the days get shorter and light is a rare commodity. That’s part of why we have so many mid-winter celebrations, it’s a coping mechanism to give ourselves some hope, something to look forward to. We get to share a little joy, and that gets us through to the lengthening days.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, on the other hand, is a bitch.

And not just your everyday, run-of-the-mill bitch. No, it’s a ring-tailed, slack-jawed, sticky-like-tar, impossible-to-get-rid-of bitch. The winter blues can be mitigated with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa. SAD makes everyone and everything an enemy or a villain – especially yourself. There’s no amount of hot cocoa that’s going to convince someone in the throes of SAD that their world isn’t made of despair, sorrow, and rage.

Because it’s all in your head – literally, physically. SAD is a neurological imbalance.

What if you just…

“Have you tried yoga?” Yes, and while it might make my bones feel better, I’d have to have the energy to do that.

“Just get out of the house, you’ll feel better.” That requires energy as well. And pants.

“I don’t see what the big deal is, everyone is cold this time of year.” Bone-cold? Soul-cold? So cold that they don’t remember what warm is, even when they are objectively exposed to “warm”?

“If you eat more kale and shove some essential oils up your bum, you’ll feel right as rain!”

“Why don’t you just cheer up?” Holy shit! That’s brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that!?! </sarcasm>

When someone with the winter blues sees someone with SAD, they naturally assume that what worked for them must obviously work for everyone else. Not that I’ve gotten a lot of reports of people sticking essential oils up their bums as an effective remedy for anything, but “read a good book” or “go to a concert” or “hang out with friends” worked so well, right?

And if it’s not working, then there must be something wrong with you. You’re not trying hard enough, are you? You just like the attention that comes with being such a stick in the mud, making everyone around you jump through hoops like you’re the only one that feels sad. Get over yourself, you dumb cow, everyone has bad days, everyone gets sad. You’re just making it into something bigger than it is because you don’t want to do the work yourself…

One of the known but rarely understood problems with neurological depression is that it often comes with a lot of executive dysfunction. You want to get up and take a shower (or at least you recognize that you should), but your brain lacks the dopamine to actually make that a thing. Even if you wanted to leave the house – which you don’t, because your serotonin has also bottomed out – you wouldn’t be able to because of the missing go-do-the-thing chemicals.

And that’s really just bullshit, though, isn’t it? Just a bunch of bullshit justifications for your laziness? If you were even a little bit of a good person, a useful person, a smart person, you wouldn’t be in this state. You wouldn’t be sitting here stinking from weeks of slovenly living, when was the last time your hair saw a goddamned comb? You know what, you should just shave it off, it’s not like having hair improves your looks anyway. One less thing to worry about, one less thing to be lazy about…

Anyone will tell you how important it is to have a strong support system, especially if you know you struggle with depression, and double-especially if you know you get SAD every year. You have to anticipate that it’s going to come, no matter how good everything else seems, because it doesn’t have anything to do with your current circumstances. But what makes a strong support system? You need people who will check in on you, yes, but more importantly, you need people who aren’t going to run away if you snap at them. Depression isn’t just sadness, it’s often aggression and anger and animosity.

Wow, can you come up with any more bullshit excuses? What a fucking burden you are, having to rely on other people for the most basic shit. Like, you can’t even feed yourself, what kind of human are you, really? And you think this person actually loves you, just because they checked in? They probably just feel sorry for you, like a sad, ugly little bird that got shoved out of a nest. You’re not going to make it anyway, but they feel too guilty just letting you get eaten by a cat. As soon as they realize what a waste of flesh you are, they’ll be gone…

Depression is not a moral failing.

Did you see all that negative self-talk? I didn’t even get to the good stuff… but it was there. And it’s persistent. It got so bad this year, I tried antidepressants again.

Well, thank the gods my psychiatrist knows me well enough to steer clear of anything that messes with my serotonin, so we tried a dopamine-active medication and, viola, I don’t want to punch things all the time. Or cry incessantly as a substitution for punching things all the time. Or driving myself numb with work and business so that I don’t have the opportunity to punch things all the time.

The hardest part for me is that I am not the only person in my family with SAD. Like I said, pretty much everyone gets the “winter blues” to some extent. SAD is marked with what I call “reality glitches.” All that negative self-talk is objectively untrue, but we who sit in the dark can’t tell if it is or not.

And then, imagine fighting your own shadow-demon while your partner is being actively controlled by their shadow-demon, and they don’t even seem to know that it’s happening… You know that scene in “Mystery Men” when Roy confesses that he doesn’t think he has any powers, and then everyone around him starts questioning their own abilities and powers? Yeah, that’s what it’s like.

Except… when you have a family, when you have people who rely on you literally for their survival, you don’t have the “luxury” of succumbing to the Bog of Despair. You have to find every work around you can, every trick, every cheat, every technique, because if you don’t, bad things happen.

I think humans are stupid at building civilizations.

We have braved yet another suck-ass winter cycle, and hopefully we have all learned more about ourselves and how to handle in the coming years. (And if not, I may resort to actually punching things, just as a control for the experiment.) But, I got to thinking about something while this was going on this year.

What triggered the reality glitches? What did they start with? What did they have in common? How can that point to an explanation, maybe even a remedy?

What if the real problem, the core thing that triggered our natural winter neurological states into crises-ridden states, was that we are forced by our civilization, by our society, to act against our natural rhythms?

One thing that I noticed was that agitation always started around the time anyone had to leave the house if it was cold and/or overcast. Getting up even at the same time every day to work was also incredibly stressful. Having to make money for other people while also being responsible for other people is normally stressful, but when you have to go through enormously unpleasant environments to do so, it’s just worse. Things were a bit better with long work-from-home weeks. Things were less stressful when we had enough food that we didn’t have to go to the store – although delivery services helped that a lot, too, when we needed to replenish.

This got me to thinking recently that maybe the neurological responses were natural low-activity biological patterns aggravated to a traumatic level by having to act in direct opposition to how our bodies want to behave. Being cold is unpleasant, so why subject ourselves to it unless we absolutely have to? If we were clever and stockpiled our food and supplies over the spring, summer, and autumn like we aught to, we could easily “hibernate” for the winter without so much as a care.

I’m not sure if this points to a solution for next year, but I know that I’m going to be approaching it from a different perspective, I don’t know how many more of these seasons I can tolerate.

The upshot?

If you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store-bought is fine.

If your society requires more neurotransmitters than your brain naturally makes, maybe it’s time to reassess the social structure.

Dawn Written by:

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