Be Your Own Best Doctor

The Internet, for all of its usefulness, makes many doctors groan...

The first step to dealing with your SAD is recognizing that you may have the disorder.

My husband was the first one to suggest the possibility of SAD to me, and after reading more about it, I quickly realized that I had figured out my own issue.

I did see a therapist to confirm this suspicion, even though I was pretty wholly confident at that point in my own diagnosis, and to find out how I could manage the disorder more effectively.

That’s why I loved this frank and honest post from I’m Pretty Even as she talks about self-diagnosing herself with SAD:

78 and Sunny

And in regards to the moving part, girl, I am definitely right there with you, and actively working on it. 😉 The best and most guaranteed cure for SAD is a change in venue.

Even if you know that you do have SAD, some of the reasons that you may want to see a doctor is to get a prescription for treatment of some sort, whether light therapy (whether inside or outside the home) or anti-depressants. My insurance paid for my light, because I asked the doctor to write a prescription for it. If you choose to take meds, you will need to be eased onto and off of it at the proper times throughout the year.

Another reason to see a doctor to get your diagnosis in writing is to avoid problems at work if your situation requires modification to assist you in dealing with your disorder. Your work is required to provide reasonable accommodations in regards to any disability, but you must have a verifiable condition. I was able to win an unemployment case due to this, but only because I had taken the proper steps. Let’s say you need a vacation during the winter to help you deal with your disorder, but your work only allows vacations in the summer– having a doctor’s diagnosis might resolve this issue. Or your work suffers a little during the winter– having a diagnosis on file could increase workplace understanding, and help to prevent unnecessary negative feedback from your boss who just thinks that you are slacking off or do not care about the job anymore.

An additional reason to be professionally diagnosed is that you may be able to participate in case studies, but only if you have received a proper diagnosis. And on a personal level, your friends and family may get tired of hearing you complain about your disorder or might not understand, but a therapist knows that it is normal, and can providing that caring ear along with expertise advice.

It is definitely wise to be your own best doctor, since nobody cares more about yourself than you do, and you are ultimately responsible to actively manage your own condition. But there are some reasons that you may want to see a doctor in regards to your Seasonal Affective Disorder as well, at least in the beginning stages.


This is More than your Common Case of Laziness

Why can't I get my mind to focus on any one path?!

I do freelance writing for a living. Dr. Norman Rosenthal described why he normally refuses to have fall or winter deadlines. I thought I was going to outsmart him, and maintain the same level of writing as the rest of the year. I was wrong.

In addition to the standard exhaustion that Seasonal Affective Disorder brings, along with your common case of laziness, I have been having severe problems focusing to do even a simple task. I simply cannot get my mind to focus on any one thing. My memory is failing, my motivation is lacking, and I just cannot concentrate.

We are experiencing some fabulous weather for early March, and I thought the sun and warmer temperatures today would cause me to experience a newfound determination to get my work done. I stepped out to enjoy some sunshine; I opened windows in the house; I turned on my light; I exercised; I played some music; I did some physical housework; I ate some indulgent snacks (Dove Ice Cream Miniatures, to be exact); and I drank some coffee– all to no avail. I have gotten some work done, but the thought of meeting a deadline next week is daunting, especially when I was trying to work on one assignment, and just got another.

I decided to take a blogging break to see if the natural flow of creativity that comes with it would calm me down and help me to be more productive. True to zombie form, when I get like this, it is almost like my eyes cannot clearly focus on any one thing, which makes reading or writing difficult. I cannot properly process information. People can talk to me, and I will completely ignore what they say (and not even on purpose this time). Language becomes more foreign, and my coordination less accurate. I am at a loss as to how to remedy this.

I know that many people experience some relief as spring is on the horizon. For me personally, this is often the toughest time of all.

Do you have any ways that you manage to increase concentration and focus in spite of your S.A.D.? If so, I would sure love to hear them– comment below, and help a fellow zombie out.

Did you ever notice that zombies seem to have trouble focusing on any one thing? This seems to be the case both physically with their eyes and mentally with their mind.

So Tired It Hurts…

I have just went head-first into a wall, and I do not know how to recover...

On Friday evening after meeting my publication deadline, I was excited to move onto housework and other responsibilities. By the end of the evening, I was experiencing a level of exhaustion that was almost unbearable. I assumed it was due to the deadline and how hard that I had worked to complete my work, and that it would pass after a night’s rest.

