Time’s A-changin’! Sucky Seasonal Affective Disorder and My Kid

TODAY’S BREW: Cinnamon Hazelnut by New England Coffee which actually tastes like both cinnamon AND hazelnut.

By Julie 

Time’s are a-changin’!

In this house that means shortly, Seasonal Affective Disorder will back right the fuck off.

For those of you who don’t know, my youngest little guy, Sam:

sam 3rd grade
Hi, I’m Sam and this picture is over a year old. 

has Bipolar Disorder and OCD. Super fun in itself in a child of 9, but this year we’ve finally figured out and had diagnosed (with two separate psychiatrists for those out there who dare to argue this) with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or commonly known as seasonal depression. I’m telling you guys this for a few reasons:

  1.  Mental health awareness and transparency gets rid of the stigma.
  2. Many of you surely know seasonal depression too well.
  3. This is my life day-to-day and I want you guys to be a part of it.
  4. Sharing my experiences with mood disorders in a child might help someone else out there recognize it in their own kiddo. And I’m insanely passionate about proper treatment and proactive treatment.
  5. Sometimes I just need to talk about shit.

Sammy was diagnosed with OCD before he turned 4, and with a mood disorder not long after. This post will run for tens of thousands of years if I go into the specifics here, so we’ll stick to what the hell does that mean when we’re talking about this other shit, Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

SAD in adults is a common occurrence, it seems to me. The time change brings with it a screwed-up sleep pattern, lack of consistent sleep brings on poor eating habits which equals weight gain or loss, then comes the anxiety and irritability with the highs and lows of the physical manifestation, and a bunch of headaches that could be either I drank too much coffee or not enough or maybe I’m tired or maybe I slept too much and that’s why I’m so foggy but at the end of the day who gives a shit I just want to go to bed, along with a whole bunch of other Feel Like Shit symptoms. Doesn’t seem to get better until the sun is shining. (Total opposite for me, btw. The sun goddamn kills me.) All of these coinciding domino-effect issues combined with “misfiring” parts of the brain that assault us with anxiety and depression anyway means that it’s pretty tough to see ONE thing that we can give a name to and treat.

The thing is, figuring out SAD in our kid was a new ballgame. It’s not just feeling sad and withdrawn like you usually assume when you hear the word “depression.” I hope this helps someone see it in themselves or a kid who might need their help because it can be helped. It can. 

For the third year in a row, our December parent-teacher conference around report card time strung a few things together, though it changes in some ways as he grows:

  • Sam suddenly stopped participating in class.
  • He was hazy. It starts not long after school starts. Haziness that would often lead to actually falling asleep in class or going to the nurse’s office for a nap.
  • Irritability. Something a classmate says or does one day that’s funny is a personal attack the next.
  • ODD. Not oddness. Oppositional Defiant Disorder. To put simply, it’s doing things the opposite of what he knows to be right and annoying people even if it doesn’t benefit him at all. It only shows up this time of year.
  • The need for constant attention, good or bad. And the need to be entertained every second of the day until he goes to sleep.
  • Constant need for closeness. He wants to be on top of a person at all times. Won’t stop talking to us. Or at all. And yet he feels so distant, disconnected.
  • Spike in fear of abandonment and obsessive thoughts of death.
  • nervous tic.
  • Sudden couple of weeks of mania.

(At this very moment I finally said, for instance, “Baby, I’m right here. If you don’t stop talking for a minute I’m going to die.” Probably not the best choice of words but man alive, I’m trying to do a thing here. Or as I like to blurt out, “Nothing going on here, so I’m just gonna WRITE A BOOK, I CAN DO THAT RIGHT NOW, YEAH?”)

As you can see, it has everyone a little edgy.

SO JULIE. This looks like a hell of a lot of disorders. What, you have some weird-ass Munchausen where you want to give your child a lot of problem titles? Or my favorite, HEY JULIE, HE’S PROBABLY JUST AUTISTIC.

That’s for another day.

Yes, this is a lot of disorders–and all of them fit together in one not-so-neat little blob of patterns and overlapping symptoms. PLEASE, ALLOW ME TO SAY THIS AGAIN.

SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER IS AN OFFSHOOT OF BIPOLAR DISORDER WHICH IS COMPACTED WITH OCD AND OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER IS A SYMPTOM OF SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER. REARRANGE THOSE WORDS A FEW DIFFERENT WAYS AND THEY STILL FIT TOGETHER. THEY ALL ARE A VENN DIAGRAM OF CRAP, NOT SEPARATE PIE CHARTS. 

Subtitle: IT ISN’T “JUST ADHD OR AUTISM.”

What I’m getting at is this. Some stuff on the autism spectrum DOES manifest in a kid with a mood disorder. Some ADHD symptoms ARE the same as a kid with OCD. Non-verbal Learning Disorder fits in all of them, too! They all have common threads, and they have their own separate traits too. Treatments can overlap, behavioral plans can overlap, that’s okay! The name of the disability isn’t what matters, it’s the digging in and finding the not-so obvious answers to help that matters.

Seeing the pattern over 3 years that emerges as soon as the clocks change has helped us take on a whole new plan to help the kid. Is this reinventing the wheel? No. The kid is growing. Years of behavior therapy are becoming second nature. He’s hitting a pubescent stage (commonly happens early with kids who have mood disorders), he’s got new responsibilities as a 4th grader… all this coincides and contributes to the big picture, just like that headache that could be caused by ten different things. All it means is you have to try different stuff. The kid isn’t a sedentary disorder. Treating these symptoms like they’re SOMETHING and not just conforming to the HE HAS ADHD OR AUTISM BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING ELSE plan of attack school sometimes takes is what mental health awareness is all about. What’s happening to the kid is REAL. And he knowing this is what will help him succeed as a happy person. 

Digging into the not-so-obvious pattern has given us new tools to help him. AND THEY HAVE HELPED HIM IMMENSELY.

  • a minor, temporary, seasonal increase in his anti-depressant.
  • 15 minutes to an hour a day with The Happy Light which I cannot recommend enough.
  • absolutely transparent communication with the school–and occasionally taking on a…*ahem*…supervisory role with his teachers to ensure he doesn’t fall behind.
  • weekend rest time. We do next to nothing on Saturday. It’s a proactive MEASURE, not just It’s Saturday and I Ain’t Doing Shit measure. He knows it’s for rest and then he actually makes the choice to be active on Sunday. This is huge. He prepares himself to snap out of it.
  • Acknowledgment. “We understand you feel like [whatever thing]. Remember the disorder is telling you that–but it’s not true.”

Since implementing this stuff, Sam is uncharacteristically energetic after school–not manic–energetic. He’s involved in ensuring he doesn’t fall behind academically. He can laugh at his over-the-top symptoms like paranoia and oversensitivity. He has direction. He’s waking up easier and getting motivated quicker. And he doesn’t feel so distant. 

I’m not saying he’s magically cured. Far from it. But we’re in a better position to help him and right now it’s working in a lot of ways. Our end goal is to make sure Sam is a happy, understood person. He’ll always have a mood disorder, just like some people might always have arthritis–it doesn’t have to cripple them. Treating it like WHAT IT IS instead of acting like it’s something it’s not to make it easier on everyone else’s mind is how the stigma gets squashed and how the child who suffers it doesn’t feel ALONE. Imagine being told that you’re different but that the way you’re different isn’t really a thing. We run that risk because mood disorders are so taboo to diagnose in children. Doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It’s not that Bipolar Disorder suddenly manifests at the magic age of 14 like has been believed all this time. That’s the time that a kid speaks for themselves, that they aren’t written off as being “just this age” or “hyper” or whatever else. Acknowledgement, education, preparation, expectation… these things are what I insist upon so that my child isn’t one of the countless people with a mood disorder that have suicidal thoughts. He won’t feel alone, and he won’t feel misunderstood.

To finally shut the hell up, I’ll finish by saying, dig deeper if you feel like something is off. Listen to your gut and be absolutely clear with professionals who can help. Listen to your gut and take control when you know you’re right. And don’t be afraid to try something new.

I hope this rant did something for someone out there! Remember, just because it’s in your head doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

 

 

Published by Julie Hutchings, Pretty Scary Author

Mythology-twisting author and editor, reptile hoarder, coffee drinker, harpy. Author of The Shinigami Vampire Series and The Wind Between Worlds.

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