You know what? Having Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) really sucks sometimes! But I’m only human and sometimes I fall down.
I know, I know; that isn’t the usual positive message I give about managing SAD. But it is the truth. There are times when I really struggle with it and I feel sorry for myself. Times like this week. I get annoyed that not only do I have to spend half my year – every year – managing my symptoms just to try and lead a ‘normal life’ during autumn and winter, but I also have times in spring and summer when it catches me out.
Being only too human…
I’ve been struggling for the last three weeks. Here in the north east of England we’ve had almost solid rain on weekdays, with nice weekends. I’m really grateful we had sunshine on the weekends of course; I’ve made the most of it in our beautiful countryside and I’ve felt good on those days. There’s nothing like sitting on a high rock with your feet dangling over the edge of a huge waterfall to make you feel care-free! 😀
In summer, I don’t use artificial light therapy because there’s normally enough natural light for me to be feeling great! The thing I struggle with is that I don’t know how long a rainy spell will last, so it doesn’t always occur to me to use my light. Then the symptoms sneak up and bite me on the ass, which is what happened this week!
I’ve been feeling tired, frustrated, irritable and a bit paranoid into the bargain. I’ve been giving myself a hard time over just about everything. My work is challenging (in a good way – it’s why I took my job!) and there are naturally times when I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere with my objectives, despite working hard. Change isn’t linear and there will always be times you feel like you’re going backwards! Usually I accept this, but with my symptoms getting the better of me, things built up.
It came to a head; I had my first panic attack when I got to my desk on Wednesday. It came out of the blue and was pretty mild compared to what I know some people experience, but nevertheless I hope I don’t have any more!
I’ve been more open at work about how my SAD is affecting me than I have ever been. I worry about seeming unprofessional, and sometimes maybe I am. But I’m also human and I am so grateful for how my colleagues have responded this week.
My boss told me it’s okay to take the day off sick if I need to recharge when I told him I needed to use my day differently – to take stock, make a new plan, look after myself and find some energy. I really appreciated this; I knew I didn’t need to be ‘off’ – but just to let myself get things in focus and plan a way forward.
Our company partners with Tyneside and Northumberland Mind, who piloted their Sally Allen Fund employer mental health awareness presentation with us. It is allowing different conversations to take place. It gave me the confidence to email our MD and let him know what was going on and what steps I was going to take to make myself feel better. He was as concerned and supportive as I expected him to be.
A colleague took me for a cuppa while we discussed if there were any adaptations we could make in the office. Another was there for me when I was having the panic attack. She took me outside, gave me a hug and helped me recover. Still others were kind and accepting that I was having a tough week.
Standing still a moment…
As ever, when I’ve taken some time to reflect on what’s going on, it isn’t just one thing. It’s back to the same old story; SAD is never in isolation.
Work challenges. Life changes (lovely ones, but still change!). Everyday irritations like starting my day mopping up because my conservatory bedroom leaks! Not looking after myself properly. You know – same old, same old! 😉
Everything interconnects. My hormones and brain chemicals will be imbalanced if I’m feeling stressed, not eating and sleeping well, not taking time out for myself and exercising. This impacts everything else, as well as the SAD.
Of course, it’s a double-edged sword because SAD causes me to feel tired and struggle with energy and motivation, so I’m less likely to look after myself well when I’m symptomatic. I end up turning to quick ‘fixes’ like carbs, sugar and caffeine, which of course don’t fix anything!
I was annoyed with myself. I felt I was being a crap friend, crap employee, crap girlfriend. I was telling myself off because I have no real reason to feel so bad; things are actually really good in my life right now! I screwed up on an important presentation because I wasn’t on good form, and that’s how I finished the working week. Come Friday night I was so exhausted and fed up.
Dusting myself off…
My friends, family and boyfriend (yep – I’m newly in a relationship!) are absolutely wonderful and I make no apologies for the amount of times I say that! 🙂 They are always there cheer-leading or soothing. They get and support me no matter what – and there’s nothing more loving than that.
As I climbed into bed on Friday, I told myself, “You know what, Neens? You’re only human. Everyone falls sometimes. What’s done is done. So pick yourself up and dust yourself off, now.”
So, I’ve made sure I’ve eaten properly, exercised and slept well. I also thought about what helps me feel better in spirit. I bought myself flowers on my way home from work on Friday. I spent yesterday planting flowers on my balcony, cooking, reading, listening to music, dancing, catching up on messages from friends and family. And I spent lots of time in the sunshine, which made a reappearance!
I’m feeling lots more ‘myself’ today as a result. I am really not perfect – nobody is – and I think I need to learn to be more accepting of that. I have a real stubborn perfectionist streak; at times I hold myself to impossible standards I would never expect of others. I’ve done a lot of work over the last couple of years on the inner critic and developing self-compassion. Sometimes though, the old patterns of thinking take over and I find I’m beating myself up as of old. But life’s about putting one foot in front of the other and doing your best. That’s all I can be and do. I’m only human, after all.