Well, it didn’t. Here it is Tuesday evening, and I have been the epitome of a zombie since that time. I am literally so tired that it hurts. My body hurts; my mind aches; I cannot think straight; and my coordination is slow and lacking. I hit a brick wall before the weekend, and I have not since recovered.

I have tried caffeine, and that is not helping. I have tried rest, but any reprieve is only temporary. Eating and drinking does not help. Today, February 21, 2012, I took one of my small lights out for the first time. I have had it on since the early afternoon, and I am still deliriously tired. It is truly hard to describe.

I have a tiring week ahead of me, and if this continues, I am wondering how I am going to make it. I had assumed that the fatigue may have been due to “that” time of the month or impending sickness, which it may still be, but as time drags on, and I still feel like I have been run over by a train, I am beginning to doubt those two contributing factors.

I am starting to remember what S.A.D. truly feels like. I always know and remember, but still seem to forget the full magnitude of it. It’s no joke. I am truly living like the walking dead right now.

Life as a zombie is just no life at all...

The Carb Conundrum

Carbs are the enemy...

I have been experiencing this problem. Let’s call it my carb conundrum. I guess it is to be expected with Seasonal Affective Disorder, but as of late, I have been feeling the urge to eat more sweets, like cookies, and salty items, like chips.

Normally I am not too tempted by these items, and over the last few months, I have actually lost 20 pounds through portion control. So needless to say, this sudden hankering for less-than-healthy food items is more than a little distressing. Surprisingly, I made it through the holiday season without the gaining that I expected to occur, and was so disinterested in food (not to mention, tired and overwhelmed) that I never even made any holiday treats. Maybe it was due to the extra junk food leftover from the holidays or getting used to the concept of eating more or an over-inflated confidence in my ability to lose weight whenever I desire, but now that the holidays are over, my eating troubles are just beginning.

I know that carbohydrate cravings are symptomatic of S.A.D., in addition to the corresponding weight gain that often accompanies these cravings. Many of my cravings occur when I am most tired or frustrated, and often in the afternoon when I hit a wall and need a sudden pick-me-up. But rather than cutting off my meals, I feel the need for a dessert to top it off, and I have been a lot more hungry than I was previously. Add into the equation the recent onset of worse winter weather, and it does not make for a good combination. Writing an article on Great American Pie Month, which involved lots of emphasis on fabulous pies and quiches, sure did not help either.

I am not often successful, but one way that I try to control these cravings is by not having the source of temptation available. I got a sample of an item that I wanted, and I gave it to my husband instead. I way overdid eating a box of candy that I bought recently, so I will be refraining from buying anymore of that. If I want an afternoon snack, I stick with a hot drink or some dry oatmeal, which is a carb, but is healthier, and a good source of fiber. Thankfully, I normally avoid eating too many chips or bread with dinner, and have not been interested in chocolates that have been sitting around for a while.

That being said, I need winter to be over sooner rather than later, lest I undo all of the improvement that I achieved over the last few months. I also need to get to working out on my lonely exercise bike, as that can help to undo damage caused by carbs.

How do you fight your carb cravings? Or are you lucky enough to avoid them altogether?  Do you feel differently from one year to the next? Please share your own tips and experience with this S.A.D.-induced carb conundrum.

Put the carbs down and back away...

A Sneaky Symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder

One of the most undesirable symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (amongst a long list of negative ways that the disorder affects you) is weight gain.  Like the disorder, the weight gain can be of a seasonal nature only. And to be honest, people tend to gain more during the winter as it is, due to being inside more, and therefore more sedentary, as well as the holiday season with all of its decadent offerings.

But given the fact that the possibility of weight gain becomes more of a concern for everyone at this time, people with S.A.D. have to be particularly aware.  Much of the weight gain in relation to S.A.D. is due to an increased craving for carbohydrates (sugars), which are known to pack on the pounds.  Whether you are eating pasta, bread, or candy, carbohydrates may provide you with a temporary energy boost, but they will also boost the numbers on the scale.

In addition to the craving for carbs, those affected with S.A.D. may also have an increased appetite in general.  Some other forms of depression can also cause the person to eat more in the attempt to make themselves feel better.

I am not a doctor, but I tend to think that the increased eating during winter stems from a few different reasons.  First, it is biological. From a survival point of view, if we lived out in the wild, we would want to bulk up, as it is much easier to stay warm during the winter.  What do hibernating bears do prior to their long slumber?  Eat as much as possible, and in particular, they engorge on carbohydrate-rich foods found in the wild.  They may gain 30 pounds in one week by intentionally eating.

