Thursday, December 23, 2010

Parenting with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Part 1: Valid Concerns

Two days ago was the winter solstice: the day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight in the northern hemisphere. That’s a problem for me, because I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Sunlight increases the production of serotonin (a happy brain endorphin) and decreases the production of melatonin (the brain chemical that makes you sleepy). The lack of sunlight in the winter causes me to go from tired to exhausted to depressed to severely depressed.

I’ll never forget when I first figured out that I had SAD 8 years ago. It was such a relief to finally know why I had recurring depression and to understand the cause of it! Not everyone who suffers with depression gets a definitive reason for it and the ability to give a scientific explanation about chemical reactions of the body to an outside source. I had those, and I was also able to look back on my life and put pieces in place that did not previously make sense. To think back to difficulties in my childhood and disparities between my personality and behavior in the winter versus summer and be able to understand what was going on in my life! Oh, it was priceless.

But as cathartic as it was to figure it out and make sense of things in my past, it was also a daunting diagnosis when thinking about the future. This is a recurring condition. I was going to go through the exhaustion/depression every. single. winter. It would affect my life every year. It wouldn’t just go away if I thought positively or exercised or drank more coffee. I would have to figure out treatments and follow through every fall through spring.

Even back then, I started to think ahead to life as a parent. It was a natural extension of my previous concern: How was I going to raise children when I would occasionally get depressed for no reason I could understand? Now that I understood the whens and whys of my depression and exhaustion, my concern about raising kids as a mother with recurring depression was still a valid concern. And back then, I didn’t even take into account how the SAD would affect my pregnancies and postpartum time.

When I first started looking into information about SAD, the treatments and any helpful advice about living with the disorder, I didn’t find much relating to being a parent with this disorder. In fact, the only thing I remember finding was that the therapy light was too bright for developing eyes, so infants and young children should not be around it. (I have since learned that young children are okay around it, so long as they aren’t staring at it.) I wasn’t too worried at the time, because we hadn’t even started on our long journey of trying to conceive.

But I had heard stories from people who had a parent who suffered with depression. I heard about mothers locking themselves in bathrooms to cry, meanwhile the kids think they did something to make their mom sad. Or of fathers who basically disappeared somewhere in the house in a dark room and didn’t interact or respond to their kids, who didn’t understand what was wrong with their dad. Most of all, I heard about how the depressed parent wouldn’t name what was wrong or talk about it, making the kids think that it was some big, dark, shameful secret.

Depression shouldn’t be a dark, shameful secret. It’s hard enough to deal with as it is, especially when it’s so hard to reach out for help while you are depressed. Depression should be understood as a medical condition that limits what a person can do. Depression should be treated and talked about and supported as a family, the way diabetes or some other medical disorder would be.

Even before I had kids, I was determined to be open about my SAD with my family and close friends, and definitely with my future kids. But how to do that? What is age appropriate to tell them? How will I find time for my light therapy with young children? How will I deal with the winter while the sleep deprivation that infants and young children bring? I had so many questions, and I still do, but no one to ask.

Every year since I was first pregnant, I’ve googled combinations of SAD and parenting to see if I could read anyone else’s experiences and/or tips. I haven’t really found any that go into the information I wanted or the depth I wanted. So after 4 winters as a parent, I’ve decided to write my own experiences. I apparently have a lot to write, so I’m going to do it in parts, including discussing the treatments that work for me as a parent, what it was like to go through pregnancy and the postpartum period, what it’s been like parenting young children through the winter, and my goals for the future as the kids get older.

Maybe these posts will help someone out there struggling with SAD as a parent. Maybe it will help my friends and family who don’t know what I go through understand what the winters are like in caramama’s casa. Definitely writing these posts will help me, since writing about things and putting it “out there” tends to be cathartic for me. And since it’s winter now, I am going to do all I can to help myself, which in turn helps my parenting and my kids.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Question of the Week - Holiday Moments

Two weekends ago, we pulled out the Christmas/holiday decorations. With the Pumpkin close to 4 years old and the Pookie 18 months, Londo and I were really excited to decorate with the kids this year. These are the ages where they can actually help and enjoy the decorating and be excited by all the of the neat decorations we have.

In fact, this year has been really special with the Pumpkin. She is learning Christmas songs, which is bringing the joy of Christmas music back to Londo (who spent too many winters in retail at a mall). She knows about Santa and Rudolph and Frosty. She knows about the menorah I set out to recognize Jesus's religion. And she was/is super excited about the lights and tree.

So this year, when I pulled out the boxes that contain the Christmas ornaments, my daughter had such a look of anticipation. As we pulled out the ornaments and set them out to decide which to put where, my daughter was delighted by each discovery. As she helped me hang the ornaments on just the right branches, my daughter felt a part of Christmas traditions.

I thought back to the Christmases of my past, when my mom would pull out the special boxes of ornaments. I remembered how excited I would be to see all the ornaments: the delicate ones, the handmade ones, the sentimental ones, the silly ones. I thought about the ritual of pulling out the boxes, opening them and ohhhing and ahhhing over each item with my mom and sister and brother and dad.

Those moments. Those are the treasures of the holidays. The ornaments and the navity scene and the advent calendar and the holiday cookies and candies--they are made special not just because of the holiday, but because they are put out only once a year with loving hands and ritualized behavoir.

Those are the moments that my daughter will start remembering from this age on. Those are the moments that my son is able to start participating in from this age on. Those are the moments I look forward to sharing with my family, just as I remember fondly from when I was growing up.

This week's Question of the Week is:
What holiday moments do you remember fondly and/or enjoy sharing with your kids?

I have spent years looking for a nativity scene that reminds me of my mom's, and this year I found one that was similar, looks generally safe for kid use and was on a fantastic sale! I am looking forward to setting that up with my kids and spending time playing with it, as I did with my mom's set when I was young.

What about you? What moments make the holidays special for you and your family? What are your kids able to participate in and enjoy now? Any special memories you want to share?