Seasonal affective disorder is often seen as an 'excuse' for laziness –
but to sufferers like me it can be overwhelming.
Written by Susana Adame- guardian.co.uk -Tuesday 14 September 2010 14.36
'For most people who have seasonal affective disorder, autumn and winter are
the low points, the time when depression becomes really difficult to
It's a battle that starts at this time every year, right when the weather
changes from mostly sunny and warm to grey and cold. My normal high energy and
good spirits shift into exhaustion and biting irritation with the smallest
problems. And as the longer days of autumn shorten to the all-to brief days of
winter, everything gets worse. I can't get out of bed without relentless
prodding from my partner, my brain is a cloud of fogginess that even constant
coffee drinking can't clear, and once the clock change comes, depression
settles over my world like a stifling blanket I can't throw off.
For most of my life, I didn't know why this happened to me every year. It
wasn't until I went to a conference in Arizona during the winter and felt a
massive surge of energy flood through me – as if I had taken a handful of
antidepressants – that I considered something might be wrong. The yearly cycle
was so gradual, so insidious, it seemed like that was just the way life was.
What I have is called seasonal affective disorder (Sad). Sad is a depressive
disorder triggered by a lack of sunlight. Although spring and summer may act as
triggers, for most people, autumn and winter are the low points, the time when
depression becomes really difficult to negotiate. Of course, those who live
farther from the equator are more often affected, but those in sunny regions
can be, too, due to jobs or living conditions that require spending the
majority of the day inside.
Although Sad is an illness that major health organisations recognise, far too
many people go undiagnosed. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the
biggest are wrapped around the social stigma that is so intimately connected to
depression. Depression, despite decades of work by awareness organisations,
still has "laziness" associated with it. Some think that if you'd
just change your point of view, get out for a walk, eat properly, talk with
friends, not isolate yourself, get back to work etc – you'd feel better. Not
The idea that depression could fade in and out according to the weather just
rings as another "excuse" that people with depression are accused of
making. And, unfortunately, people living in the middle of untreated Sad are
often simply unable to deal with the accusations and ignorance that comes from
the lack of proper education. Debilitating exhaustion and unclear thinking make
it impossible to even think about more drastic actions such as suicide.
Sufferers often simply don't have the energy to pull a suicide off until spring
rolls around. Is it any wonder, then, they prefer to do what they can to hide
their illness, to grin and bear it, rather than get a diagnosis or try to
explain it to those who are uneducated?
Social identity also proves to be a barrier to Sad treatment. I was in my 30s
before I was diagnosed, and it only came after finally admitting to myself that
my attempts to "fake it till I made it" just weren't going as well as
I thought they were. To my surprise, I found myself almost unreasonably upset
about how my identity as a worker was affected by the diagnosis. I come from an
immigrant community that prides itself on being good workers. We justify our
existence in the US based on our ability to be productive. What did this
diagnosis mean for that identity, for my relationship with my community?
It turns out my struggles with identity were not new or particular to my
community. Social stigma around Sad and depression plays out in many different
ways for each community affected by it. Sad, like depression, is something that
affects people regardless of their social identity.
Addressing the stigma attached to depression and Sad also makes it easier for
people to get the appropriate treatment. Light boxes, the treatment method most
prescribed by doctors for people with Sad, have few side-effects and really do
make a difference.
Last winter was my first full season using a light box and I often found myself
marvelling that there are enjoyable things to do during the winter. I learned
how to cross-country ski and didn't miss any work days. While living can still
be a struggle for me, I am generally no longer overwhelmed by complete
indifference or exhaustion. Life doesn't need to stop every winter for so many
people, but we need to understand the reasons why it does before things can
Read the articlehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/14/seasonal-affective-disorder-stigma