Seasonally Affected Depression and Me

This post is not meant to advise or provide solutions for other people. It’s personal reflection on my experience with SAD and how I have come to live with it. As we come into a southern hemisphere spring, I can feel my energy changing…

I don’t know when I realised that I had such immense swings in energy from season to season, but it was years ago. I didn’t consciously think about it – I just accepted that during the winter months I would move slowly and accomplish little and in the summer I was like The Everyready Bunny and hyper-efficient. The past two years have been different – I have become conscious of the process…

Last year I became consciously aware of the concept of using winter as a natural drawing-in time: a time of reflection and self-examination, a time of allowing the SAD to come, permitting myself to have a rest and not to fight my body and brain. I was in the middle of writing WHY PEOPLE DRIVE YOU CRAZY and it was difficult to get even one sentence on paper some days. It wasn’t so much because of the workload, it was because I realised, while I was writing, I wasn’t a Butterfly (bright and bubbly) but an Owl (quiet and reflective) – and for whatever reason, I had been forcing myself to be someone who I wasn’t. My social-face is the opposite to who I am. And I just hadn’t accepted that before.

That’s not to say I’m not loud and exhuberant when I’m with close friends – but I also need my quiet times and if I don’t feel emotionally supported during social events, I just want to run away. There’s more to the temperament than this but this aspect, for me, is key. Realising it was pretty overwhelming and coupled with my reduction in energy anyway, it made for an interesting winter.

It wasn’t that I sat around crying or contemplating my navel, I just sort of froze.

This year it was even more intense. I had read Peter Levine’s excellent book In An Unspoken Voice and all of the other reading I had done over the past seven years all clicked into place – it was like 1000 lightbulbs went off in my head.

Once the first draft of All About Tantrums was finished. I decided to really use the winter and the information from Dr Levine – and see what happened. Ha. Not sure whether to recommend that or not.

Basically, instead of focussing on how I was feeling or trying to intellectually assess my SAD or to fight it or stop it, I focussed on the sensations in my body, allowed them to bubble through me as they wished and then accepted the memories and daydreams that came with them. In other words, rather than be ‘ego’ (mind/intellect) led, I allowed myself to be ‘soul’ led. YIKES. Big stuff. And v.e.r.y. unpleasant. Very. Unpleasant.

I learned that when I imagine scenarios with one person – those scenarios are reflections from my ego. She is my ego image and shows me where and what I fear. Every time I imagine a scene with her in it, I am now alerted to what she is saying – and can accept that message is about part of me and nothing to do with her. (Interesting that she’s since moved away.)

I learned that I hadn’t processed the sadness I’d felt after a romance I’d had 20 years ago. I learned that I had rejection issues, which went right back into my childhood and I had jealousy issues as a result of the emotional disconnection from that sense of rejection. I learned that I can be horrible to people. And that sometimes those people are my children. I learned to accept more of my shadow side than I have ever accepted.

I am yin and yang. I am a bitch sometimes and I am a sweetie. I do say the wrong thing, and am learning the power of silence. I do fear rejection and become mindlessly jealous, I also know I have the capacity to love deeply and intensely. I enjoy the company of other people and I have to have time alone. I am easily overwhelmed and take on too much responsibility. I can be dogmatic and I can be patient and accepting. And the great, awesome, wonderful thing is: these are not just intellectual and ego based understandings. I ‘know’ it all in the cells of my body and it’s OK.

I actually revisted all the horrible, uncomfortable sensations associated with each emotion and went through them again – but this time consciously. I wasn’t just overwhelmed by the sensations, I wasn’t just the sensations, but I could feel the sensations and understand them. This is what Levine calls Containment, and I found it to be transformative and powerful. (And extremely uncomfortable.)

Then I picked up a book I haven’t read for 18 years or so: Women Who Run With The Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It’s a bit flaky in the beginning, but it is also a real gem of a book. Reading it now, in my 40s, was a very different process to reading it in my 20s (not long after the break up of *that* romance). What she says about fairytales is so close to what Levine says about trauma processing that it reinforced for me how much we have lost in the west.

