When the Sun Leaves: My Relationship with SAD

Sharing this for my friends to better understand where I’m at in winter, and in some years, where I go. 

About 8 years ago, I was walking into Home Depot, crossing the store to purchase screen mesh because I wanted to make paper. The most direct path was through the lighting aisle. By the end of the aisle, it felt like I had shaken off a very thick cloak I didn’t know I was wearing. That was my first clue. 

January of 2017, I was housesitting for Iyaġak’s parents, and I was sitting on the floor of their living room. Perhaps I was reading something. Then I was laying on the floor. And then I couldn’t get up. 

I couldn’t get back up again. 

Let me clarify: With everything in me, I could not muster the will to move my body and get back up again. So there I stayed. I laid there for a long time, long enough for the smallest of lights of realization, the faintest, dimmest thought to occur: “This is not right.” The light of realization grew brighter, and a second thought followed: “Do I have depression?” 

Then I thought: “Could it be SAD?” 

Everyone experiences things differently; this narration is mine. 

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SAD is a disorder, and like the depression it is, it’s coupled with another “D” word for me, which is deception. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, as was my experience with depression from about 11-16 or 17, is deceptive in its feeling of authenticity. Your regular thought life is swapped out for an alternative set of thoughts, feelings, emotions, that are so authentic and so real to you, that you can’t tell that it’s not what you really believe or how you really think, at all — except it becomes your real. SAD is deceptive in the feelings it engenders, including, in the more challenging years, a complete collapse of hope over yourself and your life. 

Imagine not being able to trust your own mind and distrusting if any of the thoughts you have are of you, and if they can really be counted upon. Depression can be wholly frightening in its imperceptibility. I’ve had it for weeks and month and not known; such was case leading up to January of 2017. I had no idea. In fact, almost every winter of my adulthood, I chalked up my state of being to overextension or end-of-year burnout from community projects that can stack up in the fall.  

So when I realized I had SAD, it was wholly news to me. As soon as I figured it out, I picked up a light therapy lamp. I will never forget what it felt like when I first turned it on. It was like drinking water, and I felt all of the light coming inside me, into my bloodstream. 

One thing people misunderstand about SAD, and my experience with depression in general, is that it’s not a feeling, at least not to me. It engenders them, but it’s not a feeling in so much as it blocks, disturbs and affects my ability to function

Something that can happen with SAD is that when your emotional energy is being routed to manage the sheer toll of just existing, you flat out don’t have the room for emotions or energy from external sources. The world is so loud. You cannot grant the emotional withdrawals and asks of the people and community around you, because you simply have nothing to give. 

You can’t manage knowing about other people’s lives including (for me) even scrolling on social media. You’re full. You’re so full of winter, you can’t accept anything more. You can’t entertain thoughts, opinions, emotions and news that exists outside of you. Can you imagine that? Not being able to take in information? You are inescapably sick, in the process of emotionally expiring, all the time.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, as I know it, is wholly debilitating and very clearly affects your ability to function. And it hurts and isn’t fair to those around you. 

SAD is deceptive because it tells you that you don’t want to talk to your friends because you don’t have the emotional capacity to do so. I’ll delay as much as necessary. I’ll let them, and hope, they cancel, and get privately annoyed when they persist, though I’m thankful that they do.  SAD disconnects and isolates. 

SAD can fluctuate from year to year; some are better than others. Two years ago, I had a winter where I felt almost normal (last year was less so). 

But some years are worse. 

An additional challenge that unless someone has experienced something similar, it feels like empty words to those who don’t know what it’s like when the winter is inside you. Furthermore, how do you tell your community not to count on you annually, from November or December until the return of the sun?  

I see it in my eyes in the mirror or when I take a photo.

If there is something I want to say about SAD, is that I don’t want it and that it’s not even up to me what my mind does this time of year. I do everything I can to manage it. Additionally, a digestive or hearing disorder isn’t going to improve because others think it should. The brain in regards to mental health, is scarcely shown the same consideration. 

Every day is a struggle. The sun in late November sets at 4, and after the final Zoom call for the day, there is the resounding enveloping of your bedroom, the slowness, and the weight of gravity. I am so thankful for friends, who perforate the despondency and add sparkle to otherwise dim nights. Until the sun returns.