I had other ideas lined up to write about today, but when I sat down and looked at my cursor flashing on the blank screen, I felt this urge wash over me … as if something, someone, was telling me that I needed to come clean today. To spill about a struggle I’ve gone through in hopes that I can provide empathy and support to others going through the same thing.
I’ve written about it before, but I have a propensity toward depression. It’s not some weakness in me; it’s my biology. If you have the same propensity, know that it’s neither an emotional nor a spiritual weakness in you. It’s just that so many processes and chemicals are involved in regulating mood, and sometimes the balance isn’t quite right for some of us.
Most of the time, I’m fine — depression-less, if you will. But this time of year — wintertime in my neck-of-the-woods — can be a challenge for my mood.
This type of depression is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (“affect” in psychology refers to emotion or disposition). SAD can occur in any season, but wintertime is especially difficult for some. Depression can occur at this time of year due to shortened days and reduced sunlight, which causes a drop in serotonin levels (serotonin regulates mood), increased melatonin (a chemical that helps us sleep), and disruption to our circadian rhythm (that is our “inner clock”).
Seasonal Affective Disorder can be mild, moderate, or rather pronounced, even leading to suicidal thoughts. Regardless, it takes a toll on the sufferer and their marriage.
At a time when everyone else seems to be more cheerful than ever with seasonal decorations and social events and proclamations of “Merry Christmas!” the person with SAD is struggling to get the regular to-dos done as well as all the extras. Because they’d much rather crawl back into bed and sleep a while longer, like past noon.
SAD sufferers may be lethargic or tearful or grumpy — not exactly the kind of person their spouses want to hang out with. Even when that marvelous romantic date happens, they may return from just those few hours completely tuckered out and wanting to hibernate once again.
And sex? Well, that takes energy. Which is the one thing sorely lacking during a SAD spell. If the spouse’s libido is high enough normally, they may still want to make love regularly, or regularly enough. But if they started with a lower libido? Sex can be a real challenge.
Right this moment, Seasonal Affective Disorder is impacting many spouses and their marriages.Right this moment, Seasonal Affective Disorder is impacting many spouses and their marriages. Click To Tweet
If that is you, I know where you’re coming from. It’s impacting me and mine too. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been sleeping more, lacking energy, and even found my eyes watering at times. Thankfully, I knew what it was: not some problem with me or my marriage, but my biology off-kilter at this time of year. I explained the situation to my husband and started working on solutions.
What can you do when faced with Seasonal Affective Disorder?
- Get outside. While the sun is shining, get out there in it. I live in an area where the temperatures don’t get so cold that I can’t go out most days, so I’ve determined to make my back porch an outside home office whenever I can. That’s not possible for some of you. But think creatively and find times and ways to spend at least some moments outside.
- Exercise. Exercise boosts production of serotonin, which elevates our mood. You could make those outside moments a walk or jog through the park, or you can head to an exercise class, or just dance around your house in your jammies. Whatever works to get you moving, find a way to exercise.
- Light therapy. Daylight helps alleviate the symptoms of SAD, and you can buy products that mimic sunlight to help reset your inner clock. You can spend some of your day sitting a few feet from a light therapy box (like this one) to get the right brain chemicals going, or you can try a “dawn simulator” (like this one), which is essentially an alarm clock that uses imitation sunlight to wake you up and get your body on track.
- Antidepressants. Some SAD sufferers may require medication to properly regulate mood during this season. Especially if you’re experiencing extreme depression, including any suicidal thoughts, you need to see a doctor and get whatever help you can. Some antidepressants do have an impact on libido, so you might ask about that when you discuss options with your physician.
- Prayer. This one isn’t in the medical manual, but I’ve definitely turned to prayer in moments when I’m teary for no good reason or feeling like snapping at a family member because I don’t feel good. While still pursuing ways to alleviate the core issue (SAD), it helps to pray for perspective, strength, and joy. God has delivered that to me in various moments.
Be sure to communicate to your spouse what’s going on. If they’re not so sure that it’s a physiological issue, point them to expert resources, like this page on the Mayo Clinic site. Don’t use SAD as an excuse to check out of your marriage, but rather involve your spouse and take action to reduce the symptoms and get your joyful and sexy self back.
That’s what I’m doing this season. And I pray that you will have a cheer-filed season as well!