Seasonal Affective Disorder: "I just wanted to hibernate"
For nine months of the year, Abigail is a bright and sociable woman that enjoys meeting friends and going to the theatre. But at the start of every year she feels different; lethargic and low. Abigail lives with what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
I was 16 when I first felt something was wrong. It was Christmas and I was working in the hospitality industry. Naturally this was an exceptionally busy time, not only at work but also with friends and family, with everyone preparing for the festive period.
After Christmas though, the drop off was almost immediate. All the business of the last couple of months stopped, and I was suddenly faced with several months of not much happening until the Spring. It was as though my body had just shut down and I’d want to hibernate. I was physically and mentally exhausted without having any reason to be. I’d cancel plans with friends because I couldn’t see the point of meeting up with people.
This continued for several years. I never thought anything was wrong as such. I just assumed that everyone else was feeling the same way that I was. I’d see adverts on the TV saying that “now was the time to book a holiday”, and I couldn’t imagine anything worse. Why would I want to do that when I felt like I did?
It was as though my body had just shut down and I’d want to hibernate. I was physically and mentally exhausted without having any reason to be.
Things came to a head following the birth of my child. A combination of factors meant that I was as low as I’d ever felt, and it resulted in me being signed off from work for six weeks.
The change came about eight years ago. A friend was talking about her husband, and how he’d developed an illness I’d never heard of before. The longer she spoke, the more I began to recognise my own experiences in what she was saying.
“But doesn’t everyone feel that way?” I can remember asking.
Ever since that first winter, I’d never once questioned why I was feeling like I was. The mental fog that I’d experience meant that I told myself this was just how people felt at the start of the year and that there was nothing to be done but sit it out. To find out that that might not be the case was ground-breaking.
From that moment on my perspective has completely changed. I still experience low moods at the start of the year, but I’m better prepared now. I’m always looking for signs or markers that winter is ending. I continually remind myself that things will get better, while forcing myself not to give in to the lethargy. Even sticking to the small plans can be a challenge, but going for a coffee with friends can make a huge difference to my mood. I’ve also started taking vitamin D tablets to help my mood.
Seasonal Affective Disorder has played a huge role in my life for a very long time, but understanding the illness has made it much easier to manage. I’ll be counting down the days until spring comes, but until then I’m sure to look after myself with small treats and things to look forward to. The most important thing to me is to be a good role model to my daughter. If I chose to isolate myself, I’d also be choosing to isolate her as well. I’m glad to say that that’s not the case.