Against the Grain Part 2: Seasonal Affective Disorder

“Expectations are (still) resentments waiting to happen.” (Still Anne Lamott )

Remember Myrtle? Remember our friend the crepe myrtle fromlast week’s blog? She has some important seasonal wisdom for us. If we go into Autumn expecting to have the same energy and outlook as we did in Summer, we will be very disappointed. We might assume there’s something wrong with us because our energy is waning with the reduced sunlight. Then, by the time Winter starts to sting our hands and face, and we get sleepy so much earlier than we did when the Sun didn’t go down until almost 9pm, we are quite sure we must be depressed. A lot of the time, we are. However, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the “disordered” part of Seasonal Affective Disorder is generated by internal and external expectations that we bloom in Winter the same way we do in Summer.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Let me be clear: I am not “blaming” people with SAD for their depression. I’m also not saying it isn’t a very real thing that requires attention and care. Yes, our biochemistry has definitely changed. Our metabolism has slowed, we have less energy to get up and do things. We have less interest in doing all the things. That sure sounds like depression to my clinical ears.

If we go against the grain of our seasons by heaping on an expectation that we will feel, eat, sleep and move the same way in cold months that we do in warm ones, we will absolutely be depressed. If we were already managing depression in those warmer months, our depression will be exacerbated even more in the cold months, especially if we think of cold months as defective warm months.

Autumn - The Shedding Season As mentioned in my last blog September 21st marked the Autumnal Equinox; A time of equal day and night. Since then, we started moving toward longer nights and shorter days. Look outside. The trees have finished shedding. All the energy they put into creating their green leaves and brightly colored flowers or green seeds in the warm months now turns inward. The green stuff must go in order to refine what they will and won’t take with them on their journey inward during the Incubation Season between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.

Flaming Exits This is a Sugar Maple: (Image: Sugar Maple tree in October with brightly colored leaves.)

This picture was taken in October. “Sugar” as I call her, is a bit of a showoff. The leaves that had been lush and green turned to a rose-kissed yellow and then a bright yellow just before they died off and fell to the ground. Here at the end of November, she’s naked, having done that brilliant display of transition nearly all in the span of a week. But oh, what a show!

I expected the show, so I didn't spend a lot of time bemoaning that she wasn’t green. Now that there are no leaves left, I respect her privacy. I know she has gone inside herself to get stronger, to recover and to grow. I’m learning to do that with myself as well.

Example: Creativity Shedding I sat down to write this blog expecting it to be a single blog about Seasonal Affective Disorder. Instead, this four-part series pretty much demanded to be written. The ideas started flying so fast that I couldn’t keep up with them. I’m sitting at my computer now with 4 different GDocs up, trying to “rake the leaves” into their appropriate piles/blogs.

No, this is not at all what happens in other seasons.

  • In Spring, I seem to have quite a lot of ideas, but they get caught up on whimsical breezes and float away. I can get so enamored with the next thing drifting in that I don’t even notice that others left.
  • Often in Summer I sit restlessly at a blank screen begging even just one blog idea to come. I don’t want to write. I want to go do something!
  • In Winter, I tend to “go wide and deep.” The writing ideas can get deeply personal. I realize that the content is for me, not for the public. I pick through them like a hearty stew, pulling out pieces that are apparently for my own nourishment. I let them flavor what I give you, but they are mine to consume.

And here we are now in the Shedding Season. Four blogs for you, a video series, two books I want to do, random poems spilling out here and there, some courses I’d love to put together, a second and then a third blog separate from the one I do for my practice, and hey! About that podcast I’ve been plotting… Shed shed shed shed shed…

Embracing the Shed There have been autumns in my life where the frustration of not being able to do all of the things that burst into my mind had me doubting myself, becoming inert, sliding headlong into Seasonal Affective Disorder. Once it got bitter cold, I just wanted to crawl into a cave.

I’ve stopped trying to cling to all of those dazzlingly colored leaves. I let them do what they’re going to do. You too may have had a flurry of ideas and plans when we first shifted from Summer into Autumn. Only some of them come to stay. Others are not for now. Capture your hopes and ideas somewhere you can find them later, and then, let them drop. It’s ok. The best ones for you will come back in another season.

Fighting SAD We are almost at Incubation Season. What expectations are you shedding?

As mentioned inlast week’s blog we do need Vitamin D and melanin stimulation to be healthy. Some people can afford to go to sunnier places in Winter, but most of us can’t. What are the other ways we can manage the deficit?

What if instead of being resentful that we can’t pick up and go to the tropics for three months, we worked at our overall health in a different way? What if we reduced our energy output to give us more energy INput? What if we double down on our efforts to improve our sleep with better sleep habits, a change in our exercise approach, and changing our eating so that it’s more in line with the foods that would be naturally available at this time if we weren’t forcing the biosphere to bend to our will? What if we change our expectations?

Gray Days and The Four Letter S Word I’veblogged many times about my loathing for snow. I’ve been saying “I hate snow” for so many years now that I didn’t even notice it isn’t all that true anymore. When I expect the weather to warm up and it snows instead, I get seriously grumpy. But what made me think it “should” be warmer by now? Was that in some contract we made with the planet? I think that if such contracts with the Earth ever did exist, we broke our side of the deal many many moons ago.

Winter provides so many gray, cold days. If we are expecting the Sun to revive us and we get gray days instead we can completely miss the gift of the gray. We have an opportunity to revive from within; To cull the resources we have and create something different from the raw material we find inside ourselves. As Helen vanWyk wrote, “Gray is the queen of all colors because she makes everyone else look good.”

Let the gray outside prompt you to discover the brilliant colors you carry inside. ............................................................................................................................. Did you just say to yourself, “What brilliant colors??” 

Contact Tiffany today
. Let me help you see them.