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Why I’m Starting to Believe Seasonal Affective Disorder is a Real Thing. Oh, and PMS too.

March 29, 2013

So I’m from Washington. The state. And no, it is not very sunny there, at least in the Western half of the state (which is the cool one). And yes, it rains a lot. Stephanie Meyer got that part right. But does the gray, gloomy weather really affect my mood? That’s what people with Seasonal Affective Disorder claim to suffer from. I first heard of SAD (see, even the acronym is depressing!) several years ago when some acquaintances of mine decided to move from Seattle to Southern California. One of the reasons they gave was that the wife had SAD, that is, she often got depressed during the winter months. At the time I thought it was beyond silly. Really? You’re blaming the weather for your foul mood? More recently, some expat friends of mine remarked that they planned to retire to Colorado specifically because it gets 300+ days of sunshine a year, and after living in the Middle East for so many years, they just can’t live without plenty of sun.

when it rains, it pours?

when it rains, it pours?

When they said that, I felt defensive. I mean, sure, sun is great. It’s warm and happy and makes you feel like you’re on vacation, but to say you can’t live in a cloudy state because you need the sun? It struck me as weird, and, frankly, a little SAD. I think the notion of one’s mood being affected by the weather didn’t sit well with me because I like to believe I’m in control of myself. Mind over matter. I’ve never suffered from any kind of real depression, even if I did spend the first 22 years of my life in a state that is rainy and dreary 9 months out of the year. So if it doesn’t affect me, why should it affect you? I was a skeptic, as I often am when it comes to the innumerable syndromes and disorders you can be diagnosed with these days—the alphabet soup of the psychology world. I like to see the world in more simple terms. So if you want to be happy, just…be happier. And don’t blame the clouds for making you sad.


PMS: Something other people do, but never me…right?

For me, SAD just sounded like an excuse, just like PMS. That’s right, for most of my life I have not been a big believer in PMS (and I don’t believe anything unusual lives in Loch Ness, either. Can you see a pattern here?) I just never seemed to experience it much. I considered myself a very even-keeled, low-maintenance kind of girl. A sudden bitchy outburst was rare for me, and spontaneous tears? Unheard of. I was not overly emotional. Not wildly hormonal. Completely rational, like a man, right? But in the last few months I’ve noticed a disturbing trend…about once a month I have a day when I’m just not happy. I might snap at my students or pick a fight with my husband. I don’t know whether it’s my birth control, getting older, or maybe that I have finally noticed a phenomenon that has been happening all along, but I finally had to admit: I was PMS-ing. Just yesterday I found myself inwardly stewing because I’d done all the dinner dishes by myself, and my husband hadn’t thanked me. But even after he did finally notice and thank me, I still felt depressed. I wracked my brain. Was I over-worked? No, in fact that particular week I had finished my Master’s coursework and paper-grading early. Was I dreading something coming up? No, it was almost the weekend, and spring break and vacation with my parents was just two weeks away. Suddenly, it hit me. There was no reason for me to feel upset in that moment. No reason at all except the fact that I was due to start my period in a couple of days.

It seems PMS, that oft-blamed hallmark of womanhood, is actually a real thing.

It’s kind of like how I didn’t use to believe that alcohol would affect me (and then I went out on my 21st birthday, and…well, that was the end of that theory). I’m skeptical until it happens to me personally. And I dislike excuses. I do believe that I’m ruled by my mind more than my body, and I don’t like it when that mental control is overpowered or written off. PMS specifically has been used as a trump card against women so often that it makes me sick. And the disturbing part is that it’s often women themselves who use it as an excuse to be crazy. When I first heard about SAD, I felt the same way. Why blame something you can’t control instead of looking to yourself to ensure your own happiness? It seemed like a cop-out for the weak. You know, the types that just can’t hack it in an awesome place like Seattle.

But then I got to thinking. Like I said, I’ve never been really depressed, which means I must have been pretty happy my whole life. But the last year of my life, I’ve been…ecstatic. Like totally loving life, enjoying my work, reveling in my marriage, jumping at every chance to explore the world, and appreciating the crap out of all my blessings (except for that one day every month). I have also been living in the middle of a scorching, sunny desert. It got me to thinking: could there be a correlation? Am I happier now than I was a year ago because of my new, sunnier, surroundings? To find out I consulted WebMD, the hypochondriac’s home page. And, I found that SAD must be medically legit, because sure enough, it has a page on WedMD! There it lists the risk factors: living in a place where there is a big variation in the amount of sun from season to season, being between the ages of 15 and 55, and being a woman. Well, frick. That’s a check, check, and check. I must have been SAD before, and now I’m happy, because I live in a land of sunshine.

I know that is an over-simplification. Obviously a lot has changed in my life, not just the weather, but I have to say I do believe the extra sunny days have helped. Like when I am seeing status updates all winter long from my friends back home complaining about wet feet, umbrellas, wind, cold, and cabin fever, while I can kick back with some lemonade and watch my garden grow any day of the week? Yeah, that makes me smile and appreciate what I have. And therefore, it makes me happier.

So I give in. Seasonal Affective Disorder is legit, at least a little. And PMS too. My mind cannot overcome every external factor it has to face, no matter how hard I try. But does that mean when I go back to Seattle I should just curl up in a ball and listen to emo music all day? Do I have an excuse to be mean once a month? No. Because when it comes to the question of mind and matter, you have to fight to find the balance.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. vrbridge permalink
    April 5, 2013 6:20 am

    I don’t like making excuses for the way I am either, but I have seen many differences in behavior from friends that leave a naturally stormy location for a sunnier one. I think location has an effect on someone if they don’t “like” it. I really dislike where I live now, and I can see the difference when I’m traveling to places that I do like. Also, I do allow myself to have PMS. I feel that if I have to deal with my body tiring itself out biologically every month, I can have one day where I’m not up to being the positive person I am. However, I do everything in my power not to let my mood effect others, which is the difference between the women who use it as an excuse and the women who accept that it happens and move on.

  2. April 9, 2013 10:46 am

    Nope. PMS is not real. Because the second I admit it might be I KNOW I’ll fall into the excuse category. Let me tell you a story.

    A few months ago I wasn’t feeling well and casually let myself say it could be PMS, a few days later my suspicions were apparently confirmed and I magically forgave myself my grumpiness. Any work I hadn’t gotten done that week, any laziness, any frowns, all absolved into something outside my control. I couldn’t help it so why bother?

    Fast forward a week when I started to feel grumpy/sick/tired again and my mind went straight for the PMS excuse. Yes, my weak heart thought, I have an excuse to sleep all day! But after a few seconds of wallowing reason took over and reminded me that Pre-MS is physically impossible one week Post-MS! My excuse could NOT BE! and so forever more I vowed to ignore PMS, because something that isn’t real can’t hurt me. Right?


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