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Could it be the weather?

Before I moved to Portland four years ago, I braced myself.  I had heard about grey skies and neverending winters.  Rain, showers, and clouds.  I recalled when I had moved from the West Coast to the East Coast for college: I sulked and sat in a depressed slump for over a day when I went through my first blizzard.  I suspected that Portland's grey skies would similarly send me into a dampened state.  I'm surprised that it didn't.  Until now.

Rainy_dayFour years later, as I look at the blank backdrop of a sky, I have this deep-down feeling of plain old yuck.  I feel grey.  blue.  black.  Whatever the color is, it isn't bright.  Surely it could just be the circumstances of my autumn this year - the loss of a friend, the endless juggle (thereby resulting in the mama lush = mush phenomenon), the constant question of work vs. life, the loss of my grandfather.

But, then again, could it be the weather?  Seasonal affective disorder maybe?  Is the condition real?  Have you had it?  How have you handled it?

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I have what feels like PMS for a month every November. It has to do with the lack of light and short days, and the isolation of the cold weather. When I lived in MA it was worse, when I lived in TX it was the best, and it's just plain blah here in OR. I take meds for it. It really helps. Keeping lights on helps, and forcing yourself to go out and do things helps. I lost my beloved cat this week, and my job last month, and all I feel like doing is napping, but it helps to get together with a friend, so today we went to IKEA. The cinnamon rolls there always help. But beware the sugar cure...I gain more weight in the winter months due to comfort food consumption! But take seasonal depression very seriously. Ignoring depression in any form would be like ignoring the early signs of diabetes. If you take advantage of early intervention, you are less likely to have serious symptoms in the future. And never underestimate the power of grief. Sometimes, the best thing to do is let yourself grieve and feel awful. If you start noticing that it is not getting better, or going on too long, or you are not able to function, THEN you need to talk to a doctor or counsellor about abnormal grief, and get some help. Good luck. I am right there with you. It's too damn cold outside!

It's definitely real. I moved here in Jan 2006 from Arizona, and the winter really gets me a lot. It's not the cold, it's the grey. My ex-gf bought me a full-spectrum light I use at work every morning and that does help some.

ditto ditto ditto. It's real. It's the grey (lack of light), not the rain. November is a tough month in Portland for me as well. I always try to pretend if won't be,but i still end up with more tears than usual. I have yet to find a cure, but some things that help have been mentioned before on this site...wine, chocolate, cooking, walks/fresh air, good friends, movies, warm feet (hot water bottle!), and an active creative outlet. siiigghhh. good luck to everyone in this boat!

I also moved from AZ last year, and it was a long winter after growing up with sunshine and great weather 300+ days a year. Like many others I know, we will be taking vacation this winter for a break from the dreary gray skies and rain.

I've been here for 14 years (after moving from SoCal) and have learned I need to take extra care of myself during this time. For me, it's getting outside as much as possible. I try to walk every morning before my shower rain or shine (or no rain). I have invested in rain gear over the years and have come to terms with my hair not looking it's best. With my girls I make sure we are at the playground most everyday. They also have rain gear and we try to get out as soon as the rain stops. For me, I have to be careful to not drink so much coffee during this time of the year. It definately takes a toll on my body/mind, so I stop drinking coffee before noon. I've also decided I need to reach out more to friends since that really seems to help me. I hope some of this helps...

Totally real. Totally icky. I feel fuzzy in my brain and generally low. I come from a state with lots of sunlight - it isn't even the rain rain rain that gets to me - it's the lack of SUN FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

I have had several doctors recommend a full spectrum light box. I think they're about $200. And exercise, of course.

I love Portland so very much. I struggle through these months to get to the rest of the year! (-:

I sit in front of a SAD light when I can (bought from the Harmony/Gaiam catalog) and take 5HTP, which is a precursor to seritonin and melatonin. I also get more in touch with the elements by building fires, lighting candles, taking epsom salt baths, doing hydros at the gym in the steam room and sauna (with cold showers in between) and dreaming of Hawaii.

Very real unfortunately. The only thing that gets me through the rainy months is a yearly migration to somewhere warm each February. . .Anguilla, Hawaii, Florida, California. I always plan the trip in November/December to stay positive through the rainy times. This year may be the first year without a trip with the addition of a newborn.

I feel for all you folks - lived in Salem for over 25 yrs. Even worse for me was winter power walking where frequent climatic inversions combined with wood stove pollutants caused my eyes and lungs to sting.
Moved to coastal San Diego 2 years ago - it's generally sunny and mild - rarely over 75F or under 60F with gentle ocean breezes.
The air is clean and fresh along the coast and there are occasional
cloudy days to break the sunshine.
OK - have to get back to my margarita on the patio !

