Heavy Leaves, A Therapist's Perspective on Seasonal Affective Disorder

Here it is. The trees, crisp air, and pumpkin everything, from decorations to coffee. I could live forever in jeans and my favorite worn out sweatshirt and those tiny little stretchy gloves.

I love fall. And winter.

Well, I used to. I used to absolutely love fall, and would joyfully anticipate winter.

There was a part of me in years past when I could not understand how someone could not love the fall season. It’s so pretty and the weather is perfect. So what if winter comes next? Winter is just as amazing if you ask me.

Sure, a few more layers are needed, but with proper attire – you can do anything outside. My husband and I even took our honeymoon in the depths of winter. Okay, so you can’t recognize us in our honeymoon photos as we were bundled up to our eye balls – literally – goggles are required for dog sledding! But the stories of winter are amazing. Snowmen, hot chocolate, sledding and snowball fights! What’s not to love? I’d wonder.

For years I’d prided myself on my thick skin and tough exterior that made me crave outdoor work like shoveling snow. I’d drive anywhere in the snow just to prove I could.

Then it hit me.

The beautiful fall leaves hit me like bullets.

The anger. The self-loathing. The unstoppable tears. The fear. Knowing something, something tragic was about to happen, but never knowing what.

Crap. Not me. No. I’m a therapist who helps people with Seasonal Depression. I’m a happy woman who loves fall and winter. No. I won’t let it be. Nope. I refuse. Not going to happen. 

Well, that fight didn’t last long and it left me alone at my computer, a crying ball of mess, googling any other possibility of why I might be miserable when my life seemed so wonderful. In the midst of shades of orange and red, I felt like a black ball of thick sticky tar. Everything I touched became dark and sticky. I turned away from those I loved, so that not to make a mess of them too.

The leaves that fall today are much heavier than they used to be. The onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder was like being punched in the face by every one of them that fell. I still enjoy a good workout with a snow shovel, but the days are short. The lack of sunshine literally depletes my soul. Hopelessness. Unnamable fear. Waking up nervous. Waking up scared to death. Afraid to get out of bed. Afraid to stay in bed.

How will I survive another season? It has taken me several years to figure it out. The second year was the worst because it was such a shock to my system on so many levels. Not only was I emotionally miserable from the depression and anxiety, I was confused at how I had ended up with this, and I was angry.

Once I accepted that I in fact had SAD I had to receive help. Notice I did not say “ask” for help. I wasn’t quite there. I had to “receive” help from those around me who knew something had to change, and who knew I wasn’t capable of changing it on my own. Trust me, I wasn’t worth much in regards to my own self-care at that point in time.

My husband was, as always, my biggest ally. He went online, did some research, used his birthday gift card for Menards to buy supplies and built me a light box. I use it every year. Imagine. Light. In a box! I have access to sunshine in my office, even when there is none to be found outside. My light box is such a gift. A gift created by the man who loves me almost as well as Jesus himself.

Along with my light box, my biggest tool, my strongest force for peace, is my tribe. I have friends and family who know my struggles, see me at my worst, and choose to sit a little closer.

My depression causes me to push others away, to push joy away. I’ve learned over the past several years that during this season, more than any other, I have to be even more intentional with my choices. I have to say “yes” to lunch dates and schedule time to write.

So during this season of heavy leaves, followed by heavy snow flakes, I will wrestle to choose joy and resist the desire to push others away. I will forcefully lean into those who love me well.

I will be present – even when the present is darkness. Even when those leaves look heavy, I will pick them up and I will throw them, choosing joy. My spirit is lit by all that is around me. I am loved. I am creative and I will choose to be present, in the leaves, the light and the darkness. All of it.

Symptoms of SAD may include: 

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, on most days
  • Lack of energy/lack of interest in activities
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or lack of worth
  • Preoccupation of death or feelings of suicide

Treatments for SAD may include: 

Self Care (yoga, deep breathing, bubble bath, music, exercise, etc.)

  • Essential Oils
  • Vitamins/Supplements
  • Massage Therapy
  • Psychotherapy/Counseling
  • Light Therapy
  • Social Activities
  • Medication

From essential oils to therapy to medication, there are many resources to help ease the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is important to find what works for you. Do your own research, and speak to your health care professionals.

In the meantime, here is a great article from the Mayo Clinic on SAD.





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Kim Rapach, LCSW is the owner of Bending Birch Counseling in Barrington, Illinois. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a Clinical Therapist and Financial Coach. To learn more about Kim Rapach, visit https://bendingbirchcounseling.com/kim-rapach/ or call 224-239-5359 for a free consultation.