Are You S.A.D.?

I have become a bona-fide winter hater. I didn’t used to mind it much, but after weathering sixty-three of them, I have had it with winter. Short days, slippery roads, and snow blowing the driveway give me no joy. My body aches more. I eat more. I sleep more. I complain more. I have less energy and ambition.

I used to think that S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) was for sissies. I was so busy that the weather didn’t really matter. But now I think all of these winters have had a cumulative effect on me.

S.A.D. was named in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal. I remember thinking, what a stupid name for not liking winter. But it is a real mood disorder for people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year while experiencing depressive symptoms at the same time each year, usually in the winter. The symptoms include sleeping too much, eating too much (especially carbs), having little energy, and feeling depressed. Sounds familiar.

Not surprisingly, the prevalence of S.A.D. is uneven throughout the country, affecting nearly ten percent of the population in Alaska and a little over one percent of the people in Florida.

That’s part of the problem for me. I have been to the beaches of Florida several times. Even though it is usually in the spring when we visit, my Weather Channel app reveals the temperatures there change very little when the calendar rolls over to January and February. When I see a high of eighty-one degrees there and five degrees here, it makes me question my sanity.

I much prefer sandy beaches over snowy landscapes where streets and parking lots turn into gray slushy, refrozen messes for months at a time as our cars turn a dirty white from salt and winter road slop. I prefer wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops rather than big coats that get in your way in the car, restaurants, and movie theaters. I like seeing things bloom, rather than hoping the brown vegetation in my yard under the snow and ice somehow survived the winter. I prefer exercising outside, walking or bike riding, over some grueling, boring cardio machine. I am more of a beach bum and hippie at heart than I am a mountain man and survivalist.

Furthermore, I like my freedom and I want to be able to go outside at will, without a bunch of preparation to protect myself against the elements. I love going to outdoor festivals and music venues, and eating meals on the patio. So many of my favorite activities are only doable a few short months out of the year.

According to the experts, S.A.D. can usually be diminished, if not totally overcome, with exercise, outdoor activity on sunny days, and light therapy. I would add something else. It is important to have something that you have to do and some things that you enjoy doing. Once our minds are refocused onto meaningful activity, the weather conditions will become less important, like an invisible computer program running in the background while you are doing something else.

If you think of the winter that way, it really doesn’t affect most things you want to do. Don’t give it more attention than it deserves. When it comes down to it, a lot of things affect our mental and emotional health, but it is up to us to find ways to manage our own sense of wellbeing.

There are some good things about winter too, like Christmas, (for our family) a slew of birthdays in January and February, the Winter Festival in Cedarburg, and the snow sculpting competition in Lake Geneva. Winter gives us income tax refunds, chili, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, and hot chocolate. We don’t have to cut the grass or rake leaves. Instead, we can start a fire in the fireplace or turn on our electronic fireplace, read a good book, and snuggle with our favorite fur baby. Or we can cocoon on the couch with a snack, some blankets, and the love of our life as the snow falls outside while we watch Beachfront Bargain Hunters and plan our retirement in Florida.

For me, winter is a great time to get caught up on several writing projects, like this column.


This column was published in The Kenosha News, February 5, 2017.

Image credit:Babbletrish. Creative Commons.

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