Monday, February 25, 2008

A lifelong dance with SAD

Here I am in the middle of February and I’m not SAD.

SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the acronym fits. When the days become short and the nights long, some people react by becoming depressed. I have been this way most of my life, feeling the need to hibernate in winter, to withdraw from social contact, even becoming overwhelmingly SAD to the point of hospitalization.

I was first diagnosed in the late 80’s, after my therapist returned from a lecture on the topic. It was a “new” disease then, unheard of in the US. I remember he was elated that he’d finally identified the cause of my depression. We went back over my files together and sure enough, I peaked in summer, and was down in winter. Of course he had no treatment offers other than the usual antidepressants I’d been on and off of for years. But I had other ideas. I had a diagnosis. I was empowered by it.

I’m a pretty simplistic thinker. This SAD stuff was simply sunlight deficiency and interrupted circadian rhythms. The first thing I did was quit my job of fourteen years. I was required to work rotating shift work, the worst kind. I knew my biological clock was completely confused, my circadian rhythms out of sync. How could they not be, with me working and sleeping all kinds of odd hours? Soon after leaving my employment I got myself off the antidepressants I’d been forced to depend on for all those years. I wasn’t cured, but I was better, much better. I was on the path to healing myself.

A few years later I read an article on SAD. Treatments had evolved. Light boxes were available now, but I didn’t get one. Who needs light from a box when there’s this big old ball of light right outside? I kept increasing my sun exposure. It helped minimally. Then I found another article that made mention of sunlight and SAD that proposed a theory. This theory linked SAD with wearing glasses and contact lenses, which block the beneficial light rays needed by the body to keep that biological clock ticking properly.

Another light bulb went on in my head. I started wearing glasses when I was about 9 years old, and I can remember my depression beginning around the same time. I began sitting in the sun for fifteen minutes a day during the winter with my glasses off. I’d face the sun, eyes closed, and let my eyelids soak up those bright rays, turning my head slowly back and forth as the article suggested. It became a ritual, and later a part of my daily prayers. Following this idea I had Lasik surgery, so I no longer needed glasses to see except for reading. I improved still more. I felt just about normal now, with a mild tendency to be anti-social in winter, but not hibernating or depressed. Cloudy days still effected me, especially if there were several in a row. I’d want to sleep in, and tended to be lazy.

Then I enrolled in herb school. The very first thing they taught me was that diet is the single most important factor in health, and that the proper balance of nutrients from quality sources can heal disease without medicine. I learned about another form of SAD, the Standard American diet, and how detrimental it is to health. How interesting that these two acronyms are connected! I learned about the importance of Omega 3’s. I added flax seed and fish oil caps to my diet, eliminated most of the “white stuff” and made sure I ate colorful fruits and vegetables from organic sources. I experimented with fermented foods and baked my own bread from whole grains. I cut down on red meats and sought out organic sources, and added more fish to my diet. I added organic dairy products too.

When we talked about seaweeds and their effect on the thyroid I added them too. Now I’m the first to admit I don’t like seaweeds. I grew up along the banks of a tidal river and seaweed always reminds me of low tide. Not a good smell or taste. But my body temperature was low, about 97.8, and I knew my thyroid was probably sub clinically low. So I hid my daily dose of Fucus in my morning smoothie.

Months pass. I start noticing differences. I have more energy, more vitality. I look for things to do instead of being a couch potato. I lose weight. My thoughts are clear and my desire to learn continues to grow. I start seeking out social contacts right in the middle of winter, something I’d never done before, and I enjoy meeting new people and making new friends. My friends had gotten used to my lack of communication in the winter months. It was just a part of my personality they learned to put up with.

I am no longer depressed, even on cloudy days. I am consistently happy, energetic, creative, and whole. I have come a long way, one small step at a time, toward health, both physical and mental. I look in the mirror and I see that my gray hair is turning dark again. That’s a bit of a bummer. I started going gray at the age of thirty-five, and now in my mid-fifties am almost totally silver. I like to believe that each of those gray hairs is a badge of honor, earned through a lifetime of hardships and woes, and a symbol of my crone hood. But that darkening hair is yet another sign of my body’s good health, so I accept it with only a small amount of grudge.

And suddenly I realize. Here I am in the middle of February and I’m not SAD.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sam, you're probably the only woman on the face of the Earth who is sad when her gray hair turns dark again. ha!

Love ya,