Using one’s personal health issues have never seemed to me to be appropriate for an opinion column. But that’s what this one’s about. We don’t feel good at our house and, because it may help you recognize a possible problem at yours, it’s worth some chat.
Barb and I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). She first came up with it 12 years ago. Professionally diagnosed. She’s had it off and on but it hasn’t bothered me. Until now. And I seem to have a good case of it. Medically, women are more susceptible than men but, when men get it, they seem to have worse problems.
SAD is a type of depression, usually occurring at the same time every year. Most get it in the late fall; fewer in the spring. Your grandparents probably called it “winter blah’s” and just kept going. But, as with most human conditions, research has shown it really is much more than that. It can cause physical and mental problems going beyond the blah’s. Those include depression, hopelessness, anxiety, no energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities, appetite changes, weight gain and problems with concentration. Sounds like a recipe for depression to me.
Lest you think I’m going a bit far with this, medical research has proven, as with other types of disorders, more extreme cases of SAD can produce suicidal behavior, social withdrawal, school/work problems and substance abuse. See? Not kid stuff!
There is even “spring and summer SAD” and, in a cruel quirk, reverse SAD. The former has symptoms of mania – called “hypomania” – with elevated moods, rapid thoughts and fast speech. The latter is really a form of bipolar disorder.
Back to the basic SAD. There are three usual causes. One occurs when reduced levels of sunlight in the fall/winter months disrupt your internal clock – circadian rhythm – which lets you know when to be awake or sleep. Depression is the usual result of such a change.
The other two causes involve your melatonin and serotonin levels. Melatonin hormones help you sleep. Seratonin is a brain chemical affecting mood and production can decrease because, of all things, reduced sunlight. Both can usually be adjusted with prescriptions.
SAD is most often found in people living further from the equator: less sunlight; more darkness. Now, my medical background is a week spent on the campus of FUBAR Medical. So my depth of understanding here is not the same as your physician’s. But I’d bet, in our house, this onset of SAD has a direct connection with the clouds, rain, snow and hail we’ve experienced consecutively for about eight straight months in SW Oregon. The weather here -and the Northwest in general -has been continuous episodes of long gray days, clouds, darkness and cold, unseasonable temps. Really depressing. Locals hereabouts talk about it daily.
O.K. So SAD is real and it can create real problems. That’s medical fact. What do you do about it? Doctors have come up with three treatments: medication, psychotherapy and – wait for it – light therapy.
Medications normally are bupropion used in an extended release version and antidepressants like paroxetine, sertraline, fluoxetine and venlafaxine. All are common prescription drugs.
Psychotherapy is what it is: you and the medical counselor in talk sessions that may or may not include some drug therapy.
But light fixtures? Yep. Light fixtures. And special bulbs. It’s called phototherapy. When Barb was diagnosed years ago, we were told to buy special florescent bulbs for the room in which she spent most of her time each day. That was her studio. While light from these special bulbs didn’t appear much different, in her case, it worked. After a few days, she began to feel more like her old, cantankerous self.
Bulbs in many sizes are available at the large home improvement stores. While florescent tubes and special regular-sized bulbs can take care of a whole room or house, you can also get small, portable light fixtures to place next to a favorite chair where you spend a lot of time. Shine it right in your face.
While used widely, no one is quite sure how this light therapy works except that the special bulbs mimic outdoor light which fools the brain into producing the right chemicals to improve your mood. While there are no known side effects, it’s still a good idea to talk to your doctor before investing in special lights. You need to know just what kind to get and where to use them.
Well, there you are. A whole column on our health problems at home. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Think I’ll head to Home Depot. How about you?