This post is about S.A.D. If you don’t know about it, please read. If you know what it stands for but don’t know the reality, again please read. If its something you suffer from I hope you fill find some comfort in this in that you are not alone.
SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I decided that it was something I wanted to raise awareness about, from my last post. I requested for any sufferers of SAD that felt comfortable to share their story with me to please do so and I am so overwhelmed with the sheer number of people that responded. Thankyou all very much, this is a blog post that has been written as a result of your bravery. No names will be mentioned here as what has been told to me has been done so in the strictest confidence, but I do have peoples permissions to share aspects of their journey.
SAD is sometimes referred to as the winter blues. It is a seasonal condition whereby the sufferer has a number of negative symptoms during the winter months. It is thought to be a result of lack of sunlight as a result of the longer nights and shorter days. Many people are affected by it most of whom can continue with their day to day lives, but for some sufferers it can be very debilitating and can result of a wide range of symptoms and problems. It is easy to research SAD on the internet, but what I wanted to do with this post is really get to know how it affects peoples lives. A list of the symptoms is all very well and good but it doesn’t tell you about how people really feel and how it affects their lives. This is what I hoped to do.
What has overwhelmed me with the responses that I have received is the fact that everyone who has been diagnosed with SAD had to wait a number of years before a diagnosis. As it is seasonal, the patterns of the condition were only picked up by GPs after the sufferers symptoms showed a pattern. I cannot imagine how difficult this must be before hand. Many of those who spoke to me about it described how they could not understand why they had the symptoms of SAD as there were no particular “triggers” for them at the time. Many had not even heard of it before being diagnosed and were not aware that the changing months could affect their wellbeing so much. One person told me that they were aware that their months showed a pattern, and that they came to dread the autumn and winter, but did not realise that the pattern meant anything and therefore they did not raise it with their GP. It was only after they saw another GP with their symptoms that they realised a condition called SAD even existed. This to me is something that I am hoping to put a stop to for some of you out there that may be suffering. This is why awareness is so important and I would like as many of you to share this as possible or to pass on your knowledge, or write about it or talk about it after reading this post. There may be people who are struggling that know nothing about it and a prod in the right direction can help them on the path to finding a diagnosis.
So how can this pre-diagnosis struggle affect your life? Well as I mentioned before one individual almost developed a fear of the winter months because they knew it would be difficult for them. As winter approached they become more and more anxious knowing the “struggle that lay ahead”. Another individual I spoke to separated from their partner and family twice as a result of SAD impairing the cognitive abilities and blurring their emotions. Someone who supported their loved one described it as “sheer hell”. They were doing their best for the person they loved but they couldn’t help them and had no idea why. They ended up blaming themselves and thinking it was their fault and they were not making their partner happy. Thankfully after their diagnosis all of the individuals managed to get their lives on track, and the families and friends around them gained a greater understanding of what was going on and therefore could better support them.
So after symptoms such as depression, exhaustion, anxiety, problems sleeping, irritability and poor cognitive function (to name just a few) occurring on a yearly basis at the same time of year for a few years, the people I spoke to eventually got a diagnosis. They had an answer for what was going on and could then work on techniques to help them and their loved ones to deal with SAD. All of those I spoke to described this as a relief, as they finally knew there was a reason for it all. However one person said it also made them feel a little depressed in the fact that it felt to them like they would have this hopeless battle every year. With the correct support and a basis to work from they have all managed to come up with coping strategies, as have those around them.
All of the people suffering with SAD that I have spoken to have been taking medication for the condition. They find that this helps them reduce the affects of the condition, however most of them still suffer from symptoms. One person told me that by initially taking the medication they felt like a bit of a failure. I would like to highlight here that medication for invisible illnesses is in no way a failure and it can help a great deal. If you needed antibiotics for an infection people tend to take them without hesitation, and medication for invisible illnesses is exactly the same. If you need it and it helps its only the same as a Ibuprofen for a headache or penicillin for an infection. Anyway I digress…
Some individuals have found that CBT therapy has helped them with the symptoms. This has been advised for them by their doctor and is away of managing your symptoms by changing the way you think or process information. Others however did not find this useful. I guess its the same as depression with that, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t and it depends on the individual circumstances. Other people have taken vitamin supplements such as vitamin D and they find this appears to help them.
One thing that a couple of the people mentioned to me is light therapy. This is whereby you can purchase a light specifically designed to reduce the symptoms of SAD, that mimics natural sunlight. The idea is to sit under this light for a set period each day during the winter months to simulate sunlight reading the body or eye. Again some found this help and some found it didn’t appear to do a lot. Its one of those conditions that is a bit trial and error as previously stated, it does depend on the individual.
One major thing I have found is that there are more people suffering with SAD than I first thought, and that’s only the friends that can see my blog and felt comfortable enough to share their experiences. It makes me wonder how many other people suffer with the condition, some of whom may not have any idea what is going on. I have also found out how extreme some of the symptoms can be. One individual can barely function during the winter months, and as a result is not able to work. Others are able to work but struggle more than normal and therefore find that they are under more pressure as a result. Its yet another invisible illness that is downplayed by society as just being the “winter blues” when in reality it is so much more than that. It affects not only the individual but their whole families, and their loved ones. I feel its important for people to know about it, so that if anyone is suffering they can seek help. Or if someone is brave enough to admit to you that they suffer from SAD then you know what it means, and can have some understanding.
I have added a link onto the bottom of this blog to a site that will explain the symptoms of SAD. I would like to thank everyone that shared their experiences with me. I can’t imagine dreading certain times of year because I know I will struggle.
I hope I have enlightened some people, and please share the information with others! Thankyou for reading