SAD – seasonal affective disorder

Stockholm, 11am in winter

I came to Sweden twenty years ago, in the middle of winter (February). Because I am from the southern hemisphere, I left South Africa at the height of summer and arrived in my new home country in the middle of winter. I found the cold, darkness, and snow exotic and exciting, and this continued through my first and second full winters.

I come from a country where sunrise and sunset variesby about 2 hours in the morning and 2 at night between summer and winter. Where winter is where you put a jumper on and wear socks with your sandals. So for me the wild extremes between the seasons and the light – from permanent darkness in the winter to permanent light in the summer – was a very wild ride!

From the beginning of November, Stockholm is pitched into constant twilight until March. The very few glimpses you do have of the sun – even though it just pops above the horizon before setting again – really lift your spirits. Further north in Sweden it is much darker and they have polar night – where the sun does not rise for months – but they have a great deal more snow, which reflects light and makes things seem lighter.

During my third full winter in Sweden, something happened in early December. I was suddenly bone-tired all the time. I was weepy, couldn’t sleep despite being permanently exhausted, and I was soooo depressed. I am normally like a Duracell bunny but I could not gather the energy to do anything. All I wanted to do was eat sugar but it just made me feel worse.

After weeks of being barely able to drag myself to work, I took myself to the doctor. He diagnosed me with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), put me on sick leave for a month, and despatched me to the sun. I received permission from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency to fly to South Africa during my sick leave. I spent December and January soaking up the sunshine, flew back in top form, and was perfectly fine for the next 17 winters.


..this year I have felt SAD rear its ugly head again. It has been unusually rainy this November, and I am so exhausted, no matter how much I sleep. Everything around me is devoid of life and colour. There are no leaves on the trees, no smiles on faces. No colour. No snow, just dark and rain. Everyone seems pale and drained of life and energy. Every now and then you see a bright red coat or a cheerful umbrella among the crowds of black coats and sensible boots. But for the most part, people are not happy like they are in spring and summer.

I have stocked up on Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, and am walking outside in the middle of the day, even if it is cloudy or rainy.  Not even having the energy to read, I find comfort in a hot cup of tea, a strong cup of coffee, and the knowledge that in a few weeks things will become lighter and lighter by minute or two every day. I am also comforted by the fact that I am not alone. Many of my clients also struggle at this time of year.

I would be interested to know if any of my readers suffer or have suffered from SAD and if you have any recommendations.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

6 thoughts

  1. I have it,too. I work/ sleep thru it as best as I can. Tried all the antidepressants. I break out in hives to sunlight (10+ min). & I live in the Pacific Northwest. I can go to work in the dark & come home in the dark, on 8 hr days, for almost 6 months.
    I refuse to make any major decisions between Thanksgiving ( last Thursday on Nov. ) Thru Valentine’s day. No hair style changes. No career changes. No education changes. No diet changes, etc.
    I refuse as much social engagements as much as possible.
    I have a check list : meds, CPAP, food (2x/ day), shower (1: 3 days), clean clothes ( daily), brush teeth ( daily). I’m functional w/ in my parameters. But not society’s. & I have to fake being safe for public consumption. But the lights at work take 90 min to adjust my attitude.
    Some days are better than others.

  2. Hi Janet,
    I was diagnosed with SAD some years ago & it can vary year to year. You live in a beautiful country, but I definitely couldn’t cope with that lack of light for so many months! I have two light lamps at home – a larger one by my desk & a smaller one that is more portable, so that I can take it to work or into another room. Lack of energy is also my biggest issue, but getting outside & exercising also helps lots. I’m also taking vitamin D. Sorry to hear that you are struggling!

  3. Daylight ranges from a few minutes over eight hours at Winter Solstice to nearly fifteen and half hours at Summer Solstice where I live. It has such a profound impact on my mental health and well being. I can’t imagine being in Sweden where the contrast between Winter and Summer daylight/darkness is even greater.

  4. have you considered using a special lamp that imitates the spectrum of daylight? they seem to be quite helpful. as always, please discuss with your physician

    1. I have tried those – they have light cafés here, where you can sit in a short robe soaking in the sun. I must look into getting a little one for my desk. Thank you for the suggestion!

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