What is it like to live with Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Honestly? It’s fucking shit, that’s what.
It's an absolute fucking nightmare.
They call it the winter blues, but it's so much more than that. Imagine dreading the first leaf fall towards autumn, knowing full well that once the clocks go back and it starts going dark quite early on in the afternoon you will transform into a completely different person: A melancholy bundle of anti-joy.
It feels like it comes around earlier and earlier every year, but then the crap English weather doesn't really help with that. Unless you plan to emigrate to Australia, you're really stuffed.
You will feel tired – all the time – even though you may have overslept, and you will sleep excessively to the point that up to fourteen hours a day will be spent in bed. You become easily irritated by the most banal of situations. You will not eat or drink to the point of starvation; if you do remember to eat or drink, you will do so to excess. You will not find joy or amusement in the things that normally bring you those emotions. You will become a pessimist, but if you are already a pessimist, people will think that you have lost the will to live.
You will want to punch people in the face when they tell you to, "Just snap out of it." Or that perhaps you should get some exercise. Because it's so easy to go out and get some exercise when you're frightened of leaving the house.
There's also the classic, "What have you got to be depressed about?"
(You will want to punch a lot of people in the face.)
You will lack any sort of motivation to get out of bed, and the only reason you do so is because the monotonous routine of work is, in some strange irony, seen as something to get up for, even though you feel completely and utterly unsupported in your workplace (though the fact that you also fear the wrath of your boss might be something to do with it). The routine of a monotonous job like driving a train will be an unappreciated lifeline to you, but the long periods of working alone will result in you either talking to yourself or driving yourself to despair. Or both. You try to remain upbeat for your colleagues, as they are used to your chipper disposition. You wonder if you would be better off at home, but then you convince yourself that being at work is actually the best thing for you.
You will have to endure being in front of a box that emits a very bright white light at 03:00 in the morning when you are getting ready for an early shift. You will question the usefulness of this, but it is to stop you feeling hideously fatigued by the time you book-on for duty. And it works. You will have to again endure this said box of bright white light later on in the day, to stop your body from going into a deep sleep before the six o’clock news, and to allow you the alertness and energy required just to eat your supper. But you wouldn’t be bothered if you went without.
If you are on night shifts, that week becomes a haze of nothingness and continual darkness.
You will become your own worst enemy. You will have to make simple, silly lists to get yourself through the days where you are not required to be at work. You will become unreasonably upset with yourself if you do not complete the tasks you have set on your lists. You will become unreasonably upset. By everything. You will cry yourself to sleep at night, consumed by some kind of emptiness that feels like a black hole in the pit of your stomach (probably not helped by the lack of food). And it is this despairing emptiness – it does not make any sense to you at all, yet you are overwhelmingly upset by it. You are overwhelmed.
You will have panic attacks in the street whilst going about your daily business, which will affect your confidence and hinder any future attempts to go out by yourself when you are feeling this vulnerable.
You dread a forecast of continunal overcast. Overcast days will make you prone to sudden emotional outbursts. Consecutive days of overcast will render you completely overwhelmed. You will become so overwhelmed that your friends and loved ones may stage an intervention. If they don’t, they will attempt to encourage you to speak to your GP, even though you have no idea what to talk about or where to start. There will come one year when you finally concede defeat and go your GP, feeling ashamed and seeing the whole thing as a sign of weakness. You will explain about the feeling tired all the time and the irritability, but it is when you start talking about the overwhelming emptiness, despair and hopelessness that your GP will probably decide that you are actually severely depressed and prescribe you a course of anti-depressants and some sort of talking therapy. You explain that you are in a Safety Critical role of employment and that anti-depressants will possibly prevent you from carrying out your role effectively, or may result in you not being able to carry out your job full stop. Your GP may appear confused at your refusal to take medication. You will ask if there is another way. You will feel misunderstood by your GP, and you will feel equally misunderstood and unsupported by your workplace when you have to explain what is happening to your employer or to your colleagues.
You will fail to manage your time properly. You will fail to meet deadlines or you will be late to appointments. All of these things will increase the stress you feel. You will panic a lot and feel anxious in public and in situations where you would normally not be affected.
You will become withdrawn.
You will avoid seeing your friends and you will unwillingly choose to live life as a hermit. Your friends may think you are going insane or that you are wallowing. Your better half will become overwhelmed by your moods and your behaviour – and it will put a strain on the relationship. If your birthday happens to fall around the time this awful transformation happens, it will almost certainly double the amount of disappointment. You will fail to celebrate. It will be nobody’s fault. In my mind, there is a small part of me that wants all my closest friends to burst into the room with pompoms, singing some strained arrangement of Nobody Does it Better. When this vision fails to materialise, you traumatise yourself with the disappointment of it all. You will attempt to find fault in everyone and everything, and the mood that SAD brings will exacerbate any existing worries or insecurities that you already had.
There are these brief bursts and glimmers of hope where the mood sometimes changes without warning. But those days are far and few between, and you often feel worst for it a few days later. Your better half and all your friends will think you’re tripping on acid. It will be -4°C with a wind chill of -10°C, but you will not feel it, and you will want for nothing more but to stand in the woods with the winter sun on your face as you sip on a hot chocolate on this crisp, clear day, wittering on about how atmospheric everything looks. You will be very chatty and manic and will appear as if all is well with the world. You will look and feel as if you just snapped out of it – and you will appear to be yourself again.
But then you realise several days have passed and the overcast has come in since then. It’s now some hour in the morning on some dreary day and you're a world away from the woods and that winter sun. The patchy sunlight is streaming through the windows as your better half opens the blinds in an attempt to rouse you. There are now hopeless tears streaming down your face and the ones that have filled your eyes do nothing but refract that morning light into the cloudy husk of a human being that you appear to be, and you’re paralysed in what feels like complete and utter loneliness. You feel that emptiness in the pit of your stomach, and it renders you useless. You cannot even ask for a hug, even though you want one and would feel better for it. You feel isolated, even though there is somebody there very much wanting you to be okay, tugging gently at the duvet you are clutching tightly onto for dear life.
(Repeat this process for about 200 days. Or until the spring turns up. Or perhaps when the clocks go forward. And hope you don’t jump off a cliff in all that time.)