It's not the weather, that's just another ploy for Dr.s to prescribes anti-depressants.

For me it is the weather and the dark days. I always feel much better when it's sunny. Having grown up in the Rockies, I miss the sunshine!
I've had great luck with a full spectrum light box (I've got it on right now as I type!).
Costco has the best deal on the small, portable (I've taken it on trips and it helps a ton with jetlag!) goLITE P2 Portable Light Therapy -- $168.
They carry it in the stores or you can buy online - if you're not a Costco member you can pay an extra 5% to order online.
It really helps me!!

Being a therapist I agree Misty, that there can be a problem w/the over prescription of psych meds. At the same time, some of those meds are literally life-savers and not always prescribed w/o thought and caution.
I would also point out also that none of the above posters mentioned taking any meds at all. SAD is a recognized type of depression and should be taken seriously like Debby stated.

$149 or less:
http://www.bluemaxlighting.com/
Also try a tanning bed for 4-8 minutes a week or 2 x a week.

oops, looks like the prices on Blue Max light lamps have gone up. Still a good deal and very worth your sanity! Makes a great gift! (that's how we got ours!)

Daphne, just to clarify, I do take meds for my SAD. I had tried all sorts of different remedies, and nothing else worked. It was definitely the best choice for me, but I did not go into it lightly. I discussed at length with my MD and did research. Seeing as there is a family history of depression on both sides of my family, it was the best choice for me. But it is not the best choice for everyone, and also as a therapist, I would tend to use whatever works for individual clients, and never generalize to one or two solutions. People have some good suggestions. I hope they are all helpful.

I felt a little off last November as well. It was fairly subtle, but enough to get to me--I remember feeling tired, and really, just "blah" for a few weeks. My doctor had my thyroid tested just to be sure and it was fine, so we chalked it up to the weather. A few weeks later I got pregnant, then the holidays came and we spent some time in AZ and I was fine again. A little bit of sun and blue skies goes a long way--even if it's cold--we also spent a few long weekends last winter in Bend and though it wasnt warm, we spent a lot of time outside in the clear blue skies skiing and that was great. I've been fine so far this year, but I've also been focused on making good food choices, especially enough protein. I know I'm influenced by my neighbor and her family's 3 dozen eggs/week habit, but protein definitely makes a difference in the way that we all feel in our house. I try to make sure that each meal or snack includes a good source of protein, and that way we dont seem to have the highs and lows.

The "3 dozen eggs/week" neighbor chimes in...:)

I'm not as affected by the seasons as many here, perhaps because I'm a native? Though I remember I was when I was a teenager. I'm a big believer in the full-spectrum lights. Seventh Generation used to make a regular-sized bulb and I had one in my bathroom and on my desk at work, but it looks like they stopped manufacturing them. Do a web search and you can find some that look like curly flourescents and cost $20, rather than $200, if that's not within your budget.

As Leah said, we're way into protein at my house. We also take some amino acid supplements. rubytuesday mentioned 5-HTP. I used to take this and it was great, though I had problems with it messing up my milk production (it can affect your prolactin levels). Now I take Tyrosine, another precursor to seratonin, and good multi's like Floradix with iron and B vits, and VitaBiotics, which is great in cold/flu season.

A book I highly recommend is called The Mood Cure. Another Watts Street neighbor started using it a few weeks ago and she loves it. She tends toward the anxious and had her thyroid removed a few years ago and has struggled to maintain a healthy outlook. Several other friends have used this book and really loved it. I especially recommend it for people who tried the pharmaceutical route and it didn't work for them.

And for all you transplants, just remember that a big key to surviving the winter here is to just embrace it: get good outdoor gear and go for a walk in Forest Park, walk to coffee, whatever. Just keep moving.

This will be a LONG comment and hopefully worth reading.

I agree that over-prescription of medications is a real problem but I also know that is SAD is a real problem.

I have had to manage SAD all of my adult life because for what ever reason I just haven’t made that move south that I should...and I doubt I ever will...

Although I have tried meds in the past to manage it, I have not done so for about a decade. This does not mean that medication may not be necessary to manage SAD, so don’t rule it out if you are diagnosed with SAD.

I don't have any panacea to offer on managing SAD - everybody's management plan is going to be unique - but I will outline some of the life changes I try to make every year as the dark days come upon us.

