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Bringing out Miss Happy: Coping with S.A.D.

Mrs. Happy.

I know there are so many people here in the Mountain Kingdom who are so excited about winter they can barely contain themselves. This is a ski and winter sport mecca, so I get that. People look forward to this season all year and obsess over snow predictions as a Wall Street investment banker might obsess over the stock market. I get it. Really, I do.

There are a significant number of people out there, however, for whom winter is an incredibly difficult time of year. You see, I have a wee touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and that is one reason why I tend to get cranky when winter rolls around. Actually cranky barely describes what starts to happen to me when the days shorten, the low cloud descends and socks in the town with greyness, and the cold and gloom take over.
 
For one thing, I become quite sluggish and I struggle with my energy level. Dragging myself out of bed becomes part of my daily routine, and I seem to spend a lot of time on the couch because I don’t have the energy to do very much else. This is just so much fun when you have to get up and go to work!
My mood also takes a bit of a nosedive. I spend a lot of time moping around the house, ruminating and generally feeling sorry for myself. I tend to get very irritable, sometimes downright snarky, and I can lose patience with small things quickly, whereas normally I’m pretty laid back. I tend to be less able to cope with stress, and smaller things stress me out more than they should.
 
In fact, snow stresses me out. I get very resentful that I have to shovel it, and I get resentful that I have to sweep it off my satellite dish. Also, I am a transit person, and twice I’ve had to miss shifts because road conditions have either made the bus so late I couldn’t get to work on time and it wasn’t worth going in in the end, and once because the bus wound up in a snowbank and couldn’t go anywhere. After those experiences, taking the bus in the winter stresses me out. And I hate walking in the snow. In fact, there are times when leaving the house during or after a snowfall is so daunting I just don’t go out.
 
Finally, let’s talk about food. This is the time of year when weird cravings set in. I am not a casserole person at all, but, man, this is when I start making all kinds of noodly, creamy, rich, carbohydrate and calorie-rich casseroles. I don’t do this at any other time of the year. I also crave other strange things. In the past couple of weeks, some weird things are making their way into my grocery cart: canned ham, for one, because I am all of a sudden I just NEED deviled ham sandwiches! It’s bizarre! Also, ramen noodles! I rarely eat these, but nowadays, I just can’t get enough of them.
 
All that being said, I’ve had to learn to be pro-active about coping with this season and what it does to me. One of the first things I did to try to liven up the winter for me was join a curling team. I did this back in 2006 and I have found that it really helps the winter go by a little quicker. It’s social, it gets me out once a week, and it’s a fun activity I do look forward to when November rolls around.
I also have a SAD lamp, or light box. In true sarcastic Allyson fashion, I have even nicknamed my light box: Miss Happy the SAD lamp. I sit in front of Miss Happy every morning for about an hour (more than what is recommended, but this is what works for me) and while it doesn’t transform me into a perkier version of myself, it does help with things like energy level and sleep regulation.
I think it also makes me less moody. I’ve had Miss Happy for about a year and last winter I found it to be a real help.
 
The other thing I do - and this is the toughest of all - is I push myself to go to the gym at least three times of week for at least 30 minutes of high energy cardio. Not only does this help work off some of my weird food intake, it does give me a zap of energy and it also clears my head.  My brain tends to work a little more efficiently after a good workout. But this is the most difficult coping measure for sure. I really have to push myself very, very hard to do this, and sometimes I fail miserably. When I start to slack, I have to stop beating myself up and just get back to going to the gym. Learning to push through the lethargy and mood issues and get out there is one of the hardest things I have to do each winter, but it does work.
 
I have a friend who works as a case manager at Trail Metal Health & Addictions, and she told me that this is their busiest time of year. Clients who don’t come to that office very often start coming regularly once winter starts approaching. It’s a time of great change for many people, and I have quite a few friends who struggle with the same things I do at this time of year. Not everyone wants to take up skiing, either. I certainly don’t, though I do kind of get envious of people who hang out at Paradise Lodge in the sunshine during the winter, and I would love to be able to do that, too. I just don’t want to have to ski down afterward!
 
Someone once suggested to me that I go sunbathe up at Nancy Greene, but as someone without a car, that just isn’t happening.
 
Ideally, I’d like to find a sugar daddy who can whisk me off to Mexico or Hawaii or the Caribbean for the winter, but since that is a pipe dream, Miss Happy, curling, and the gym it is, until spring comes along and lifts me from this torpor with warmth, longer days, sun, and the buds and blossoms that promise good things to come.