by Catherine Pratt
For the longest time, I knew there was something wrong with me but I didn’t know what it was. All I knew was that I was just unbelievably tired all of the time. It started back in my teenage years when I was in high school and went until my early thirties when I finally figured it out.
There would be days I would be so tired that I'd find it hard to even stand up. Also, sometimes, I'd suddenly get depressed for really no reason. I can remember a lot of days looking at myself in the bathroom mirror and thinking with desperation, “I have to take some time off work. I can’t make it. I’m just too exhausted.” Of course I never did take time off and I would have to literally drag myself to work. It was a painful and frustrating experience that went on for years.
Christmas was also usually a horrible experience for me as I would seem to be extremely depressed and I wouldn't want to be social at all. I didn’t even know why I was depressed. And by February, it would be even worse. I thought maybe I wasn’t exercising enough, or eating well enough or not getting enough sleep. Nothing seemed to make a difference though. I would continue to be just so tired all of the time. It would feel like my bones were made of lead and to move any part of my body was an intense struggle. Some days it even felt like a struggle to breathe. I was living in a world made of molasses. Life was just such an effort.
Usually, I’d find that by Easter I’d be feeling better and then I’d forget about it until September came around again and I’d be back in the same boat again.
I’m not even sure how I finally discovered the answer but it was a life altering day when I realized the problem was that I was suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). The Season Affective Disorder Association defines SAD as “A type of winter depression that affects an estimated half a million people [in the United Kingdom, in North America it’s estimated 6 out of every 100 people] every winter between September and April; in particular December, January and February.” The lack of light in the Winter was causing the majority of my problems. Who would have thought that light would have such an effect? But, it really does and once I knew that, it all suddenly made sense.
It’s believed that SAD is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus. This can be triggered by a lack of light as experienced with the short days of Winter. It is also believed that your hormone serotonin is reduced. Serotonin is what keeps you feeling calm and happy. The amount of serotonin you have in your body also affects how you think and how you feel. If your levels of serotonin are low, it’s much harder to eat properly, manage stress levels, get the right amount of exercise. and even make decisions. If you don’t eat right and you’re highly stressed without exercise, you end up depleting your levels of serotonin even more making the problem worse. So, you can see how important it is to have adequate levels of this hormone.
Here are some of the symptoms I experience when I’m not managing SAD very well:
• Tired all the time – My bones will feel heavy like they are made out of lead. I just want to hibernate.
• Sleep Problems – I find that I can’t sleep very well. I’ll wake up a lot and have a hard time falling asleep. But, I also want to sleep all of the time. Waking up in the morning can be a major struggle. Getting out of bed, well, let’s just say “monumental effort”. Also, some days at work, it can be an almost impossible task to stay awake.
• Cravings for pasta and chocolate – in general just overeating and constantly craving carbohydrates and sweet foods. When I start wanting my favorite "comfort foods", I know it's a sign of SAD. Before I knew what I had, gaining weight in the winter was usual. I'd also tend to lose it again once we got to summer.
• Irritable and don’t want to be social - I'll feel like I just want the whole world to go away.
• Tense and everything seems overwhelming – the littlest thing will be too much for me to deal with. Making a decision can also be a difficult process. When I have SAD, I don't seem to be able to deal with stress very well either.
• Low Emotions - I would feel miserable for really no reason, guilty (for not wanting to be around people), low self-esteem, sometimes hopelessness and despair, sometimes apathy or even a complete loss of feelings (just felt like I was dead inside) These are just some of the emotions (or lack of) that I might go through during a SAD episode.
• Low immune system – I would sometimes wonder if I had an immune system at all as I would seem to catch every cold or flu bug that was going around. I would even catch illnesses that were more rare like whooping cough.
• Emotional – this is usually the first sign for me that I need to take action. I will suddenly find that I’m very emotional about anything and everything.
Try having any confidence at all with the above symptoms. It just doesn’t happen. It also wreaks havoc on your relationships with your family, your friends, significant others, co-workers, and even your neighbours. So, you can see why it was so life altering for me to finally find out what was wrong with me and what I could do about it.
The good news is that if you have SAD, it means you need to take better care of yourself, which really, you should be doing anyway. Also, usually, it can be managed without the use of drugs. In some extreme cases, medication and counseling does help though.
So, if you think you have SAD, how do you deal with it? That's what I'm going to talk about next in How To Deal With SAD. This is all about the 4 things I do which make the biggest difference for me. SAD is very manageable as you'll see.
I wanted to share my personal experience with SAD because my belief is that there are a lot of people who suffer from this and just have no idea. I have worked with so many people who will tell me they are just “so tired” and “just can’t function”and they don’t know why. I tell them about my experiences with SAD and you can see the lightbulb going on in their head. It truly does change your life once you know what you’re dealing with. Once you know, then you can do something about it. So, I hope it helps. If you have any questions, feel free to use my contact form and I’ll try to answer them as best as I can.
More articles on possible reasons for feeling tired all the time are: