'People treat it like it's not a real thing, like a joke' Living with seasonal affective disorder 2 years ago

'People treat it like it's not a real thing, like a joke' Living with seasonal affective disorder

mental health month

"People always remark how quiet I become."

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Last year, Laura was diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

A comorbidity to another illness, she had been experiencing SAD for about a decade without fully realising what it was  - a type of depression that occurs according to the changing seasons.

Often characterised by sudden low energy, an inability to concentrate, and feelings of hopelessness, people who have SAD tend to start to experience it around the same time every year.

Laura says that for her, it's like clockwork.

"I've been experiencing it for at least 10 years," she says. "It's always around the same time every year, pretty much like clockwork.

"It always starts with an aversion to the cold, like I feel like I cannot stand to be cold, like it’s the worst thing in the world."

Laura explains that the activities and the feelings she tends to take for granted during the summer and spring months are suddenly dulled.

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Where she would usually feel safe, she's on edge. Where she once felt happiness is hopelessness. Things that she likes doing, listening to music or watching TV, feel like a chore - something that she has to force herself to engage in, rather than simply enjoy.

"I feel hyper vigilant and anxious and just want to be with my family in my house where I feel warm and safe. I feel super agitated and cry very easily. Activities I enjoy feel far away and it takes greater effort to see friends and socialise.

"I get a lot of thoughts about life being hopeless and that’s very difficult, along with the dark and cold. People always remark how quiet I become."

Although the exact cause of SAD is unknown, experts suggest the condition may be triggered by disrupted melatonin levels or a drop in serotonin levels due to a lack of sunlight.

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Laura started taking SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) for her OCD years ago, but it's only in recent years that she has opted for medication specifically to combat SAD.

This is the first year that she began taking additional medication from the beginning of winter. She's hopeful that the medication, as well as increased therapy sessions over the next few months, will help.

Sometimes this extra help can only go so far though, making even the seemingly simplest of tasks a tremendous effort.

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"Even forcing myself to shower each day can feel like a task," says Laura.

"I write down exactly what I want to do - everything from showering to brushing my hair - and cross them off. It helps to feel like I'm achieving something in the day."

One in 15 people in Ireland are expected to experience SAD during September and April, with symptoms generally worsening during December and January.

Despite this high number of people at risk, there still exists a lack of understanding around the condition - especially among those who have no experience of it.

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Laura says that having lived with OCD for many years, she's almost gotten used to people trivialising mental illnesses. However, she does still find it frustrating when people dismiss seasonal affective disorder as what she calls "the winter blues."

"It feels really unfair to be suffering so much and people treat it like its not a real thing," she says.

"Sometimes I’m reluctant to talk about it at all, because I worry it won’t be understood or I’ll be seen as dramatic.

"But my family know it tends to happen at the same time every year and they help me fight it. I am lucky to have some amazing friends that know what I go through and are always supportive.

"I'm trying to keep as positive as possible and reminding myself that this will all pass."

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie


November is Mental Health Month on Her, where we'll be talking to you and the experts about some of the common - and the not so common - disorders and conditions affecting women in Ireland today. 

You can follow the rest of our Mental Health Month series here. 

Want to get in touch? Email me at Jade@her.ie.