Out of the other side… again

I have started writing so many times over this autumn and winter to share my experiences with you and stopped myself. Because I haven’t posted since August, I’ve been giving myself a hard time.

I tell myself and other people that the reason I didn’t post is that I felt I needed to come out of the other side before I have any useful lessons to share.

While that is true, it’s only part of it. The other part is that I became very symptomatic this year and I felt ashamed of myself. I beat myself up asking myself, “how can you possibly hope to help others when you can’t even manage this condition yourself, Neina?”

I was so annoyed with myself! I’ve invested so much time, money and energy in learning how to manage the condition; not just with light, but also tackling general wellbeing and mindset aspects and building helpful habits. I felt like I’d taken five steps backwards!

Now I’m feeling more my usual self, I can reflect and realise that it’s not that I ‘can’t’ manage the condition. It’s that this year, I didn’t do it well! As a result, it was like going right back to before I was diagnosed and started learning how to stave off the symptoms.

Here we go again…

You might have read my previous post where I talk about the sudden arrival of these anxiety symptoms. Each year for four years now, it’s been the same – sometime in October – bam! It’s like a switch flicks and these symptoms just arrive! I was on antidepressants the last two years which definitely took the edge off, so it was a shock to experience the full effects of this again after coming off them!

I wake up feeling nauseous. My heart races as if I’ve just sprinted, even though I’ve been resting. I tremble uncontrollably as if I’m freezing cold. My hair falls out. I have unexplained dry skin patches that appear suddenly. I lose my appetite, so feel like I’m forcing food down and it makes me gag. I’m really thirsty. I have dizzy spells. My stomach is bad. Arggghhhhh!

I’m sure you can imagine how challenging it was to get on with normal day-to-day life when I was feeling this way physically – the racing heart and shaking, in particular, were so distracting and really upset me. I got worried that people could tell and fretted about what they’d think of me. Clearly, those thoughts are bound to feed the anxiety!

This year it lasted for five weeks, but it felt like so much longer! It disappeared as suddenly as it arrived, in early December.

I suspect this is a Seasonal Affective Disorder thing. My theory is that it’s possibly being triggered by sudden changes in light levels and sending the brain chemicals haywire. It seems to coincide with the clocks going back. Also, November up here in Greenside, Tyne & Wear, was a month of almost unbroken heavy grey cloud and rain – it didn’t seem to get light all month! By contrast, December onwards has felt more balanced.

After this, I had what I would recognise as more typical SAD symptoms, for me – being ‘up and down’, with brain fog, irritability, tiredness, lack of motivation to do things I normally enjoy, feeling less sociable, losing confidence and being hard on myself. Some days I felt great; others I felt a mess. And then in early February, I felt like I suddenly got ‘me’ back again.

Learning points

Talking it over with a couple of friends, they’ve helped me to realise that while it was tough to go through, I can choose to be grateful for this reminder of just how awful SAD can be when I’m not managing it proactively. I wasn’t grateful at the time though – I’m not that virtuous yet! 😉

But coming out of the other side and looking back over autumn and winter, it galvanises me to think about how many other people are going through this each and every year. I realise I got complacent and that’s why I didn’t manage it so well this year.

It also leads me to analyse what might have made the difference this year, which as ever, isn’t clear-cut:

  • The weather – November was very grey
  • Getting less natural light and exercise – I used to walk briskly for 20 minutes to work each morning in the daylight even in the depths of winter, but this year I was starting my working day inside before it got light and wasn’t doing much else exercise-wise
  • Poor lighting – I moved in late September and the ceiling light is poor where I work at home. I wasn’t using my SAD light consistently either
  • Changed routine – since moving in with my fiance I’ve been inconsistent with practising a morning routine – I had previously been doing exercise, meditation, gratitude practice, affirmations, using my light while I ate breakfast, etc., but I fell off the wagon again!
  • Life changes – once again, I’ve been through a period of change on the career, home and relationship fronts. In this last year, I was made redundant, went self-employed, got engaged, moved in with my fiance and his dog to a semi-rural village, and we’re adapting to life as a new family with his fantastic kids staying every other weekend – phew!

I do feel frustrated looking back on this now. It’s not that I was unaware of any of it the last few months – just that I was symptomatic and so I felt lacking in motivation and was beating myself up about it!

Going forward?

As spring’s coming in, I’ve naturally begun to feel more energised and motivated, so I’m now taking walks in the morning light in addition to the lunchtime walks I take, and I’ve reintroduced some other elements of my morning routine. It’s easier once I’m not symptomatic, of course!

I’m also in the very early stages of developing Lightopia CIC, so I’m doing a lot of research and mapping around the light and wellbeing arena. I hope that I learn some new information that could help and will keep you posted.

Some people have suggested that it’s possible that I’ve developed an unconscious anxiety about autumn coming in, so I might explore that some more. Other friends have pointed out that I fight with this a lot; I don’t accept it. I had been flowing with it more in previous years and showing myself more compassion, but I definitely got angry at it all and myself a lot more this year! So that’s another area to work on!

Really, though, I think that proactive management via healthy habits are the key. I need to find some way of keeping myself on track to prevent the symptoms from taking over.

I’d be interested in hearing if you have any experience or tips to share! Feel free to comment on this post, or send me an email.

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