From March until October, I’m the type of mom you want to be friends with. I host barbecues in my backyard and bonfires with plenty of marshmallows for all the neighborhood kids. I run carpools to soccer practice and organize PTA bake sales and fundraisers. I have Jell-O shots for all the neighborhood parents during trick-or-treating. I attend Girl Scout events and have fun doing it. Genuine, real fun I sometimes forget to document on Instagram or Facebook.
But as soon as November rolls around, I dread daylight saving time with every fiber of my being. Daylight saving time means my seasonal affective disorder (SAD) kicks in, and I become a stranger to even myself. My husband is baffled by my lack of energy, and my sharp tone confuses my daughter.
“Why is Mommy so mad all the time?”
“We need to let Mommy sleep for a little while.”
It’s estimated that 6% of the U.S. population, primarily in Northern climates, is affected by SAD, while another 14% of the U.S. adult population suffers from a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, known as winter blues.
For me, SAD means I become snappish and short-tempered. Getting out of bed seems like the biggest struggle in the world. Simple tasks like sorting a basket of laundry seem insurmountable. Life is like trudging through oatmeal: slow, exhausting, and difficult. There are mornings I can’t get myself out of bed, and my husband is left with the adulting tasks that day.
And then the self-loathing kicks in. Why can’t I do this? My daughter deserves a mother who can pack her lunch and make sure she has breakfast before she leaves for school. My husband should have a wife who doesn’t fall asleep at 8:30 p.m. every night, a wife who can hold a conversation with him, or who wants to go on a date instead of staying home and taking a nap. I feel like a failure.
Winter should mean celebrations, holidays, and fun, but for me, it just means the start of the worst time of the year. Here are some truths SAD suffers want you to know:
1. We are trying so fucking hard.
I don’t want my 9-year-old to know it’s a struggle for me to wash my hair, brush my teeth, and take a shower in the morning. When the alarm goes off, I slog downstairs, hoping coffee will buy me a few hours of energy before I can go back to bed for a nap.
I usually pride myself on my appearance — a full face of makeup and matching clothes at school pickup. During winter I live in comfortable leggings and oversized T-shirts. I can’t muster the enthusiasm to get dressed in anything else or even put on makeup.
But I’m trying so hard to appear capable. While I may not always be engaged, I am at least present. I’m at school pickup on time, dinner is made every evening, and I make sure homework is completed. By 8 p.m. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. But I’m trying.
2. Please be patient with us.
I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want to snap at my daughter while helping her with math homework, and I don’t want to feel overwhelmed looking at a sink full of dishes. I don’t want to have an anxiety attack over planning Christmas Eve, and I don’t want to spend the whole day in bed. Please understand people with SAD can’t “stop being depressed,” and just like you, we want to enjoy life in the moment. We want it so, so much.
3. Self-care is key.
For me, self-care means taking multivitamins and a double dose of vitamin D every single morning. It means sitting next to a SAD light for a few hours a day. It also means making it to my noon CrossFit class — no matter what. The one hour of lifting heavy weights and pushing my body hard, coupled with the support and encouragement of my CrossFit friends, leaves me with enough endorphins to handle the rest of the day. Self-care might mean medication, yoga classes, or even diet changes for other people. But we need to find a healthy way to dig ourselves out of our SAD hole.
4. We will get better.
I count down until spring daylight saving time. While most parents dread losing an hour of sleep, I love the sun coming in my windows in the morning and the hours of daylight stretching out before me. I find myself feeling excited again and eager for late-afternoon soccer practice and Pokémon GO adventures with my family. I even entertain the idea of having all the little girls in the neighborhood over for a sleepover. I have boundless energy again and can skip my afternoon nap. This is hard to remember on miserable, cold December days when it feels like I haven’t seen sunshine in weeks. But it will get better. It always does.
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