Yes, my personality changes when comes the wet, grey and, some might argue, the dreary days of November. As the seasons turn and nature changes her colourful cloak of summer life into one of rain or white, my mood changes. I change from a colourful, outgoing being to one that is more subdued and introverted. I like to say that I move into hibernation mode.

I’ve been told many times that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and that I should consider taking anti-depressants, getting one of those miraculous light therapy gadgets they now sell in every pharmacy, getting more exercise, etc.

One can find many remedies to « cure » SAD on the internet. But this post is not meant to direct you towards these remedies. No. Rather, it aims to make you look at SAD differently. I would like to argue that it is not a disorder, not a disease, not a seasonal mental illness.

For the longest time, I believed those who told me I suffered from a seasonal « disorder ». I told myself, « oh well, here I go again, down the rabbit hole of SAD », and looked for solutions outside myself to help me « muddle through » the great Canadian winter blues.

But as nature changes from summer to fall to winter to spring and then to summer again, do we associate her changes with disorders?

Do we consider her to have a disease?

No.

We simply say that her seasons are changing.

I am nature. I am a part of her and she is a part of me. We are an integral whole. I am not separate in so far as I am a creature of this universe, of this planet, of this earth. I breathe because of her. I nourish myself because of her. When I die, I recycle myself into her. Into the whole.

And so, like her, I have my seasons. I am not sick. I am not « out of order ». I am simply a variation on the same theme.

This propensity that our society has to attribute illness, sickness or disorder to anything that is a variation on the norm is the sickness. It is the disorder.

While mood variation linked to seasonal changes has been acknowledged for a long time, the term only appeared in 1984, coined by Normal Rosenthal and colleagues (National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, MD).

Naming this phenomenon has likely done a lot of good. It has helped people who underwent such seasonal changes in mood and behaviour to come to terms with the fact that their yearly affliction was only temporary, could be explained in simple terms and, most importantly, could be managed and even, in some cases avoided.

But I would argue that it has also done some harm. More fundamentally, it has associated this natural phenomena with a temporary mental disorder. Something « wrong » with your mental state of being. Like so many variations on the norm (think ADD, ADHD, etc), it has created this impression that the world ought to look a certain way, that people ought to always behave in a certain fashion. Anything else, is « out of order ».

But we are not always the same.  Change is the only constant. And to attribute « disorders » to any behaviour that falls slightly out of the bell curve’s mean average is doing our society a great disservice.

True, there is nothing pleasant about falling prey to bouts of depression. But in a society where the expected behaviour is to stuff all emotions into a dark recess of our being, to ignore them and put on a « happy » face is not, in of itself, healthy. We know with increasingly more evidence that ignoring one’s emotions can be rather debilitating over the span of a life time, causing, in the long run, more harm than good.

Winter is a little death. Every year, our beautiful mother Earth experiences this little death in different ways depending on the part of the planet one inhabits. Yet, it is from this small death that she is able to be re-born, again and again. It is from this death that, like the proverbial Phoenix, she is able to rise from the ashes, transformed.  And I would argue that taking a moment when that little death comes upon us to look within and sit with what is can bring tremendous insight and give rise to the transformational energy required to become a better version of our selves at the end of this yearly cycle.

This is not to say that one should ignore the tools that have been identified to help one surpass SAD symptoms (other than, perhaps, the taking of anti-depressants but I will write on that at another time). Rather, what I’m saying is that we should stop seeing this as a « disorder » or a mental illness and see it for what it truly is: a natural state of being, one that can be brought into consciousness when you recognize that you are one with nature.

It is also a great opportunity to sit in meditation and fully BE with that which emerges. It is an opportunity to do some deep emotional cleaning, if we give ourselves permission to examine and witness what our body, our emotions and our minds are telling us at these specific points in mother Nature’s cycles.

Mother Earth has many teachings for us, and they don’t all come in the guise of bountiful, colourful and ecstatic summer hues. Some lessons require the dark night of the soul. Seasonal changes, among other natural phenomena, are a natural way to access those lessons.

So in this season, I encourage you to be courageous. Dare to acknowledge that you are an integral part of nature, that you ARE nature. SAD is not a disease, a disorder, a mental illness or a medical condition. It is part of who you are. It is nature’s gift to you in this season.

And in this light, I encourage you to go within before you seek without for a quick fix. Examine what is truly going on in this wonderful Being of yours. Examine it. Be a witness. Sit with it. Embrace it. And then let it be.

As Socrates may have once said « the unexamined life is not worth living ». Make this gift of life one that is worth living. Examine it. Embrace it. In all its multitude of facets.

 

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