Today's post in my mental health guest post series is by Kim from Raising a Ragamuffin
Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder isn't easy. Just when you think you've worked out how to manage it, life throws you a curve ball and you have to start all over again.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and what Causes it?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a severe form of what some people call the 'Winter Blues' caused by shortened daylight hours and a lack of sunlight. In the 6 months between the clocks going back in October and forward in March my mood gets low. I feel tired most of the time, even after a good night's sleep. I lose motivation to do almost anything and there are some days where I can't even face leaving the house. My focus becomes almost non-existent which can make my day job quite difficult.
Methods for Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Exercise - it's well documented that exercise can help ease the symptoms of depression and other mental health problems.
- Get outside during the day - get outside during daylight hours and soak up those rays. Make the most of your lunch break and go for a walk to get some exercise too.
- Light box/ dawn simulator alarm clock - light boxes are very bright lights designed specifically to help those suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder. A dawn simulator alarm clock gradually gets lighter in the half hour before the time you set it to be at it's brightest. I have both a light box and a dawn simulator alarm clock.
- Medication - sometimes all of the above doesn't help or circumstances mean that you can't do any or all of them. Sometimes you just need a little something to get you out of that hole. There is no shame in taking medication to help with SAD. In the same way that there is no shame in taking medication for a physical illness.
- Me-time - this is important all year round but especially during the winter months for SAD sufferers.
- Ask for help - if you're struggling ask for help. Even if it's just someone to have the kids for a couple of hours or taking a couple of days off work.
My Experiences of Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
As far back as I can remember I've felt low around Christmas time. Not for any specific reason, I think Christmas just stands out because it's the big event of the winter months.
Over the years I developed several strategies for coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder, the ones mentioned above. I got to a point where I was managing it and it had very little impact on my day to day life. But the last couple of years, my first two as a working mum, have been really difficult. If I'm truly honest, I didn't cope last year. But I couldn't admit it at the time.
In recent years, since the birth of Ragamuffin, I moved towards the alarm clock instead of a light box for two reasons. Firstly time, with the light box I need to sit in front of it for 20 minutes each morning - time that I just don't have anymore. Secondly, it makes getting out of bed easier because the room is already light.
Not Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder in 2016
Last year Ragamuffin broke the bulb in my alarm clock and for a few weeks I thought we had to replace the whole thing. That was £50 that we just didn't have at the time. So I went back to the light box but wasn't getting enough time to sit in front of it. Eventually I realised that, we only needed a replacement bulb. I ordered two (so I had a spare) and was away, so I thought.
We then went through a tough period with ragamuffin where she had a couple of chest infections. For anyone to get any sleep I ended up bed-sharing with her in the spare room, away from my alarm clock. Even between illnesses she didn't sleep well and there were even more nights spent in the spare room without my alarm clock. We moved the alarm clock to the spare room and then she'd sleep through for a couple of nights so I'd still end up away from the clock and it's light.
I'm not sure how I made it through that winter. I honestly can't remember much about it other than the run up to Christmas and Christmas Day.
Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder this Year
I've had similar issues this year. Ragamuffin is going through another period of multiple wakings in the night. Some nights she settles back to sleep quickly and others we end up bed-sharing. There have also been a couple of other contributing factors which I think have made my condition worse this time. My beloved nan died earlier this summer and I'm not sure I'm over it yet. Its also been a tough year at work with morale low on my team. A couple of more senior colleagues noticed that I wasn't quite myself, which has never happened before, and made me realise that I was struggling.
So I took a couple of days off work for some me-time (and to catch up on much needed sleep!). During that time off I saw my GP and was prescribed anti-depressants which have made a huge difference to my day-to-day life. When I sit and think about it I wonder if ragamuffin's poor sleep is linked to my depression. Her worst sleep spells have happened in the winter months when I've been feeling low. It could be coincidental. Waking at night is normal behaviour for a child of her age. I'll probably never know for sure.
So far this year I'm feeling much more like myself. I don't feel anywhere near as tired as I did a few short weeks ago, and I have much more patience with those typical 2 year old moments. I'm not 100% but I'm the best I've felt for a while and that's pretty good right now.
Advice for Anyone not Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
Ask for help and support if you need it. There is no shame in admitting you are struggling. I wish I'd had the courage to do it last year when I was feeling very low. Most of all, look after yourself. Make sure you put time aside to look after yourself to have a soak in the bath or even half an hour to read a book. You can't be the best version of yourself if you're running on empty.