The only slightly comical aspect of Seasonal Affective Disorder is its ever-so-appropriate acronym: SAD. It does, in fact, make you sad. But beyond that, there’s nothing even relatively funny about this condition, especially for us Michiganders.

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A recurrent winter depression also known as the “winter blues,” SAD usually begins in October or November and subsides in March or April, and includes symptoms like “oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain, and in more extreme scenarios, hopelessness, social withdrawal and suicidal thoughts,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Michigan Chapter.

The depth of the havoc wrought by SAD relates to the amount of daylight during autumn and winter, which can affect levels of chemicals and hormones in the brain like serotonin, a mood elevator, and melatonin, a sleep-pattern regulator, according to University Depression Center.

So, it makes sense that SAD hits Michigan hard — our winters are a never-ending supply of gray days and a lengthy string of sorry-looking skies. (Note to self: another good reason to move to Los Angeles when I graduate.)

The less the sun shines, the less we shine inside. Obvious, right? We all know that it feels inherently better when we look up at the sky and see a bright, blue abyss rather than a dull, drab oblivion. But we can’t ignore the hard science of SAD, because it reveals why one of the most effective treatments for this mental health disorder and the like is anti-depressant medication.

I don’t advocate relying on an all-powerful “magic pill” to do all the work for you, to chase away the blues and illuminate your eyes with rainbows. University Depression Center suggests all of the usual, undeniably helpful activities to combat SAD: Get plenty of exercise, spend time outside, eat a healthy diet and practice relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga. NAMI also recommends installing bright, white fluorescent light bulbs, or a special lamp, as a form of “light therapy.”

But in the midst of a depressive state, sometimes it’s not so easy to move a muscle to change a thought. Telling someone who’s clinically depressed to “just cheer up” is like telling an alcoholic to “just quit drinking.” This is not a quick fix. Depression, like alcoholism, is not a conscious choice; it’s a mental illness. And to end my own battle with depression, I needed more than help from Mother Nature. First, I needed a doctor.

During the fall semester of my freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania, despite my success in the classroom and on the soccer field, I started feeling down for no reason. Pretty soon, I had every SAD symptom. But I just chalked it up as standard fatigue from an incredibly active, stressful lifestyle.

I was wrong. Soon, there was nothing standard about my fatigue. Every day was a struggle to get out of bed, to get to class, to get through a training session, to get toothpaste on my toothbrush. I morphed from a 3.5 GPA student in the Wharton business school and a starter on the varsity soccer team into a lethargic zombie behind closed blinds with a Taking Back Sunday playlist on repeat.

“What is happening to me?” I thought. “Who would choose this?”

Then my grades dropped like crashing stock, and I was on the verge of quitting the soccer team because it was hard to sprint around a track when a walk to class became a chore. Miserable and hopeless, I finally admitted that I needed more help than I could give myself and made an appointment with the Penn clinic. After a few weeks on medication, I went on a run for the first time in months, and I cried my eyes out afterward because I felt like myself again.

Just as a diabetic, or anyone else with a chronic condition, needs daily medication, I’m no different. Mental health disorders are no different. So, if SAD darkens your doorstep this season, and you find yourself in a situation like mine, where self-care is futile, don’t be afraid to seek additional help. It made all the difference for me.

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