The SAD Season

One woman’s journey into the light

(page 1 of 3)

The first winter I lived in Maryland, I rarely left my bed.

It was 2006, and my husband, Ron, and I had recently moved to Gaithersburg from Santa Monica, Calif. Uprooting our lives had been more difficult than I’d anticipated, and I spent hours fused to my sheets. I dozed. I cried. But mostly I laid flat on my back and stared at the ceiling.

I missed California’s sun and warmth; Maryland was cold and gray.

In Santa Monica, I had bounded out of bed each day, eager to walk along the beach before getting to work. Now it took hours for me to muster enough energy to propel myself into the shower, and then down the hall to my home office.

Though ashamed of my sluggish behavior, I had a good excuse. In addition to feeling homesick, I had suffered a miscarriage three weeks after the New Year. The loss had been hard.

So I didn’t think much about the fact that I continued to nibble graham crackers in bed long after morning sickness was no longer an issue.

A February escape to Mexico helped. As I soaked up the rays, ocean waves lapping at my feet, my sadness subsided. A warm breeze lifted the weight from my chest.

When I returned home, cherry blossoms were swirling. Color had returned to the world.

I dismissed my seasonal depression as an anomaly. Then winter was back, and my symptoms were, too.

By my third winter, one thing was clear: There was a pattern to my depression, and that pattern perfectly described seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

First identified in the early 1980s by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, SAD affects as many as 35 million Americans, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization that promotes mental wellness.

Rockville’s Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center, led the NIMH team that identified SAD after realizing he suffered from it himself. He wrote a book about the disorder, Winter Blues (Guilford Press, 1993), and, in fact, it’s “winter blues”—the milder form of SAD—that some 14 percent of the U.S. population experience. But for 6 percent of the population, the symptoms can be debilitating: hypersomnia, social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, weight gain, change in appetite (especially a craving for carbohydrate-rich foods like my graham crackers) and sadness.

They’re the same symptoms as depression, but the distinguishing factor is the cycle of seasonality: The episodes regularly occur during the fall and winter and resolve during the spring and summer. (For a small number of people the reverse is true: Summer is the depressive season.)

In its most pronounced form, SAD can lead to hospitalization or suicidal thoughts, says Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis, medical director of the Depression Specialty Clinic at the University of  Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass.

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Articles

A Bethesda Geriatrician Finds Inspiration From His Elderly Patients

Dr. Gary Wilks talks about hidden dangers, tough decisions and caring for older people

Skin Tips from an Esthetician

Treating everything from acne to aging in a med spa

The Lady Docs

How a few physicians in Potomac grew their exercise group into a community

When Your Child is Born with Congenital Heart Defects

Keely O‘Brien was just 2 weeks old when a cardiologist told her parents she wouldn‘t survive without surgery
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored Content

Bethesda Magazine Restaurant Week is Back!

Mark your calendars for January 12-21 and enjoy a variety of dining options at some of the area's best restaurants.

Calling All Writers - We Want To Hear from You

Submit your best work in the Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Urban Partnership Essay and Short Story Contest. Submission deadline is January 19.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »

New Arts and Crafts Home

Bethesda, $1,499,000

2.5 Stunning Acres

Potomac, $925,000

Renovated Row House on Tree Lined Street

Washington, DC, $1,299,000

New Home Community

Bethesda, $1,350,000

Truly Sensational Property

Potomac, $3,799,900
Edit Module


Your Guides to Leading
Local Professionals

Edit Module

Talk With Us

On Social Media


Edit Module
Edit ModuleEdit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags