Seasonal pharmaceuticals and breadcrumb trails

A couple of weeks ago or so, I was sitting in my doctor’s office providing an update on the status of my asthma, that being the primary reason for the visit, when I mentioned how difficult this time of year has been for me in the past, and how much more difficult it seems this year. Not because of the impending holidays, but because of the increasing shortness of the days and the subsequent lack of sunlight exacerbated by this region’s propensity to be overcast for days on end. It is definitely depression more than anxiety, I told him, although there is anxiety mixed with it.

Normally the dread sets in around mid to late October. This year it was September when the days began to seem unbearably short and dark. Which I’m sure had nothing to do with the amount of work I was doing at the time, or that I caught an evil bad cold that made me feel old and in my final decline (/sarcasm — although I told him all of this too, you know, with less of a “tone”). We happened to be in the midst of what went on to be about 12 days in a row of little to no sun, and concurrent with that I happened to have a sinus headache shifting in and out of migraine territory, and so I think I was particularly persuasive (or was I particularly lethargic?) when I rather matter-of-factly told him it would probably be mid to late February or so when my mood would begin to lift and I’d begin to feel hopeful and energetic again.

There have been years where this seasonal affective thing has been more difficult than this. I remember Toledo, Ohio as being a particularly bad year, and describing to a friend in a letter this sense that I could let my eyes glaze over and lose focus and just stay that way and not really care to come back. Granted, I had just left graduate school without finishing my master’s degree in order to stay with my husband who had taken a job two states away from the university, and I knew no one, had no idea how I’d finish (I didn’t ever figure that out), and had no idea what to do with myself. The next year — Holland, Michigan — wasn’t much better but there I did manage to work three different jobs at once to take my mind off the worst of it. But that was the mid-1990s. I was younger then, convinced I could just gut it out.

I’m not sure why this year is so bad, but I have a few theories. Ok, mostly just the one, and there is nothing I can do to remedy that. So when my doctor suggested a little blue pill I acquiesced. Quickly. And so far I have no regrets.

Except maybe the side effects. I’m on a half dosage of a generic equivalent of Wellbutrin SR (Bupropion HCL SR 100 mg). It disrupted sleep for a while, but I seem to have moved past that unpleasantness. I haven’t moved past the unending thirst, however. I’ve added a refillable water bottle to the load I carry every day, and plan for the consequences carefully (i.e. I know where the nearest ladies’ rooms are at all times).

And then there’s the concentration piece. I can’t. Simple math is difficult — like it takes two twenties, a ten and three ones to make $53, not one twenty, a ten and three ones. Listening for long stretches is difficult, as is participating in conversations with more than one person. Knitting is … well, knitting is fine. My hands know what to do there for the most part, but if I knit I can forget about listening. So I have occasionally found myself uncharacteristically not knitting in movie theaters, whilst watching television, and during lectures.

Even walking with a purpose from one room to another is problematic. The purpose is slippery, rather porpoise-like, and can swim away frightfully fast if I don’t cling to it tightly, single-mindedly. Which, as most mothers of teens and multi-taskers know, is not the usual way of things. When we walk from room to room we are often taking care of multiple things. Heck, we’re often doing more than one thing when we’re in the one room! And so, this has led to breadcrumb trails.

Like Hansel and Gretel walking through the woods, I leave out strings of objects strategically placed along my paths through the house to remind me of tasks to be done and times for them to occur. A folder on the sofa table with a sheet of paper on top and a book beside it and the bag of tutoring station replenishment supplies on the floor nearby all tell me I have to stop by the basement storage space at the church before heading to the school. If that series of tasks is going to take a few hours, the insulated coffee cup is next to the filled water bottle on the kitchen counter near the coffee-maker so I won’t forget the caffeine supply. And so on. Woe to the person who decides to tidy things up and puts these objects away! Although, given my newfound forgetfulness? Sometimes that person is me.

Upside? I am far less anxious about all of that than I would be without this little blue pill. And for that I am grateful. Don’t misunderstand me. It is not making me happy. I still am aware of the darkness. I am, however, fretting less over it. I’m finding I can easily and guiltlessly say no to what will be too too much to take on at this time of year. The primal impulse to hibernate and over-eat is easier to ignore, and as a consequence I feel far more productive this late fall than … well, ever. These are very good things.


