I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It begins, for me, in September and I crash hard by November. “Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year” (CAMH, 2018, para. 1). When I was pursuing post-secondary education, I had SAD but had not been diagnosed. That came after. My family doctor recognized this after reviewing my medical file and noticed that I had come to see him the first week of November for seven years in a row with the same complaint of feeling desperate and out of control.
I am starting ten days of vacation. I take the first week of November off every year as part of my SAD coping plan. Let me tell you what happens to me.
I call it a descent into madness purposefully. I have a physiological reaction to the lack of sunlight and the chemical processes that happen impact my physical and emotional state. SAD tells me lies. SAD tells me that I am worthless, useless and hopeless. SAD makes me want to sleep between 3 pm and 9 pm and won’t let me sleep at night. SAD gives me panic attacks that start once or twice a day and builds so that by the first week of November, I wake with a panic attack that sits in the core of my being and continues all day. SAD causes tears to run down my face for no logical reason, tears that I have no control over. SAD causes me to withdraw from family and friends. SAD makes me feel heartbroken and devastated. SAD tells me that I am a horrible person and a terrible mother. SAD tells me that nothing I do is good.
SAD tells me lies. So I use a set of coping skills to battle SAD. I use logic – intellectually, I know that I awesome and I have a good life. I don’t feel that way, but I can remind myself that this will end. This is probably the best thing about SAD, I know it will end. I know that at some point, usually in January, I will begin to have “happy to be me” thoughts again. But in the meantime, any compliment or any good thing that I do will be rejected.
I tell everyone that I have SAD and remind them that SAD season is coming. I tell my students, tutors, colleagues, and my boss. I tell my family and friends. I illicit their support and understanding. I do logic checks of my reactions, especially emotional ones to gauge if SAD is impacting me. I check with family and colleagues in case I need to reframe my overreactions. My friends forgive me when I disappear for a few weeks. My children strap on their SAD warrior gear and talk to me and hug me when I need it most. I have a SAD support group I can turn to with other SAD warriors who understand.
I use light therapy and supplements. I use antidepressants when I need to. I use my week off to be kind to myself, to embrace my SAD and work on resetting my internal clock. On my week off, I eat what I want to, I sleep when I want to, I cry when I want to, I feel all the things I feel fully. SAD is part of me and because of SAD I am more compassionate because I know what it feels like to be desperate, devastated, and heartbroken. I know what it feels like to need help and to get it and also to be judged for it. Trust me, it is better to get help when you need it.
For our students who have a mental health challenge, compassion and understanding is the best reaction you can give. These students are stronger than you can imagine and they deserve our help to learn and to succeed in their academic pursuits. As educators, let’s start with educating ourselves on mental illness and advocating for an end to stigma so that students can come freely to talk about what reasonable accommodations they need.
I’ve known for over 20 years that I have SAD. I have gotten good at coping with it and for asking for the help I need. But, here I am fighting with the SAD trying to decide whether to hit publish on this post. SAD is saying I will be judged and fellow educators will reject me. I wonder who will win?
CAMH. (2018). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder
SAD lies to me.
I know it will end.
SAD is a part of me.
I wonder who will win.
A poem by Irene Stewart