On Writing Through Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Every year, I discuss my onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and how I’m re-learning to cope with it. I suppose that’s the difficult thing about SAD: It’s absent for so many months out of the year, so I forget how it feels. And when it comes, it’s quick. One day I simply wake up and I don’t want to get out of bed.

I’ve received so many emails from people who also experience SAD, and who tell me I’m brave to be so vocal about how it affects me. And, see, I’ve never considered writing about SAD to be a brave thing. I’m not ashamed of my SAD. It is not a shameful thing, nor is it a weakness. It simply is. Like in winter, when I wear my coats and my scarves, I also wear my SAD. It is my heaviest coat, that’s all.

Some days, I wake up and it’s dark, and I don’t want to leave the warm cocoon of blankets. The bed becomes too comfortable in winter. When my eyes get heavy, I think of being back there, sleeping away the few hours of daylight we have instead of going outside and basking in the meagre rays.

My past years of SAD were always filled with hopelessness, and rather shameful thoughts. I would berate myself for my laziness, for my inability to function like a normal human being. SAD is full of shame. SAD makes you feel like you’re not normal. This year, the hopelessness is gone because I’ve learned it’s okay to have bad days. This is okay. Sleeping is okay, and it’s okay to want to stay in bed. My body is simply heavy with my coat of SAD. My coat of SAD makes me tired. My coat of SAD is the comfort of blankets and the warmth of a bed and I just want to lie there and sleep sleep sleep.

I’ve gone to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions to help me with SAD; this is why my coat of SAD is not heavier with hopelessness. I am told to find one thing each morning that makes me want to get out of bed. I keep my computer tucked away in the warmest room in the house, where the windows are also largest, where it is also brightest. And every morning, I wake up and I tell myself to get out of bed and go to the brighter, warmer room with the large windows and make myself coffee and write. As the sun lowers on the horizon — now before 4PM — I click on my SAD lamp and keep writing.

Some days are more difficult than others. I wake up late. I do not want to go to the warmest, brightest room. Some days, I find it difficult to write. Some days, the SAD coat is heavier, as if it were wet. And I’ve learned to accept that those days are okay. I am not a failure when I can’t write. It is not shameful. The SAD coat will dry.

But it is, and always will be, a careful and delicate balance. I must maintain a schedule. I must go to bed before midnight. I must stop writing at least 2 hours before that. I must let my mind settle into sleep with a set, designated number of hours. And I wake up and shower and have coffee, and if it’s a little late and almost afternoon, I go about my business as if it were the early morning. Because it is a victory to get up and get out of bed and make coffee. Because on those days, the SAD coat is less heavy. It is less of a burden. Sometimes, I don’t even feel it at all, and those days are wonderful.

I know some people reading this — perhaps those who haven’t experienced SAD — might want to apologize, or feel bad, and I appreciate it. But really, I am simply stating truths. My SAD coat is a part of me, like my hair or my eyes. I don’t feel bad for having it. So I hope those of you who are currently experiencing SAD are doing well, and taking care of yourself. Honour your victory days, and accept your heavy coat days. Celebrate all those reasons why you get out of bed every day.