Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Weather blues, seasonal affective disorder and the blogosphere

The concept of "weather blues" (associated with the Seasonal Affective Disorder -- as indicated by the Canadian Mental Health Association's website, the mild form of SAD is known as winter blues) has hit home more in this past year than it had ever before. It has affected many people within my personal circle (myself included).

People keep asking me how come I haven't adapted to Vancouver's awful winter weather (sorry, can't say I love snow and heavy rainfall). The whole idea that "this is Vancouver, live with it" is unfathomable.

I have come to recognize that I might be having a light version of SAD given the diagnostics of the CMHA .
Generally, symptoms that recur for at least 2 consecutive winters, without any other explanation for the changes in mood and behaviour, indicate the presence of SAD. They may include:
  • change in appetite, in particular a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • weight gain
  • decreased energy
  • fatigue
  • tendency to oversleep
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • avoidance of social situations
  • feelings of anxiety and despair [CMHA website]
I am slightly wary of calling what I have as SAD, since (a) I haven't consulted a professional and (b) my understanding of clinical depression is that it is a very severe and debilitating condition. Whenever I tell my friends "I feel somewhat depressed" they answer back "in English, the word depression is extremely severe and relates to a clinical condition". But the truth is, I can recognize some of these signs.

For example, this week I ate a full can of sweetened condensed milk in an afternoon. Thank you, there goes my diet and my 20 pounds lost. Irritable? Yeah, for sure. Decreased energy, yeah. But then again, other symptoms are not there. I have socialized with my friends, still played my six volleyball games on Saturday and Sunday and I don't feel particularly anxious or desperate (despite my heavy workload and busy schedule). That's also why if you feel some of these symptoms you should consult with a physician and/or counselor.

There are many ways to fight this off. From the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions website, you can read lots of useful tidbits that can help you deal with SAD. The UBC Hospital Mood Disorders Centre has been home to research on SAD (by Dr. Raymond Lam). A paper he wrote on the topic can be found here. [I found it interesting that some pages have not been updated recently, not sure why]

Other methods include light therapy with a light lamp ['Litebook(R)']. Most websites I've read suggest to consult with a health specialist before using light therapy. This would probably be a good idea. Interestingly enough, even though I found the Province of British Columbia's Depression Strategy (document circa 2002) I couldn't find anywhere on the MSP website that suggested that treatment for SAD would be covered. I would have a question for MSP - do we need to shell the bucks out of our own pocket to cover light devices? [Anybody out there want to research this question? Thank you. Please post answer in the comments section. Credits given to you, of course!]

Now, you may ask yourselves - what does this have to do with the blogosphere? Well, for starters, I haven't had any will to blog for a few days. Luckily, Debra stepped in and offered a guest post (and I'm more than happy to invite anyone else to contribute guest posts!). But I had basically no will to write. And second, yeah - there are blogs out there that talk about SAD. I found Circadiana through a Google search, and the discussion on SAD is quite interesting. Actually, technorati found 22 websites that talk about SAD.

So what now? Well, for starters - good news. First, my laptop is back (this post was created in it!). The battery seems to have returned to its normal 2 hour cycle. Second, I can see sunlight outside. Therefore, I will drag myself out and work from a coffee shop. And third, the temperature is unbelievably high (15 oC). So I'm a happy camper.

And my hope is that this post will help people out there deal with SAD. At the very least, doing the research to find links to websites and reading about SAD has helped me already. A big thank you is due though, to my friends. These guys have forced me to get out of my house and do social activities despite the cold rain and clouds, for which I am very grateful. As my good friend Nomade Moderne says, "once I am out, I'm out". So once I get out of the house and go to the office or undertake social activities, I really don't mind the rain.

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