Credit: GG Photographer Jenny Dimitrialdi

Dark nights in dark times

By Rachael Wilson

How are coronavirus restrictions impacting those with seasonal affective disorder this bleak midwinter?

The clocks have turned back, it’s dark at 5pm and the supermarkets have started selling Christmas decorations – winter is in full swing. For most people, this time of year is one of excitement and festivities, but for me and many others the short days of winter bring about many challenges. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a challenging condition in which the lack of daylight makes following a routine difficult and leaves the sufferer in a constant state of fatigue. Having had difficulties with SAD since I was in primary school, I have, over the years, developed ways in which to cope with the bleak months from winter to spring, although even this doesn’t do much to alleviate the dread of the clocks inevitably turning back. But this year, in the midst of a pandemic and a second lockdown, I actually don’t feel that this year will be as challenging as those before. 

For me, SAD has always meant missing school, sleeping in for work and waking up at dinner time. I’ve never been hugely ecstatic at the thought of Christmas, but the holidays were warmly welcomed as it would mean a few weeks away from education without the guilt of being weeks behind my peers as a result of taking so many days off. The effects of SAD negatively impacted my education: so soon into starting a new academic year, and having a fresh start, I would find myself unable to balance my workload due to the fatigue and low mood. I thought after leaving school that college would present better prospects as the contact hours were shorter, but I dropped out two years in a row because I hadn’t learned to manage my symptoms. It was only during my third attempt at college, whilst I worked a demanding Christmas temp job, that I was able to realise that winter would always be an uphill battle and that I would have to somehow find the energy to manage. What worked best for me is waking up as early as I can to make the most of the daylight, keeping bright lights on until late in the evening, and keeping my living area tidy. This isn’t to say that I’m always successful and that I don’t still sleep in or spend too many days in bed, but whatever routine I can construct for myself does help. Being able to find a daily routine that worked was what helped me to pass college and start attending university. 

I, as much as most university students, love a drink. Yet when the Christmas nights out roll around, I rarely find the energy to go for drinks with friends. Having low energy during the festivities is difficult as I want to make the most of Christmas markets and sparkly dresses, but I find myself completely drained after only a few hours out. This year, with current and future restrictions looming over our heads, I know that the options for nights out will be limited and chances of Christmas themed zoom calls high. Although I miss quality time with my friends, in terms of coping with the low moods associated with SAD, I think this year will be easier. On days where I struggle to get up and socialise, I can find comfort having a catch up with friends over zoom, whilst before I would be missing out on a night in the pub. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t go out at all, or that I never have, but I do like that when things become difficult I can still spend time with those I care about in a less strenuous setting. Despite feeling more at ease with less pressure to socialise, having little to look forward to after a long semester of breakout rooms is a little deflating. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the short days of winter will negatively impact my mood, but as I get older I continue to find different ways to cope. For me, keeping a routine that is realistic and not being too hard on myself is what I rely on most; and is even more applicable this year as I spend more time than ever in my room alone. This year to try to avoid slipping into bad habits, I will try and make the most of whatever pandemic-friendly festivities Glasgow has to offer.


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