Ultimately these ideas may also be helpful to folks who are dealing with a touch of the winter blues as a result of adjusting to the climate here:

1) Minimize or eliminate alcohol intake. Not always easy during the season of holiday cheer but alcohol is a depressant and drinking this time of year is kinda of shooting myself in the foot.

2) Increase Exercise. If I don't have access to a gym, I usually join one during the winter months. I go with one that has equipment, hours, and location that ensures that getting there and using it will be easy. And that there are work-out options available that I will enjoy.

3) Diet Awareness. I am a vegetarian but that doesn't mean that I can't fall into a simple-carb meal trap. I try to keep fresh fruits and vegetables on hand and avoid empty carbs.

4) Minimize Stress. Yes, this is a challenge with family and such but I find that there are always opportunities to delegate, defer, and/or decline "to-dos" in my life. I try to be more militant about this during the dark months - and RIGHT before!

5) Access Sunshine. I have more flexibility in my schedule than I use to but when I had a job that required being strapped to a desk, I would take a walk during lunch or breaks on sunny days. Sunny winter weekends found me outside on the trails - even wintering camping. I also always try to take a winter break to a sunny locale.

I realize that "getting away to a sunny locale" is easier said than done for many of us but don't be afraid to think small in this regard.

When I lived in Seattle, I would often drive a couple of hours over the cascades to sunny Vantage for the day or weekend to climb and take in the sun (despite the chill there).

Here in Portland, take a look at weather.com and see what you can find. When it is rainy and overcast here, you can often find the sun within a couple of hours - in Hood River, The Dalles, John Day, Madras, Bend, what have you - all with outdoor activities to take in - hiking, snowshoeing, visiting farms, walking, etc....sometimes a drive to Timberline Lodge lets you break through the clouds up to the sun.

Gas isn't cheap but a day trip to The Dalles is probably $40 in gas versus a plane ticket to anywhere. Because the weather is always changing, these sun-seeking drives reap the best rewards as a spontaneous get-away or day trip after you have checked the weather report in the morning.

If you want to take a family vacation to somewhere sunny but want to keep expenses to a minimum, again be creative. I have taken very affordable winter trips to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. You won't be laying out working on your tan but but the sun is usually out everyday, the crowds down, and the lodging costs surprisingly low. Of course, make sure there are outdoor activities that you want to take part in while you are there (hiking, sight-seeing, horseback riding, mountain biking, climbing, etc.).

6) Light boxes, supplements and such. Supplement wise, I usually start taking Omega-3 in the winter – if you eat meat, eat more salmon. Full spectrum light definitely provides an effective treatment. However there are a lot of "light therapy" options out there. Talk with your doctor about a light therapy treatment plan before making this investment.

7) Support. This is the most important element. Having SAD means that when many people are experiences a touch of winter blues, you have the potential to suffer a debilitating depression.

If you feel depressed - for any reason, during any time of the year - please reach out to friends, family, your doctor, what have you. There is never a need to manage your depression by yourself.

Peace.

I have to agree...meds may be over-prescribed, but that doesn't mean that a lack of sunlight doesn't have a real effect on a person's mood. The keys to surviving the rainy days for me are eating well (I'm with 3-dozen egg family!), excercize, and, when necessary, tanning beds. I've found vitamin b-12 taken sub-lingually to be extremely helpful for the blah's (works for pms too!) and I'm not much of a go play in the rain sort, so I hit the gym, take a yoga class, or take my daughter to do something active (roller skating, indoor swimming, etc).
That being said, it usually takes me until after the holidays to really get into any of these good habits and for November and December I generally end up eating a lot and drinking copious amounts of red wine!

I have lived here most of my adult life and each year I find myself feeling blue by this time. Some years that consists of a real nesting, introspective, reclusive time and other years I feel like a zombie going through the motions of my life. During one of my worst bouts I just started taking walks during the day. I walked even when it was so wet rain was dripping off the brim of my hat. I walked at work during lunch or through my neighborhood at home and if I didn't have the right gear I still walked. The little bit of light that was making it through those clouds helped me make it through. I got time to feel quite on those walks and just embrace this place that I love to live.

It is the weather, it is, it is! Talk to your doc (preferably naturopath) about Vit D supplementation. There have been lots of recent studies about Vit D deficiency contributing to seasonal depression (and a host of other diseases).
I'm feeling it too! And the abstaining from alcohol thing is hard after a grey, dark day like today...

I would have to comment that I would NOT go to a tanning bed to avoid SAD, as developing a fatal form of skin cancer would be much more depressing!

http://www.skincancer.org/artificial/index.php

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