About pattiblaine

Raised under the name of Snyder in the upstate NY town of Vestal, I've worked as a typesetter, a fast food salad bar tender, an art reviewer, a waitress, a part-time nanny, and a very-bad-with-phones temp. Once upon a time I was all-but-thesis toward a Masters in Art History. Now I'm just a mom with a lot of fiber squirreled away throughout the house. We call it insulation. In 2013 I completed a life-long learning program at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and am a postulant toward the diaconate in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, NY. In addition to coordinating volunteers for the soup kitchen, I volunteer as a tutor at a deeply impoverished city elementary school, and am a docent at the Memorial Art Gallery.
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9 Responses to Seasonal pharmaceuticals and breadcrumb trails

  1. There are natural light (full spectrum) CFB’s, –these help, too. especially early in the AM.and early PM. They do emit UV rays (and can be damaging to the skin) but, a few wrinkles are a good price to pay.

    Try buying OTT bulb (or the generic equivalent) and replacing all of you standard CFB with OTT’s.(i haven’t done it with every fixture, but quite a few. ) It’s a relatively cheap fix –full spectrum bulbs are about $20, and last only about 7 years. Vs CFB that are under $10 (often as little as $5!) and last 10 years). But they are so worth it. (i notice the difference)

    The full spectrum bulbs are especially good in early morning rooms (bathroom, kitchen, breakfast area)–they help kick start you–and give you early energy enough till last till the sun does its job! and they tide you over (cooking dinner)–as it get dark in the evening. They don’t offer a cure, just a bit of help. You’ll still be exhasted at 9 PM (but not at 7!)
    –Wellbrutin is a very powerful drug–and it is a smart idea to try simpler solutions (as well as drug therapy) None might be a fix –but combined, you might find more relief. (i didn’t do well on wellbrutin–i had lots of side effects, and very little relief.)

    • pattiblaine says:

      Helen, I have full spectrum lights. They are a big help some of the time but were simply not enough to penetrate the darkness of the season this year. I know the perils of Wellbutrin and am being careful. I may not be quite as full of hope for myself when it’s time to ease off it come February, however. Planning now how to cope with that then.

  2. Sarah says:

    I hope the side effects don’t last too long for you and that you can get some relief. I hope to some day have a lamp to help me with my seasonal stuff. I am also finding it particularly difficult this month. My seasonal stuff does not usually happen until January/February.

    • pattiblaine says:

      Lucky you, Sarah. For me it often begins with a pang of sadness beginning with, if not before, the autumnal equinox. It is a small wonder it took me this long to ask for help! Or was that stubborn pride? 😉 Invest in the light. Even the Ott version is helpful.

  3. D'Alta says:

    Every fall my doctor and I discuss whether to increase my meds to fight winter depression. Tried it last year and felt like my insides were made of concrete–a solid block of it occupying chest, belly, brain. Discontinued that quickly!!! Have to be very careful with other SAD fighters because of other meds to control BP and kidney lost to football-sized cyst three or four years ago. My solution is to break away for a week or two of sun partway through winter. Will see if it works this winter. My trip south is to help my sister as she takes my mom to Florida for three months… Can you imagine how much vodka or blubber we’d consume, if we lived where winters are really dark?!?!?!

    • pattiblaine says:

      I can’t imagine living further north, Dorothy, as I’m sure the late spring mania would require a whole other set of meds! I like your solution. I keep meaning to go to NM. The four days in January that I once spent in the desert of southern CA did me a world of good one gloomy winter!

      • D'Alta says:

        I have found that I don’t require much time in the sun but to go someplace where I can wear shorts and a tea and play on a beach or in a heated pool makes the return bearable…

  4. D'Alta says:

    Have been in Florida since Thursday! Got my mom and sister safely down and settled into the condo they are renting through the end of March. I’m staying through the 25th and wondering how and why I will ever leave this spot in the sun! We have swum in the heated pool two mornings in a row. My mother saw what fun my sister and I were having and decided that she wanted a swim suit. We bought two!! I’m glad you’ve decided to head to NM. Even in February there is sun to fight winter woes! Twelve more days for me this trip. Then a vacation with two of the grandkids in April. Better than “Happy Pills!”

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