The air is crisper, the night comes earlier, the World Series is in full swing, and before we know it we fall back into Standard time. The change of the season brings fall colors, Halloween, comfort food dinners, and a fire in the fireplace.
The change of season can also bring depression, isolation and “the blues”.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly called SAD, tends to occur during late fall and winter months. However, most people with the “winter blahs” or “cabin fever” do not have SAD. For many people symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include tiredness, fatigue, depression, crying spells, irritability, trouble concentrating, body aches, loss of sex drive, poor sleep, decreased activity level, and overeating. Statistics on seasonal affective disorder in the United States include that this disorder occurs in about 5% of adults, with up to 20% of people having some symptoms of the condition.
Some people don’t know why they feel out of sorts, they don’t know what to do or how to ask for help. Although there is no specific diagnostic test for the illness, Seasonal Affective Disorder seems to develop from inadequate bright light during the winter months.
Key in the prevention of seasonal affective disorder is regular exposure to light that is bright, particularly fluorescent lights, significantly improves depression in people with this disorder when it presents during the fall and winter. The light treatment is used daily in the morning and evening for best results. Temporarily changing locations to a climate that is characterized by bright light (such as the Caribbean) can achieve similar results. Light treatment has also been called phototherapy. Individuals who suffer from seasonal affective disorder will also likely benefit from increased social support during vulnerable times of the year.
Twenty four years ago this November, my father died of suicide.
After the shock, anger and grief, I learned that he had always felt “depressed” at the beginning of the fall season. It was not a subject my dad ever truly talked openly about. In the note he left behind, he described the overwhelming sense of sadness that came upon him, the need to isolate and the awful thoughts that ran through his mind. At the time he died, SAD and bi-polar were two types of depression that were unique and very misunderstood.
Knowing now what I didn’t know then, I attempt to learn as much as possible about these two debilitating forms of depression. In the 24 years since my father’s death, much more is known about the signs and symptoms of SAD. I wrote the following poem in an attempt to help my 2 sons know and learn about their possible legacy:
My Father’s Mask
I am my father’s son
I wear his pain deep inside
His father’s father handed down the legacy
-Men are strong, men don’t cry-
-We don’t ask for help-
My father battled his demons in silence
Until the inside voices won the war
Even in death the mask he wore was skin-tight
His pain wears me like an old sweater
Now stretched beyond yarn’s memory
Legacy’s gift handed down though time’s lineage
I am my father’s son,
Seeking to break the pathways of the past
Hoping my sons will not wear their father’s mask
– David D.