Second, I think we eat for mental reasons.  Both directly and indirectly, food has an effect on our minds.  The chemicals from foods can often produce a positive effect on our brains, causing us to function better and feel more clear-minded.  In particular, carbohydrates can produce a more immediate effect, providing us with quick gratification.  That is the direct effect, but the indirect is how we feel.  Food makes us feel cared for, makes us feel like times are good, and we are programmed to correlate food with celebration and happiness.  That is one reason that food is such a major component at the holidays or any special occasion, making the time very difficult for those on a diet.  It causes the person trying to cut down to feel like they are missing out on the celebration, and other well-meaning people who will tell them that in those exact words do not help the matter.

The final reason that I think that those with S.A.D. are more likely to eat during the winter is in an attempt to regain strength and energy. On a normal basis, if we do not eat enough, our brain and body is affected, causing us to feel lethargic, tired, and lacking in energy. Eating can undo all of those effects.  Because someone with S.A.D. is infected with a zombie syndrome that makes them walk around in a continual state of fatigue and feeling out of it, they may turn to food to try to pump themselves up with the energy that they lack, particularly carbs that offer a swift pick-me-up.

Unfortunately in this situation, overeating during the winter can end up making a bad scenario worse on an ongoing basis.  If you become overweight, it may affect your self-esteem, causing long-term depression, or people may make comments that will feed into a negative body image.

On my other blog, I just made a post about weight, its effect on your psyche, and our cultural standards.  Part of my own weight struggle is likely due to my Seasonal Affective Disorder, so that is why I wanted to share the blog post with you.

The Great Weight Debate

Here are some ways that I attempt to control my weight during this difficult period of time:

  • Keep temptation at bay— If I know that I am going to feel the need to load up on cookies or candy if it is in the house, I may sure that I do not buy it.  Likewise, if holiday baking or cooking is going to cause you to eat more during the process than you have left over, avoid it.   However, it is okay to have a treat once in a while as long as you do not go on a binge.
  • Drink instead of eat— Often our hunger is not from the need for food, but rather that we may be dehydrated.  Before running for a snack, try to drink some water to see if that makes you feel more energized.
  • Portion control the carbs— You can still eat carbohydrates, but keep them at a minimum.  Have a small amount of pasta or bread, or if possible, skip them.
  • Get exercise indoors if you can— I am not really into exercise, but we do have an exercise bike that I use from time to time. Particularly for someone with S.A.D., I am not about to tell them to get outdoors in this cold weather to exercise, but if you can do it inside, it can help with both weight management and energy levels.
  • Provide yourself quality snacks options— If you need an energizing snack in the afternoon, keep one or two things around that are decent.  It could be a granola bar, yogurt, dry cereal, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers,  or for me, dry oats.  Drink some water with it to make yourself feel fuller.  The key is not to start eating things that are bad for you or overdoing it even with the things that are good for you.
  • Don’t forget the drinks— Winter makes us want to have a mug full of hot tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or apple cider in our hands at all times.  Summer spurs us to drink more cold water, but winter does the opposite.  Some of these drinks have a lot of sugar or calories, and we could end up putting on weight from them.  So monitor how much that you are drinking, choose lower fat/calorie/sugar options like tea when possible, and instead of having a snack, you may consider just having a hot drink instead.  It fills you up, and can offer the boost that you need.
  • Re-program your idea of a good time— We are so used to think that only with food or drinks can we have a good time.  I used to go out and eat as if every meal was my last one.  We have to re-adjust our thinking to know that eating is fine, but it is not an end in and of itself, and we can do fun things without always overeating.  This becomes especially pertinent during the holidays or during social gatherings of any sort.
  • Determine your motivation— Before you pop something in your mouth, particularly snacks or treats, determine what your motivation is for eating it.  In other words, are you really hungry? Sometimes I find myself craving food as a distraction, as a feel-good, because I am actually thirsty and don’t realize it, or to celebrate an occasion, not because I am hungry at all. Determining your motivation will stop mindless eating.
  • Set your priorities— If you know that you are going out to eat later or to a party, choose to eat less at your other meals.  That way you can enjoy yourself, and still get the same calories as any other day.  Likewise, don’t waste calories on items that you really don’t like that much– for me, I often skip bread during dinners at home.  Another tactic is to only eat more when I eat out on things I really like, and eat less at home of things I really do not care that much for anyways.

After knowing what my issue is for a few years now, I have learned to control some of my winter-related eating, and a lot of it is just due to controlled actions that eventually become habits. By putting some preventative measures in place, you should be able to avoid seasonal weight gain, and the process will be easier in years to come.