This is a throwback to an article I wrote in December 2010 for our local running club’s newsletter. I decided to share it with you now because I think it is interesting that I had been diagnosed with bipolar by this time but I couldn’t yet fully come to terms with it or admit it to anyone. My doctor had suggested that I may also be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder due to the fact that certain symptoms worsened during the winter.

This is the time of year our moods tend to shift whether we have a full blown mood disorder or not. Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real and when fall is in full swing with winter on the horizon, daylight decreases and time spent outside becomes limited. Many people — approximately 10% of Americans — will experience this disorder. This is the article I wrote based on what I was experiencing at that time. I think it also illustrates how writing down and tracking our symptoms is extremely beneficial in understanding behavior and mood ultimately leading to a proper diagnosis along with finding strategies for coping with these shifts in mood. See if you can relate:

It’s 4:45 am. Thirty seconds ago I was peacefully dreaming and now my head is screaming “NO!” at the blaring alarm clock. I don’t feel like running. I reset the alarm and go back to sleep. The next morning I wake up at 3:00 am and obsess over the treadmill awaiting me downstairs. I once again reset the alarm. That night I slip into bed and just say screw it altogether and set the alarm for 5:30 — not going to even try to get up early this time. I already don’t feel like running. I’ve succumbed to my lack of motivation and laziness which is what I beat myself up with.

I ask myself…is it pure laziness or is there more to it than that? According to my doctor and a recent newspaper article I read , I may be among the 10% of Americans who suffer from the “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder– SAD. The symptoms include:

A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy food
Weight gain
A drop in energy level
Fatigue
A tendency to oversleep
Difficulty concentrating
Irritability and anxiety
Avoidance of social situations and a loss of interest in the activities you used to enjoy.

I think they were observing me when they wrote these guidelines.

Throughout all of the research I’ve done, everyone seems to agree that exercise, especially in the morning, is crucial in overcoming SAD. Now I don’t know about you, but having been a runner since I was five, I don’t actually feel like I’ve exercised unless I run. Lifting, ellipticals, walking — none of them provide the feeling of accomplishment running always delivers. Running is in my blood. The catch is, I know it will provide the relief I seek, but part of the problem is the overwhelming desire to stay sedentary especially during the darkness of winter.

I try to recall the days of summer when SAD doesn’t seem to exist. The long hours of sunlight that fuel the sensation that I could run forever. Taking trips to destinations simply to run on the trails a place has to offer seems so long ago. Running feels so much different in the winter than in the spring and summer. And I remember having this problem all the way back to my competitive days in high school. It was torture for me to compete in indoor track, but by the beginning of April I began to feel the weight lift from my being; running and life would turn back to normal.

I often think of my running friends who boast about running 10-18 miles when it’s single digits outside. I’m sure they didn’t wake up exclaiming, “YES! It’s 8 degrees out and I get to go run for two hours!” But I know the feeling of accomplishment that lasts with me throughout the day after I’ve actually done it.

As I sit here wrapping up my thoughts I can feel the soreness in my legs settling in from my four miler on the treadmill. It may not have been from a ten miler but it’s from miles and effort nonetheless. I can’t help but smile knowing that today I conquered the lack of motivation I woke up with this morning and hopefully that will inspire me to repeat the action tomorrow. I’ve convinced myself that every run counts and I’m one step closer to overcoming this hurdle. I remind myself to savor every run I manage to take and the feeling it gives me when I’m done.

So if you can relate to any of these symptoms, know that you are not alone. It was a relief to read about it in the paper and come to the realization that I’m not just being lazy. It’s also comforting to know that being a runner I’m already one step ahead of the game.

I once heard someone say, “ I always regret it when I don’t run, but I never regret having run.” It’s days like these I try to remember that. With every step I take I’m claiming victory over each daily battle and thanks to running I know I have it in me to beat this thing.

 

Looking back at this I am reminded how important it is for me to exercise in order to maintain stability. I struggle with this constantly especially in the winter, as many people do, when outdoor conditions downright suck. Whether it’s bipolar disorder, depression or SAD it is clear that maintaining a healthy workout regimen is extremely helpful in prevention and management of symptoms.

If you think you may suffer from SAD be proactive. Get plenty of rest and exercise. If any of the above symptoms interfere with your ability to function and complete ordinary daily tasks see a doctor. You can also find more information here:

http://www.mayoclinic.org
http://www.nmha.org

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