How I Fought Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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low section view of woman exercising on a treadmill

It was usually around Veteran's Day when it would hit me full force. That winter funk. I realized this back in college. I couldn't study. I couldn't write. I couldn't concentrate on my reading. I didn't want to go to class. I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.

For decades, I've dealt with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Though I suspected I suffered from SAD for a long time, it was only a few years ago that an LNP hit on it as an actual issue for me. See, I've also been depressed outside of SAD -- I am just predisposed to it.

I did take medication to combat depression, and it was tremendously successful. I tried to continue with the meds throughout the year, but when I'm not depressed, and haven't felt that way in ages, I tend to forget. Also, for various reasons, getting to a therapist is sometimes a challenge. I live in the woods of New Hampshire, and my hub works in the 'burbs of Boston. Our insurance is excellent, not to mention accepted all over eastern New Hampshire and Massachusetts. But I'm in southwestern New Hampshire, and no one accepts the insurance out here. That LNP that identified my SAD? 40 miles away.

Last August, as the days quietly got shorter, I knew I'd either have to get myself back on anti-depressants, or find another route to keep my head in a good place -- November was coming. Nothing is worse than having two kids just becoming excited about the upcoming holidays and feeling as if I'm in an absolute pit. of. despair.

I knew that exercise could elevate serotonin and endorphin levels. So I decided to start walking. The kids were home for the summer, and I wasn't comfortable leaving them at the house while I walked. I didn't want them tagging along and slowing me down. I didn't want anyone with me. I wanted vigorous exercise -- alone.

Fortunately, we have a treadmill in the cellar, set up in the "exercise corner." Someone actually referred to it as our "Home Gym" once, and I almost wet my pants. Picture a typical concrete cellar, with ducts and pipes. Insert a BowFlex, a treadmill and a 15-year-old television. Yes, esthetically it's displeasing, but it's functional. I only wish it were as nice as what Crabby McSlacker has set up.

In August 2009, I started walking every morning. I'm an early riser, so it's not unusual for me to wake up at five a.m. while the house is still quiet. Each morning, I would get on my sneakers, pull on some shorts and a tee, and fill my water bottle. I would head down to the basement, still bleary-eyed. As I got going, I'd turn on the telly and watch the early news on the local station. On the mornings that I just didn't want to do it, I would tell myself: This is for your head. This is your medicine.

And it really seemed to work. As Veteran's Day rolled around, I didn't see the black cloud that typically follows me around from November through March. I didn't even see a grey one. My head was in a good place. Sure, I had my days, but that is part of living. I actually enjoyed getting up and getting on the old mill and watching the news.

I've had some people ask me how on earth I could actually walk on a boring treadmill for 30 minutes a day. Well, it's not boring to me. It's therapy. I walk fast and uphill. I catch up on the news -- which I would have done anyway, just sitting on my ass. There's no worry about getting ready to exercise. Seriously, I don't have to even brush my hair -- I can literally roll out of bed, put on my sneaks and get going within about three minutes. I can even skip wearing a bra (but that was a development that didn't occur until I'd been following the routine for many months) and no one sees me, all rumpled and pillow-wrinkled. For me, this is the ideal workout. It is not ideal for everyone.

Turns out the logic that I used in exercising was right on. Recently, I searched for information online about SAD, and some research I came across reflected my own results. Exercise helps depression. In elevating serotonin and endorphin levels, I was combatting my symptoms. On my own. No Meds.

Do you suffer from SAD? Have you successfully used alternative means of therapy to stave off the symptoms?

Margaret Maurhoff Barney is a writer in New Hampshire. You can find her blogging over at Just Margaret.

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