Monday, January 31, 2011

Abbie's Take on S.A.D


We couldn't be happier to have Abbie back. You'll love this...

I'll be honest, I'm feeling naked again with this post. But hey, I’ve already told you I struggle with yelling at my kids, why not tell you details of my Seasonal Affective Disorder? Let's do this.

Last winter was no good, no good at all. I felt trapped and sad and anxious and depressed. Blah. It was the worst. There are no fond feelings for winter 2010. Then spring came! Yay! We had a great summer with loads of fun, and then the leaves started to turn. I love fall. Who doesn’t love fall? But I could feel anxiety starting to bubble inside because of the impending cold, horrible, nasty season ahead. The thought of another winter full of crying, yelling, sad, and all-day-in-bed days literally scared me to tears…ironically. I didn't want a repeat of last winter's SADness.

I realized that the change was in my hands, I was the only person who could make things different for this winter. So I prayed, I fasted, I talked to my super supportive husband and therapeutic friend. My final impressions were to:

1. Keep busy doing things I enjoy doing and don’t feel guilty when I say no to things I don’t want to do. I made a Winter Survival Guide and have been keeping on top of all the fun things, especially the arts-n-crafting <--- (shameless linkage to my winter crafting because, you guys! I'm really proud of my Mod Podging!)
2. Make sure I do the essential spiritual things EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
3. Put on my dusty logical hat and figure out what my depression triggers are and track my moods.

Bloom Friends, number 3 is what I want to talk to you about. It has been the saving grace of all saving graces. Can I tell you why?

When I’m in a funk, I can never really figure out why and how I got there. It’s discouraging and feels like I have no control over my emotions. This is why tracking triggers was so important. Figuring out what pushes me to feel depressed would help me actually have control over how I was feeling. So I made a list of any possible triggers; ranging from PMS, to hours of sleep, to what the weather was like.

Another thing that makes me question my emotional stability is when I’m down, I feel like I’ve been down foooorrrever. When I’m up, I’m in complete denial that I was ever sad. (Yep, I’m an All or Nothing type). Coming up with a way to track how many sad days and happy days I had was pretty much essential to this whole experiment.

That’s when I was inspired to start a chart. Down the left side: all my triggers. Across the top: the days of the month. That way if it really got bad enough and I needed to see a doctor for treatment, I could come in with my chart and say, “look, I really am crazy.”
February's chart waiting to be filled with my emotions

A few things I’ve learned during a month of mood tracking: PMS, forgetting my morning prayer, lack of sleep, and feeling distress do way more damage to my emotional state than eating poorly, no sun on the skin, or not exercising (who knew? Now I do!). I’m no physiologist, but looking back on January, I was pretty normal...I think: a few sad days (caused by said triggers), ample happy days, and mostly days of feeling even-steven – not super happy, not super sad. My conclusion for January: SAD, I kicked your butt before you could kick mine! Booyah!

And to all y’all who are thinking, wow, Abbie, this looks like a lot of work. Worth every second! Seriously, doing this has been month changing. Winter changing. Life changing! I plan to keep it up until…well, maybe forever.

So, here we are at the doorstep of February, historically the worst month EVER. I’m hoping that all this tracking will give way to a good February with mostly happy/even-steven days. And when I have a sad day, I know it’s not going to last forever and I’ll actually have the proof. Yay for logical hat wearing!

Thanks for letting me bare it all once again, Bloomers!

Editor's post note: When Abbie sent this post our way, I uploaded and read it immediately (I'm always anxious to find out what this woman has to say). This post, and this idea of personal tracking, rocked my socks (to borrow an Abbie-ism). Abbie, thank you for being brave and raw. And thank you for being so diligent about understanding yourself better, so proactive in seeking a solution to a vexing issue in your life - this is the thing that inspires me most, the thing I am most excited to implement in my own life.


Ann said...

When I was pregnant with my third--especially during the winter months of that pregnancy--I was pretty depressed. It's true--you feel like you've been down forever.

What Abbie did is actually what a counselor I spoke to recommended that I do. She also recommended that I start

1. Focus on eating a lot more protein (important during pregnancy, but also important for mood health in general). I did this and it helped some, but this was relatively easy for me at that time because I was starving all the time and craved protein.

2. Take a (liquid) vitamin D supplement. I was extremely skeptical about this one. But I just did it anyway, and it made a phenomenal difference for me. I immediately noticed that my thoughts were less self-condemning. Maybe it's sounds crazy to you, but this was my experience. Maybe someone out there will be helped by this.