By just pushing the happy, happy, joy, joy side of life we are stopping ourselves from experiencing true happy, happy, joy, joy. Our feelings are meant to be fluid. We are meant to accept the sensations we would call negative so that we can also feel the sensations of extreme pleasure. In effect, we stop ourselves from being happy by forcing positive thoughts and running from our shadows. It is only in the dark we can see the light, and all that jazz.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s been a foul winter. I wanted it all to end and just go away. I didn’t enjoy it one bit. But I am different because I accepted the drawing-in and used it. I actually, physically, can feel good sensations more than I could last autumn.

Oddly, I feel more fragile and stronger, I feel more vulnerable and more accepting. I still want to force things to happen in the external, but I am truly learning to accpet and focus on what’s happening inside my body more.

Will I allow the SADto come again next year? Will I give myself permission to stop and allow more of my shadow to be processed next year or will I medicate myself and avoid it?

I just don’t know. For now I’m pleased it’s spring-ish. The house is cleaner. The car is cleaner. And I can begin blogging again.


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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6 Responses to Seasonally Affected Depression and Me

  1. I never knew I was seasonally affected until I lived in Boston. And one particularly difficult year, I was walking through Harvard Square in September when it started to rain. In the street lights, the rain looked like snow. I burst into tears and ran to a pay phone (yes.) and called an airline’s number from memory. I wanted to go home to California, I cried to the reservations attendant.

    That’s when I sought out a therapist. A light box, he said, was useful to most people about 15 minutes a day in winter. For me he prescribed 2 hours a day. Eat in front of it, read in front of it, but get full spectrum exposure every single day for as long as you can.

    It helped. Some. SAD is easier in California because even our winter days have sunshine. But not enough for my brain.

    We’re coming to autumn on this hemisphere, so I’ll try the openness to inwardness you explored. We’ll see what happens this winter…enjoy your Spring!

    • Wow. Yes, it was like that for me when I was in London. I came home to a Hawke’s Bay winter rather than go through another UK summer… certainly easier here than in most places, although I still get it pretty badly some years. But go easy on yourself, if you do the inner exploration thing – my SAD is not your SAD. Good luck.

  2. sarah says:

    I wrote about this just the other day, so it’s interesting to see someone else’s thoughts on the subject. Personally I think its sad that we call it “seasonally affected disorder” as if its some unnatural thing imposed by faulty biochemical reactions on a few people. All of us are natural beings within a natural world. Our bodies, instincts, spirits, shift and respond to the natural forces around us all the time. The ones of us who don’t notice are the ones who have thoroughly disconnected ourselves from natural being. As you say, seasonal affect is normal and we do better when we allow it to process naturally through us. And I so completely 100% agree with you about the fluidity of feelings and about trying to force happiness. I don’t know why everyone thinks happiness is the most important thing in life.

    • Hi Sarah,
      I think we have ‘forgotten’ (socially that is) that we cannot have the happy without the sad and to experience both is to be whole. I get so frustrated with people telling one another, or me, to think positive yadda, yadda, yadda – by blocking the sensations of yin we also and equally block the sensations of yang. What is great is Levines work on trauma, which proves it’s all biologically true…not just airy-fairy hippy stuff! LOL I’ll try and get over to your post…

  3. Ah my fellow Owl. I identify so strongly with what you have to say, although I’m deeply affected by things other than SAD. We’re both on this fascinating path that offers insight but not easily. I know that Dr. Levine’s books as well as Eugene Gendlin’s “Focusing” have taken me to places of understanding I hadn’t been. I see now that the work of Magda Gerber and RIE are working to make this a possibility starting from birth.

    In the hemisphere where I hang out, we’re nearing autumn. I gain energy as the days get cooler and thrive in the winter. May the coming of spring for you brighten your spirits.

    • Thanks Laura. Yes, there is a definite lift in my step as spring draws near. Interestingly, I also enjoy the autumn – well early autumn anyway. Hopefully, with my increased energy I shall be able to read some of those books you mentioned. Lovely to be back here again. 🙂

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