TALES FROM HUMBER: The dark, dreary days of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Nov 5, 2021 | Et Cetera, Tales From Humber

Human beings need the sun just as much as plants do to thrive.

But with the arrival of November and the end of Daylight Savings Time, the days are shortening, with less natural sunlight and, for many people like me, the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The family gatherings of Thanksgiving and the fun of Halloween have passed. I wake up hoping to see the sun. When I don’t, it takes longer to rise from bed.

I feel sluggish before the day has even started. It’s draining to look outside my window and get dressed with my artificial LED light from my bedroom. I crave sunshine and the feel of its warmth against my skin.

I wake up in the dark, head to school as the sun rises, watch the sunset before dinner, then repeat the next day.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, two to three per cent of Canadians will experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in their lifetimes. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men and it is most common in those between 20 and 50.

It is also thought to run in families. About 13 to 17 per cent of those who develop SAD have an immediate family member with the disorder.

Canadians are at increased risk of SAD because of our geographical location, with the disorder most prevalent in those who live farthest from the equator.

Researchers say the condition relates to how the retina processes light and ensuing abnormalities in our inner body clocks.

One of the main signs of the disorder is the impairment of work performance and social relationships. Other symptoms include increased sleep, decreased sex drive, feelings of guilt and hopelessness.

Combined, the effects of SAD create a deep sense of vulnerability. I feel like rolling up in a ball and blocking out everyone’s opinions. My appetite diminishes and my feeling of loneliness increases.

During these months, I tend to focus on school rather than my mental health. I fall into a rabbit hole of darkness because I eat less and neglect the atmosphere around me.

I feel like a robot, programming myself to sit at my desk and focus solely on school when I am not motivated to do that.

Rather than studying, I procrastinate in my room, trying to find the motivation to start my homework, which turns into four hours at my desk.

It’s difficult trying to squeeze my days into the afternoon, I like walking my dogs at 6 p.m. However, I feel like I have to walk them at 4 p.m. because the sun is already setting.

COVID-19 has not made it any easier. After almost two years of drastic measures to deal with the crisis, I realize isolation only increases my seasonal depression.

I search for ways to shake SAD. Advice usually includes light exposure through lightboxes, seeking counselling or therapy, or trying herbal remedies. Southern vacations are suggested for those who can afford them.

The annual consolation is that symptoms generally ease in March or April with the return of spring.

In the early days of November, that seems painfully far away.