Writing and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Happy Hump Day, everyone. It’s a chilly, rainy, dreary day up here in the backwoods of Northern California. You know what that means? Winter is coming. Literally. You know what else it means? It’s time for my Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called SAD, to kick in.

What’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, you might ask? It’s a form of depression related to changes in season. It begins and ends around the same time of year; for most people, it starts in fall and continues through winter, although rare cases can begin in spring or early summer. Essentially, it saps your energy and makes you moody.

So, in my case, my depression gets a lot worse once it starts to feel like fall–i.e. shorter days, stormy and cold weather, etc. It really gives me a love/hate relationship with rain and this time of year. I love rain and Halloween but I’m also moody and get virtually nothing done. (What can I say? I’m a mass of contradictions.) Even my normal anti-depressants don’t help as well during this time of year.

You might be wondering by now: how does this affect my writing? Not in a good way. There are more excuses to stay inside and I should be happy because it’s finally raining and we’re no longer suffering heat in the 80s or higher. I, at least, would expect that to be my ideal writing conditions. The reality? I’m drained all the time, I don’t want to do anything but sleep, I’m irritable, and I can’t concentrate. In other words, I have a hard time writing around this time.

Image retrieved from CharlestonPhysicians.com

Seasonal Affective Disorder is one of the reasons that I hate NaNoWriMo being in November. I’ve found that if something can go wrong in a writer’s brain, it will. Perhaps it’s Murphy’s Law of a Creative Mind. I’m guessing that I’m far from the only writer with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which makes the timing of NaNoWriMo, to say the least, inconvenient.

How can writers deal with SAD long enough to actually write?

I’m not going to lie, I don’t have any method guaranteed to snap you out of it every time. I know because nothing pulls me out of SAD every time I need it to. However, some methods can help ease the symptoms and, with any luck, something can get written.

Some of these methods work on Generalized Depression and other forms of depression as well as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Others specifically target the symptoms of SAD. All can alleviate SAD sufferers if they give these tips a shot:

  1. Light therapy: One of the first things my doctor suggested was light therapy with a “happy light.” This happy light is essentially a natural spectrum light box. You sit a few feet from it and it will feel like you’re outdoors in the daylight. I’m not sure how it works exactly but Mayo Clinic says that it causes a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. It often seems to help me but it is incredibly bright and I can’t use it if my dad is going to be coming into the room (this is the same man who would have us use only one light or, his preference, sit in total darkness if my mom and I didn’t fight him on it). So, while it helps, I can only have it out occasionally.
  2. Medication: As with other forms of depression, anti-depressants such as Wellbutrin can help. If you don’t have any form of depression the rest of the year, you can talk to your doctor about starting an anti-depressant before symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder kick in. If you’re like me and SAD makes preexisting depression worse, you can talk to your doctor about increasing your dosage, changing medication, or adding something to your current anti-depressant to see if it will help combat the added layer of depression during this time of year. Never reduce, increase, substitute, or otherwise change your medication or dosage without first consulting a medical professional, preferably the one who originally prescribed it to you.
  3. Brighten and open up your living space: Sometimes something as small as opening the curtains, turning on some lights, or decorating your rooms more brightly can improve your mood. It sounds simple but brightening your living space, exercising, going outside, and taking care of yourself overall can make a huge difference in your mood and outlook.

For more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder and how to combat it, you can follow this link to the Mayo Clinic pages on the disease. Remember, there are no cookie-cutter solutions that work for everyone. You just have to keep trying different approaches until you find the one that works for you. In the mean time, all you can do is keep pushing and doing your best to reach your writing goals. Also, don’t ever be ashamed of taking a Mental Health Day.

Do you have any tips for writers suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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