How I’m surviving seasonal depression in the Midwest

This stock art dude suffering from seasonal depression was totally me.

This stock art dude suffering from seasonal depression was totally me.

I missed a lot of Midwestern things when I lived in Texas, but I never once missed “real” winters.

Adults who get excited about snow —I say this affectionately — are the worst people on earth and they need to grow up. Snow is terrible. It’s cold and wet, it makes driving dangerous, it ruins the hem of every pair of jeans. Snow is the reason I left Kansas in 2011.

And while everyone thought I was being ridiculous, my biggest reservation about taking a job in Iowa City was the weather. Everyone said I’d be fine, the winters weren’t that bad, and climate preference was no reason to turn down a good opportunity.

I didn’t mention that I’d struggled with depression for years, or that it was worse in the winter, or that central Texas winters had saved me. Because that stuff is kind of heavy.

In Iowa, I’d have a great job with normal hours, and I’d finally marry my fiancé after two years of living in different states. How could I be sad if my life was finally coming together?

I’m Sarah Kelly, and I always find a way.

On my first day at the Press-Citizen, it snowed. That was April 23. I should have known something was up.

A feeling of dread set in at the season’s first snow — in October. Winter was coming for me.

In November, I learned that what I thought was my winter coat was actually a fall coat. I had no hat, no scarf, no gloves.

The simplest tasks took Herculean effort. No matter how much I slept, I woke up tired and groggy. A thick sludge in my brain slowed each thought, making every sentence feel like work.

When the sun sets around 5:30 in Texas, it sets around 4:30 in Iowa. A whole hour of light lost to geography.

Some days I hated myself for being so lazy and stupid. Other days, I hated Iowa for being so cold and dark.

Turns out, climate preference is a completely legitimate reason to turn down a good opportunity. Don’t move to places with weather that will make you miserable. But I was already here and I actually liked Iowa City a lot, so I had to figure something out.

And you know what helped? Pills. Seriously. I’m climbing out of this funk with the help of modern medicine. I avoided antidepressants for years because I worried I’d feel “numb” or deal with side effects worse than the depression itself. I felt like I was cheating, like it was OK for other people to ask for help, but not me. My incredibly common and very treatable condition was somehow different from everyone else’s incredibly common and very treatable condition.

The phenomenal hassle of switching insurance and starting over with a new ADHD doctor created an unexpected opportunity: Finally, I had the nerve to say “This weather is bumming me out to the point that I’m struggling to function.” It was as easy and as difficult as that.

The doctor prescribed a low dose of Prozac and told me to get out of the house more. I have to get back in the gym and reach out socially to keep the crud at bay, but the medicine makes that possible.

And I feel better. Spring is 79 days away, and probably more like 100 days away in Iowa. But I’m starting to feel like I’ll make it.

I’m sharing all this because I feel like the only person in Iowa who struggles with winter. If that’s the case, my situation is newsworthy simply because it’s unique. What’s more likely: I’m one of many Midwesterners having a hard time. It would be nice to know I’m not alone.

And hey, if you’re hurting, say something.

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