The Winter Blues
Posted January 4, 2014 by Prairie Wife - 5 comments
Winter blues, the doldrums, cabin fever, that blah feeling you get in January and just can’t shake…it turns out that more people have that feeling than I ever knew, and it has a name; Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I grew up in Wisconsin where the fall was filled with rainstorms that lasted days, and cloudy winter weather would literally last weeks. The wintertime blahs started around November and would continue until March. It was a feeling everyone in Wisconsin was familiar with.When I moved out to Wyoming one of the first things I noticed was how many sunny days there were. Even in February when it was bitterly cold and windy, the sun would shine through the clouds, offering warmth as I hurriedly walked to my classes. Doing research for this article I found that Wisconsin has an average of 190 sunny days a year compared to Wyoming’s 231. Wyoming has over a month more of sunny days than Wisconsin! I noticed that in Wyoming I felt more motivated during the winter, and I didn’t find myself experiencing the winter blues like I did in Wisconsin, and it was one more reason of many that I decided to stay after I graduated from college.Flash forward to two years after I graduated college, and to my first year of marriage. The Cowboy is standing over me, as I am lying on the couch bundled up in blankets. He is insisting that I get up, shower, and get out of the house. I burrow deeper under the blankets and refuse to leave, saying I am just too tired and that I want to relax. He points out that for the last 5 days all I have done is lay on the couch, in the basement, watching TV and dozing off. It was Christmas break and as a teacher, I had big plans of being productive and doing those projects around the house that had been waiting all fall to be finished. Instead I found myself completely unmotivated, depressed, grouchy, and stinky (I hadn’t showered in over 3 days).
The Cowboy was concerned. Where was the annoyingly peppy woman he had married? Was it all a farce to get him to “put a ring on it?” He sat down on the couch, reached a firm hand into my cocoon of blankets and drug me out. He looked at me sternly and told me in no uncertain terms his concerns about my behavior. I started to cry and simply shrugged my shoulders. I couldn’t explain it to him; all I wanted to do was sleep and lay around. I was happy with my job, my marriage, our plans for the future…I just suddenly couldn’t seem to find any joy or motivation. He gently encouraged me to shower and go do something with him. I took a deep breath and agreed. It seemed like such a huge task to get up and shower and put clothes on, but for him I could do it.
We got the dogs and headed up to the mountains in the truck. We spent a few hours in the fresh air enjoying a brisk but beautiful Wyoming winter. I found myself feeling like…well…myself again. I felt so relieved that I could have cried, and I can tell you The Cowboy felt the same way. I called Ma that evening and told her what had been happening. She told me that Pa had the same trouble and their doctor had diagnosed him with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). They had just purchased a light therapy box for him, and it seemed to help. The light mimicked the sunlight that his body was craving. He kept it next to his desk and left it on as he worked, it greatly improved his overall mood and disposition. This form of therapy wasn’t really feasible for me. As a first grade teacher there wasn’t a time where I ever sat still enough to benefit from the light.
I did some research and came up with my own plan. I had never felt the winter blues when I was in college, or my first year of living on my own afterwards. What had happened (besides marriage) that had cause me to feel this way? As I reflected, I realized that all through college I walked outside to most of my classes. And before I was married I lived in an apartment and would walk my dogs almost every day. When we married we bought a house and moved in together. The large yard and dog kennel area meant that we only walked the dogs once a week, if that. I would make sure that in the winter months, when I felt myself feeling those winter blues, I would get at least 20 minutes of sunshine. It wasn’t hard to do. I simply parked the car at the end of the parking lot, went outside with my students during their 10 minute afternoon recess, and played fetch with the dogs. I found that I could even skip a day here and there with no problems, but never more than two days.
As years went on and I had children, 20 minutes of sun every few days just wasn’t working anymore to keep SAD away. I don’t know if it had to do with fluctuating hormones or weight. I spoke to a good friend of mine that also suffers from SAD and she recommended taking a vitamin D supplement. I spoke to my doctor and started taking 2,000mg of vitamin D every day…what a difference! I still try and get outside in the winter, but with our busy schedule it can be hard. Now that I have started taking vitamin D I don’t have to worry if I miss a few days of sunshine.
The more I have talked about SAD with friends and family the more I have realized that I am not alone. Big Brother B, Pa, and Texas Two Steppin’ all suffer from SAD (like depression there may be a genetic link) and having people to talk to about it is a big help. If you find yourself feeling the winter blues for weeks on end, sleeping more than usual or being disinterested in things you normally enjoy, you might have SAD. Here is a link from the Mayo Clinic about SAD and as always, remember to talk to your doctor before taking any medication, even over the counter.
Image credit: paulschlemmer / 123RF Stock Photo