We’ve been writing articles on spiritual disciplines for a long time. We intend to continue doing that, but since the weatherman is insisting that this week will be filled with more snow and ice, we’d like to shift gears.
This article is for caregivers–and those who receive care–who struggle with seasonal affective disorder or mild depression during the winter months.
Over twelve years ago, I (Joe) didn’t realize how widespread seasonal depression was because, being from sunny Florida, I didn’t know such a thing existed.
In the first year we moved to Atlanta, there was a snowstorm. My wife and I didn’t waste time in building snowmen, making snow angels, and tossing a few snowballs for fun. We took pictures of our snow-covered cars for family in Florida. It was really fun.
The seasons changed, and I appreciated all that God had to offer in creation: from the Spring-time songs of birds in the air to the autumnal change of the leaves.
But then, about the second or third year here, I started to feel differently in the winter time.
I believe it was the dead winter of 2004-2005 that I went to a friend–a social worker who knew more about counseling than I–to tell her that I had feelings of isolation and depression that I had never felt before in my life. She recommended a therapist, and I went with great results.
Spring came, and I recovered quite well from the whole ordeal. Our first child had her first birthday. Things moved right along.
Then, when winter hit again the following year, those same feelings erupted. I became melancholy and lethargic; I gained weight. Although my withdrawal wasn’t as severe as the previous winter, I definitely felt different.
I noticed a pattern. Winter came and I would get severe mood swings. Finally, when one winter in 2010 proved mild, I got scared: winter came, then springtime, but I never recovered.
I was burned out, and my family and friends noticed a difference. My best friend of twenty years told me that I seemed depressed to him, and he mentioned on more than one occasion that I was always the life of the party, what had happened?
Although we ministers (and Christians in general) like to spiritualize mood swings and illness, I acknowledged that I was no different than roughly 6% of the U.S. population that struggles with what many doctors call Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. (During harsh winters, that percentage can get as high as 20% of a regional population.)
SAD is common among people who face harsh winters or, in the least, winters in which very little sunlight is available. It can be a symptom of mild depression on the one hand or, in severe cases, bipolar emotional disorder or chronic depression on the other hand.
SAD often overlaps one of these conditions, though it can simply affect people who face too much stress in their lives, pastors not withstanding.
The more I acknowledged my own wrestling match with this illness, the more I opened up about it with folks at church. Turns out I wasn’t alone: By the time March hit, I managed to gather a small support system of like-minded people who face depression in one way or another during the winter season.
We inquire about our health every so often. We send encouraging texts and emails (especially on overcast days). We share resources. (Just the other day, one sent me a e-devotional on depression.)
If you struggle with depression or SAD, you are not alone! There is hope in God and in the solace of others: Although “sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b).
If you struggle with a similar disorder, I encourage you to seek help, speak with a trusted counselor, doctor or therapist, and hang in there.
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