Since I was around twenty, most mornings in the summer I’d wake up and be totally seized by the nightmarish feeling of winter coming. I’d never be able to shake it. When January and its bitter cold and its dark days finally came around, wow did I feel bad. I’m almost thirty and I still do. And it still takes me at least two weeks to realise that the shift in my brain, the darkness, the sadness, the crying (oh the crying) aren’t because I’m weak, or because I’m unnecessarily indulging my emotions; the reason I have to pep-talk myself out of bed every day is because of science. Because the chemicals in many of our brains don’t play ball in the winter. The chemicals in my brain don’t play ball in the summer either, or autumn or spring, but that’s another piece for another day. Like many of you, I grew up believing that as a black woman, the only way that I could exist in all strands of my life was to be strong. I’m still undoing a lot of that work, and working out how to make room for vulnerability. And because of this expected function of ‘black strength’, it took me the longest time to realise that I had SAD.
SAD. Not just upset; I know that we’re all sad in January because Christmas has gone, and again it was stressful, and one family member dragged you for putting on weight and another pointed out that you were an adult but you had acne like a teenager. And on top of that, going back to work feels like a very specific form of torture, plus we’re all broke. No, I don’t mean just sad, I’m talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as Winter Depression. According to a study conducted by the University of Warwick, SAD affects around 2 million of us in the UK, with women being reported to suffer three times more than men. The exact cause of SAD hasn’t been locked down yet, but scientists have put it down to three main things, with lack of sunlight at the root cause:
- Melatonin: this hormone makes you feel sleepy and more of it is produced when the sun goes away
- Serotonin: the feel-good hormone. Less of it is produced due to a lack of sunlight
- Our circadian rhythms: I learnt about these in Jonathan Creek back in the day; it’s basically your body’s internal clock and when it’s disrupted, it makes us feel off
It can also be genetic. Shout out to my parents who almost certainly have it but won’t vocalise it.