Another thing is at work here. I think that when we have trials and we decided we are going to DO something about them, even our smallest efforts (or enormous as Abbie's have been) matter. The Lord sees that we are trying, and blesses us out of proportion to our efforts. For me, taking the supplement, as tiny a thing as that sounds like, was a hard thing for me. When you are depressed it's hard to to ANYTHING to help yourself. So, it was a leap of faith, and I was rewarded for that. Rewarded way more than my efforts merited at that point.

Thanks for this great post. SAD and Depression are real real real.

cindy baldwin said...

I have always struggled with some degree of SAD, which got a lot worse when I moved to Idaho (where winter is about 7 months long!). My first few winters here were HORRIBLE. As soon as the days started getting shorter I would want to crawl into bed and never get out.

Two years ago, my doctor put me (for other reasons) on a super high dose of Vitamin D - 50,000 IUs weekly (to put that in perspective, most people take about 7,000 IUs weekly). That winter I was happy ALL WINTER LONG. I haven't had nearly so much winter depression since then! So I definitely second the Vitamin D recommendation. It's very difficult to get too much D, so if a small dose isn't working, try upping it and see what happens.

Abbie said...

Walking to the store to buy loads of vitamin D right now! Thanks Ann and Cindy!

Kelly and Kelly said...

it's refreshing to see someone so honest about their experience. thanks for the post.

Deanna said...

Wow. Thank you so much for this post. I don't struggle w/ SAD mostly b/c I refuse to live anywhere with bad winters :) But, I sure struggle with controlling my emotions. Tracking triggers is such a wonderful idea. Thank you for being proactive and sharing your proactiveness with us. I am going to start doing this. Today! Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I don't usually comment (although I think your blog is great and the comments are too, I am just by nature a quiet observer) but I felt like I needed to jump in on this one. I think there is something to the vitamin D thing, but according to the Mayo Clinic "The upper limit (UL) for vitamin D has been recommended as 2,000 IU daily due to toxicities that can occur when taken in higher doses." So by all means take some vitamin D, but i would be careful taking more than 2,000 IU (or 50 micrograms) unless directed to do so for a specific reason by your doctor.

Joan said...

Abbie: You're awesome! It doesn't get more raw than this. Thank you.

Amanda @ willful/joyful said...

What a timely post! January through mid February is normally the roughest for my SAD. This is the first winter in our new house. When we were looking LOTS of natural light was a must because when mommy isn't happy nobody is. So far I've noticed a HUGE difference. Only on the very darkest days do I recognize any symptoms appearing. I love having seasons so I wouldn't want to move south to avoid SAD, but I know we won't be moving any further north ever, ever, ever!

Kimberly said...

Oh winter! So hard! In BC it rains and rains for weeks on end and can get quite depressing. I don't think I suffer from full blown S.A.D. taking extra vitamin D is a good idea-I never go outside when it's cold and drizzly so I know I get low on vitamin D all winter.

I track my cycle, and I learned that I don't actually have PMS or cravings like I thought I did. My mood swings are more triggered by lack of sleep than anything else. Tracking is great! It provides a lot of insight and helps you change what actually needs to be changed instead of just guessing.

Heather said...

So perfect for me today. I seriously have wondered in the past if I have SAD. She describes perfectly how I start to feel as Fall ends. And how I feel Jan - pretty much April. I HATE winter, and living in Utah does not help this! I crave warm weather, sunshine, the world in bloom, and longer days! This has been such a helpful post for me to read. Wonderful info. Thank you for this!

Steph at Modern Parents Messy Kids said...

Thanks for such an honest and open post. I love the idea of trying to track your mood triggers. Here is Seattle S.A.D. is no joke and I sometimes notice my patience wearing this a little quicker when it is grey out. Thanks so much for giving me a strategy for working on it.

Unfailing Love said...

exactly what i needed to read [post and comments]. Thanks for sharing!

Christie said...

This is a positively great idea.

Rae. said...

I get S.A.D. I'm so relieved when I hear of other people feeling it too, because I almost convince myself it is my problem and I need to stop being insane!

Also, I think you described it SO PERFECTLY...the whole part of never believing you ever were sad when you're happy, and vice versa when you're sad! It's nuts!

The vitamin D advice is true too - I now take the worlds best calcium/magnesium/vitamin D supplement (it comes in liquid form, tastes totally yummy and you can buy it at Costco - it is called liquid Reviva). As women, especially if you've given birth or breastfed - you can get pretty deficient in those three easily. I feel like my teeth even getting worse and worse from each pregnancy, and this supplement makes me feel like I'm restoring myself.
Also, Omega threes are good to load up on - I just chew a couple of my kid's gummy vitamin ones from Costco too.

Thanks for the awesome ideas on being proactive and taking control of the situation!


Kalli Ko said...


and down with A.O.S.A.D.

it's supposed to be 15 degrees tomorrow and -4 tonight, I think I will track tomorrow as a major downer...