Inside Depression

A figure walks away from the camera into the fog on a wooden path through treesIt’s been a rough spring. The clouds won’t quit. They’re damping down my everything. I replaced my SAD light bulb, but my light meter showed no change. So I waived my no-new-charges credit card policy just this once, and bought a new light, only to get the same readings. So much for the light meter. But whether the light is too weak or my SAD is too strong, I don’t need a meter to tell me it isn’t enough.

I keep up with housework, just. Since I mostly work from home, I don’t have to shower, get dressed, or go out in public. That helps. But I am impatient with my cat, snarky on social media, and racked with anxiety after the 15th of every month. Will I make the rent?? I stop buying groceries, make do with what I have on hand. It is dispiriting not to be able to afford something as basic as food. So far, things have always come together in the nick of time, but this month, I don’t see how that could happen.

I still have a part-time job, a holdover from my previous profession. Though the circumstances are about as good as a job of its type could possibly get, the contrast with my new work, which hardly seems like work at all, has made it clear just how much I hate that job, have hated it for years. It pays about 3/4 of my rent, so I can’t afford to give it up. And yet I can’t get myself to go in, putting it off until right before payday, then having to work all my hours over a short period.

Meanwhile, my business has fallen off. I’m not sure if this is due to changes in my advertising venue, or the advent of competition in a niche I previously had pretty much to myself, but most of my business these days is with previous clients. Which is gratifying in its own way, but it’s not enough to pay the bills. Why does an urgent need for self-promotion always rear its toothy head when I feel least able to put myself on display and take risks?

Not that I am completely defeated by challenges. HSP overwhelm is an emotional reaction, not true information about my abilities, I remind myself. I apply objective measures: It’s really huge that I am able to pay all of my bills each month, without adding anything to my credit card debt, for the first time in years. I have even been able to move some of the highest interest debt to lower interest cards. In the big picture, I am right on course in my long range plan.

I respond to emotional needs with common sense problem-solving. To fend off monthly funk and fear, I started tithing a percentage of every dollar earned straight to savings. This would be a great response to overspending. Unfortunately, the current problem is underearning.

I can’t seem to get much emotional mileage out of reality-checking and practical measures. They are lost in the shadow of the doldrums of today, which loom so much larger than the distant unknowable future. Depression takes the spark out of your plug. When the sun is out, to think is to act. When it’s not, the chasm between the two is impassable. All I want to do is nothing.

I have some major projects on my list. As you might imagine, they are well and truly stalled. Any tenuous flicker of interest that manages to penetrate the fog is swiftly extinguished by oversized expectations. But I’m getting past that a little, nurturing those tiny flames by not feeding them too much too soon. “Just do one thing,” I whisper to myself. And I do, and maybe a few days later, I do one more thing. After awhile, I am almost surprised when the progress is visible.

But no boost lasts long, not when another day dawns and it’s as overcast as the one before. I fear sunny weather may never kick in. We have summers like that sometimes. I’m in a holding pattern, and it’s getting really old.

Looking Up from the Bottom of the Year

A closeup of the sun against a dark sky showing solar flares, and a silhouette of long grass at the bottom.
When poets refer to the “dark night of the soul,” or gasp “more light!” with their dying breath, I know exactly how they feel. As a person with Seasonal Affective Disorder, my personal objective each winter is:

Just get through it.

So it will probably not surprise anyone that today, the Winter Solstice, is my favorite holiday. Last night was the longest night (and shortest day) of the year. Starting today, each span of daylight gets a little bit longer for the next 6 months. There is another month or more of chilly weather ahead, but I made it through the bottom of the year, a very heartening milestone.

The head of a roaring bearWinter with SAD is an endless round of rediscovering, when I notice that I have become snappish and utterly unmotivated, that I need to tend to my light therapy, get my sleep cycle back on a reasonable schedule, and/or spend more time outdoors. I don’t even try to curb my carbohydrate consumption. With the limited energies of the season, I have to pick my battles.

What would it be like to live on the equator, with 12 hour days and 12 hour nights year round? The consistency would be a relief, but I’d sure miss the 16 hour days at the other end of the year.

I have tried to calculate what shape and orbit and tilt would be required for a planet with my ideal weather (58-72 degrees, 365 sunny days a year and rain only at night), but my limited knowledge of astronomy fails me. And honestly, if it’s impossible, I don’t want to know. We all need our winter dreams.

Plant-covered stone sculpture of woman sleeping stretched out on the ground as if she is halfway under the earth.

How the Light Gets In

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen

A bean of light shines into a cave through a hole at one side

SensitiveType on Facebook

My brain is abuzz with all of the things I read and see that I want to share with you. The backlog is getting too huge to ever catch up, though, so I set up a Facebook page where I can post things that don’t make it into a SensitiveType blog post. Check it out (there’s also a link in the right sidebar).
A screenshot of the SensitiveType Facebook page

Here Comes the Sun

You may not have noticed if your weather is anything like mine, but the Winter Solstice passed about an hour ago. This means the longest night, the bottom of the year to people with SAD, is behind us, and daylight tomorrow will last longer than today. Hang in there.

Graphic of a large sun, with a vine stretching out from it towards the earth

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it

About those other things that have been going on with me lately? One of them is the weather. We just had a nasty heat wave, and I have Seasonal Affective Disorder.

A SAD State of Affairs

SAD, or, as it is officially (but inaccurately) known, Major Depression with Seasonal Pattern, is clinical depression in response to factors in the physical environment.

A graphic of a sun with a female face and rays blowing across it as if a breeze is blowing from the left sideWinter SAD, which you may have heard of, results from insufficient exposure to light. It was first observed as a winter-related phenomenon, since sunlight is weaker, days are shorter, and clouds are more common during winter in many climates.

However, SAD can also be found year-round in people who work at night and sleep during the day, or even those who live in sunny places but spend very little time outdoors. That makes the name misleading, and the official diagnostic criteria just plain wrong in far too many cases.

Summer SAD, which you probably haven’t heard of, is major depression triggered by heat, usually in conjunction with humidity (I’m fine in the desert). It also is not necessarily seasonal, but can occur wherever someone is exposed to hot and humid summer-like conditions, whether natural or artificial.

I have both types of SAD. Continue reading

I’m OK. No, really.

There’s a drought where I live. Drought is a terrible thing for wild animals, farmers, and lawns. But for me, endless sunny days are a dream come true. My name is – well, never mind – and I have Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Don’t let anybody tell you there’s no winter in coastal California, because there is. I admit, it’s a kinder, gentler winter, but in an average year, 4 inches of rain a month for 4 consecutive months results in significant solar inhibition. That’s when I hunker down in front of the light box, cancel my expectations, and hope life doesn’t throw me any curves for the duration.
Sun breaks through clouds and reflects off of a creek in a verdant landscape
I used to live in a place with 300 cloudy days a year. Continue reading