By Trojan Horse I mean, October is very beautiful here in Cleveland. In fact, it’s Lisa’s (girlfriend) favorite month. The colors are invigorating as are the crisp days. The days that are nice enough for a bike ride on the gorgeous Towpath Trail are the best!
But, it also ushers in colder, shorter days very quickly. Super quickly. Every year it takes me by surprise. POOF! Gone are the bike rides amongst colorful leaves with that Fall smell in the air, and hello to long, dark, cold evenings that leave me dragging ass by 7 pm. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) begins to sneak its way in.
At first the downtime is a novelty – laying down to catch up on some mindless TV shows or movies every night. Friday happy hour with my buddy Erby at the Academy Tavern on Larchmere for beers and roast beef dinner, followed by a weekend of more movies and comfort food with my girl.
It’s seductive in the beginning. But for an active beach bum at heart like myself, it manifests depression without my realizing it.
My typical go-to is drinking a few nights each week on Barry’s Perch (our 2nd floor patio) capped with a cigar while watching YouTube vids on my laptop. It makes me feel like I’m doing something special, though I’m really not. While the buzz does make me feel better in the moment, it has a lingering contributing factor to the next day’s mild depression.
The holidays rock though!
Lisa and I LOVE the holidays! Thanksgiving is our favorite. “Christmas Without the Presents” is what I call it. Lisa and my sister-in-law Carol are AMAZING cooks and have heightened the bar for the entire family as far as pot luck dishes go. Suffice it to say, we have the most incredible, and fairly healthy, table of Thanksgiving food that you can imagine. But, we also have a very loving, more mature family. Only a couple kids amongst the 15-20 members that show each year. And no one every fights. No anxiety from years gone by. Politics only whispered in safe corners. We’ve all grown to a point where we don’t want to bring down the love.
So what’s with the depression, you ask?
The fun continues as Christmas is only four short weeks from Thanksgiving, followed by New Years (we typically stay home and Lisa makes her famous cioppino!)… followed by…
…cold, grey, short days and long, cold, dark nights… for at least the next three months.
We break this up each year with our annual trip to Sarasota/Siesta Key at the end of February; thinking March will offer a few glimpses of Spring weather here and there, bringing us to April! Yay! The month of cold, rainy days! May hasn’t been much better the past couple years. So, in spite of our best efforts, the drab crappy weather wears on me.
I’ve needed to upgrade my plan to combat SAD
The SAD thing is tough for some of us to simply “get over”. People that don’t experience it will never understand. It’s very insidious. Each year I say that I won’t let it get to me, but it’s a chameleon riding in the wake of holidays and festivities. I recognized a long time ago that I need to prepare for SAD Season.
My best efforts to combat SAD over the past decade or so:
Indoor volleyball: I LOVED this! SADly, my shoulder doesn’t. I’m constantly doing therapy exercises to this day to try to keep from undergoing rotator cuff surgery. Yea, there’s bowling… I guess. But I highly recommend the fun cardio workout and camaraderie you’ll get from playing volleyball.
Toastmasters: Brilliant idea!! I increased my ability to speak professionally (though you wouldn’t know it from my podcast) while building relationships with others in a very positive setting. I HIGHLY recommend this to everyone!
SAD therapy light: Did this many years in a row. Didn’t seem to have any effect on me whatsoever. But, I’ve talked to a lot of people that have good results. I’ve also begun keeping more lights on throughout my main rooms of the house so I don’t feel so blanketed in darkness.
Vitamins: I’ve always taken my all-natural multivitamin and a few supplements, but I added another 5,000 BTUs of vitamin D to the cause during the Fall and Winter. I highly recommend it. Not only for depression, but also for warding off COVID.
Going to the gym: This has never been a problem for me as I need to exercise just to get my mind and mood right in the best of times. But, its even more important for me in the Winter. Going to the gym, rather than working out at home, gets me amongst other good people and reduces the distractions of home, WHILE giving my mind that increase in serotonin level.
Anti-depressants: My doctor prescribed a very mild anti-depressant. I don’t remember the name of it, but all it did was make me REALLY tired. By 5pm I was wiped out. So he told me to take it at night rather than in the morning. This had no effect at all, so I stopped taking it.
Coffee shop stops: I make myself go to Paneras on occasion simply to get my introverted self out amongst other living beings. When I want to do some writing or research, this kind of environment is uplifting and a bit “recharging”. And I always wonder if I’ll run into Ross and Rachel.
Reduced drinking: This year I started off the year with “Dry January“. I know all too well the virtual hangover that I experience waking up January 2nd, with all fun behind me and nothing but darkness and cold ahead of me. I looked at my commitment to not drinking through January as a tribute to myself and wellbeing. I think it helped a bit. BTW, I just read that the 3rd Monday in January is called Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year.
Clean/organize my place: I live with the Mistress of Meticulous, but that’s only been for the past few years. Even now, in between renters I stay at our rental house and do projects. While there by myself, I find a HUGE difference between things being clean and orderly vs being unkempt. Undone house projects and a dirty or dusty environment really brings me down. While its very hard for someone battling depression to get motivated to fix and clean things, the realization of its importance eventually gets me on it. The process is grueling, but the results from this are very, very effective for me.
In spite of these efforts, I’m dreading going into another season of slow descension into some degree of depression – especially as COVID has restricted us in so many ways.
Bring on the reinforcements! My latest efforts to combat SAD:
Volunteer work: This was my #1 new brilliant idea… but… COVID. I really want to participate with other like-minded people in bettering my environment, the human condition and conditions for dogs during these dark, lonely months, so I applied to Shaker Lakes Nature Preserve, MetroHealth’s local hospital and to a local animal shelter. I was immediately notified by Metro that all volunteer activities have been postponed. I think I’ll be lucky to get involved with two or three things over the winter with the other two. F$%^ you, COVID. I can’t even GIVE AWAY my services now. I’ll continue to pursue this path somehow or another.
Reduced drinking: As mentioned above, this year I started off the year with “Dry January”. I’m now doing “Sober October” in an effort to bring in the dark, cold months in a more controlled and healthy fashion. And its encouraging me to create a more healthy schedule for my evenings – which is where my brilliant volunteer work idea came from.
Getting a dog: This has been festering in me of late. I’ve always had a dog, but our little girl past away nearly 3 years ago. We’ve been enjoying the reduced responsibility, but this is the best time of year to have a faithful companion. They get you out for that walk EVERY day/evening (unless you’re a special kind of sloth) and I’ve never regretted that. But it’s the way they look into my eyes with such love and appreciation that can instantly change my mood. BTW: Don’t get a dog unless you can commit to his/her complete wellbeing.
Anti-depressants: Yea, back to looking into this. My doctor said we’d try a different AD this year. I’m not a fan of prescription drugs, but I’ve heard a lot of people rave about what a game changer it had been for them, so I’ll keep an open mind to it.
MeetUps: Even during COVID I’ve heard of some socially distanced hikes and game events going on, so I’m keeping my ear to the ground for these.
The bottom line:
Those of us with SAD have a battle on our hands of which we must take responsibility. Left untreated, it can affect your career, relationships and general health. I hope that what I shared here can help some of my fellow SAD Warriors. And I hope that you can also share some of your own ideas and successes with me in the comments below!
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