I originally wrote this post in October last year (2016) and never got round to posting it, therefore all of the dates and amounts of time are wrong by a year. I haven’t yet written a review of the lightbox that I mention in it but briefly, it definitely helps me, it’s not a cure but it’s significantly better than not using one and it definitely helps with my daytime sleepiness and feeling low and unmotivated, it’s still really tough going but it really takes the edge off and makes things easier.
As winter approaches, a large number of people around the world start to get a sense of dread. The nights start drawing in, it gets colder, darker, cloudier and rainier, and your mood starts to lower. For most people this time of year isn’t a problem, many are looking forward to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah or Christmas, the changing colours of the leaves, Bonfire Night etc. I look forward to the festivals I celebrate amongst those but mostly, I feel dread and this year it’s been particularly early and particularly pronounced. Most people have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), most of us have heard of someone we know having it and most of us aren’t exactly sympathetic about it. I’ll freely admit that as a long-term (10 years and counting) sufferer of depression, I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for people who only felt low for 3 months of the year when I got a jolly helping of it all year round. It sounded a bit like an excuse from people who didn’t like getting out of bed on a cold morning and didn’t fancy venturing out during the darker days. Oh how wrong I was! Despite having depression for a decade, I’ve never been particularly affected by the weather. I was always worse at Christmas but I’m as sure as I can be that this was due to family pressure, coursework deadlines and exam dates looming rather than anything to do with the light levels or temperature outside. I know this because come the middle to end of January, my depression would ease up just a little and I’d be back to muddling along as best as I possibly could. I also remember often being worse during any school/college holidays because I had to spend more time with my family and had less distraction and structure so weather and light levels really didn’t seem to be playing a part.
I happily went about thinking that SAD was a bit of a wishy-washy diagnosis for people who were a bit more sleepy in winter until I got ill and became housebound with my anxiety disorders 2.5 years ago. I’m now approaching my 3rd Winter of being predominantly indoors and I can safely say I’m dreading it. While I’m not diagnosed with SAD, it’s obvious to me and anyone around me that I have it now. This year it’s started kicking in earlier than ever, I’m normally safe until early to mid October but I’m already over 3 weeks in to feeling sleepy, drained and generally crap and this is unlikely to let up until February or even March. For those in any doubt, and for my cocky, accidentally judgemental younger self, SAD is not just feeling a bit sleepy. For me, it involves being barely able to wake up in the morning, even with my usual alarm, and usual amount of sleep, it’s being so painfully tired that I literally can’t face getting up and have to go back to sleep for a bit. It’s being cold. All the time. It’s also being awake for under 3 hours and then being so tired that I’m unable to stay awake and ending up falling asleep sat up and no amount of food, drink, or needing to go to the toilet will stave it off for long. It’s also like someone comes along and stuffs a huge bag of cotton wool inside my head that doesn’t shift for at least 3 months. Everything takes longer. It’s harder to think, harder to concentrate, harder to motivate myself to do, well anything! I also crave certain foods which I never crave the rest of the year, I just want to stuff my face with carbs, sugar, and high fat food, probably in the hopes of hibernating or giving myself energy to actually feel properly awake for once. My body just stops producing heat so that it doesn’t matter how many layers I wear or just how close to looking like the Michelin man I get, I’m producing no heat so the layers just keep in the cold. My feet go blue, as do my hands, my joints seize up and I ache. I find sitting up a struggle because I’m so tired but sleeping doesn’t help, I never feel any better so I just lose hours of my day to napping and get nothing done because I feel so groggy. Then the depression kicks you hard. Everything is so much harder and you start wondering what the point of doing any of it is. I know that I’ll be lucky if I get through half of the short list of tasks I’ve set myself each day which means each day I fail. Each day my to-do list gets longer because I’m so unproductive. Nothing helps, not eating, not sleeping, not drinking, not forcing myself to get things done. It’s relentless!
As you can imagine, I’m very keen to discover anything that might help with alleviating any or all of the symptoms. Sadly, most of the treatments for SAD are the same as for depression and are therefore things that I’ve already tried and that either haven’t worked, or have made me significantly worse so it’s not looking overly hopeful for my feeling better any time soon. The NHS website recommends being outside as much as possible (not particularly possible for me), sitting near windows (I do this as much as possible), regular exercise (again, not especially easy for me) and trying to avoid stress (yeah right!). More medical treatments include medication which I react very badly to, therapy that I’ve previously had and that there are months long waiting lists for and light therapy which has mixed evidence regarding its effectiveness so there aren’t any ideal options!
I hope my description of how it affects me will help other disbelievers to realise how debilitating it can be and that it’s a condition that has a long list of symptoms that are really difficult to deal with, I’ve certainly had my eyes opened after suffering from it for the past 2 years and entering my third! Various members of my family now also suffer badly in the Winter and while none of us are diagnosed, again, it’s very clear that they have SAD too. My mum very kindly bought me a light box which is recommended for the treatment (not cure) of SAD and I’m now using it, as is my boyfriend, and two other family members have them too. I’m tentatively optimistic about it as it definitely seems to be helping me and I will write a full review in a few weeks’ time once we’ve all had a longer chance to use it and decide if it’s the light or external factors that may be helping us. All 4 of us have very different symptoms, diagnoses and lives, as well as being different ages and genders so we should be a pretty good cross-section of people to test it. I’ll report back soon. If anyone is interested in reading more or testing out a lightbox themselves then below is a link to the one we’re all trying out as it’s one that’s cheaper than most while still being approved as effective and having great reviews. I have no affiliation with the company and will be (as always) providing a full and totally honest review, the link below is an affiliate link which means that a small percentage of any sales made through it will be paid to me and help towards the running of my blog, I never promote items that I don’t believe in and would never give false hope to sufferers of what I know, from my own lived experience, to be hugely debilitating conditions. If you get one then please do let me know how you get on with it and whether it helps you!
Amazon UK – Lightbox 10,000 Lux