How my SAD story led to peace

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By Laura Drummond

I notice the light shifting in early August, the way it filters through the trees on my morning walk, its disappearance subtly quickening each night. That’s when the sadness and fatigue creep in, even when it’s still a sweltering 100°F every day.

My paternal grandmother and my dad have complained about the impending change of seasons for as long as I can remember.

“It’s starting to get dark earlier; you know what that means.”

“I saw a wooly caterpillar today; you know what that means.”

“I collected a peck of acorns yesterday; you know what that means.”

Their sense of dread is palpable. I figured I inherited a love of spring and summer and hatred of fall and winter from them long before I ever realized seasonal depression existed.

For most of my life, I’ve been able to push through the autumnal months. There’s Halloween to look forward to, and then Thanksgiving. I could even ride the high of Christmas cheer and New Year’s Eve excitement. By January, I would be exhausted—usually to the point of making myself physically sick—from trying. Every little task felt like an insurmountable chore. The lack of light exacerbated my already persistent fatigue. It took all my energy to show up in the world and pretend to be a functioning human. I’m sure it seems hyperbolic, but each day was a very real struggle.

My primary care provider diagnosed me with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) a handful of years ago. During my annual wellness appointment, I casually mentioned how I struggle during the winter months. She offered to prescribe an antidepressant, and I figured it was time to give it a try. I had already attempted a battery of other treatments—seeing a therapist, getting fresh air, journaling, using a light therapy lamp, taking vitamins like B-12, and more. Little did I know, my SAD diagnosis would open the door to more diagnoses—and start me on a path of healing, a journey I’ll be on for the rest of my life.

For a couple of years, I adopted the routine of starting antidepressants in the fall and weaning off in the spring. I realized whether I was taking my prescription or not, I was still dealing with some of the same symptoms. Sure, my low-grade depression resolved, but other issues lingered. Lack of motivation. Difficulty focusing. Mind spinning. Avoidance and procrastination. Bouncing around from one thing to another without finishing anything. Trouble sleeping.

Then came the diagnoses of depression and anxiety. After the traumatic experience of my daughter’s premature birth in 2021, I developed an intense, debilitating case of postpartum anxiety (PPA). I endured anxiety attacks every day—I had difficulty eating, sleeping, and taking care of my daughter. Once that resolved with medication, therapy, and myofascial release massage, I still experienced symptoms including intrusive thoughts and dissociation, leading to a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I now receive treatment for PTSD as well as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Getting a formal ADHD diagnosis has been an uphill battle, as it can be very difficult to diagnose in adult women, especially with coexisting conditions with overlapping symptoms. I believe the two conditions together explain the cause of a lot of the struggles I’ve endured since childhood.

Through the gauntlet of managing symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments, there have been some encouraging outcomes. One of which is a better understanding of who I am and how my brain works; another is a newfound ability to give myself grace. Instead of forcing myself to try to be someone I’m not—to expend all my energy pretending to be a person who doesn’t struggle with seemingly easy aspects of life—I am learning to embrace my differences. I am gaining the tools to work with my brain rather than against it. I approach myself and my challenges with curiosity, patience, and compassion while working toward climbing out of my decades-long shame spiral.

This year, for maybe the first time in my life, I welcome the changing of the seasons. The first crisp morning didn’t set off a wave of panic. Instead, I felt invigorated by a reprieve from the heat. Rather than getting sad about the falling leaves, I delight in the sound of my daughter’s laughter as her stroller crunches through the piles on our morning walk. Sure, the doldrums of January and February will likely still present their challenges. I am facing that fact with calm rather than fear, acceptance rather than resistance. I know now that I possess the tools to handle what’s coming—and that help is available when the journey feels impossible to weather alone.

Laura Drummond is a freelance writer living in Charlottesville, VA, with her daughter, husband, and two cats. Her work has appeared in Good Grit Magazine and Okra Magazine among others; you can read more from her at bylauradrummond.com.

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