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Weather Forecasts, Beach Towns, And When Others Confirm What You Already Know

A friend reached out to me once, asking if I had ever been formally diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. At that point, I haven’t been. She had been wondering about herself (most of the questions we direct at others are about ourselves, after all) - winters have been tough, and have been getting tougher.

“Would you do anything differently if you were formally diagnosed?”, I asked.

Of course, the answer (for both of us) was “no”. All the healthy habits and behavioral interventions would remain the same, and I could easily get a prescription for anti-depressants from my family doctor, without ever seeing a mental health professional. However, last year I sought out a clinical psychologist to get that very diagnosis.

Ahead of my assessment, I contacted my strength coach, and asked if he would be willing to write up a little summary of his observations of my disposition as seasons changed. We worked together for a year, and were in touch very regularly, so he was a perfect person who was close enough, yet impartial (yay for coaches, amirite?).

Here’s the summary I received from him (emphasis mine):

"Working with Kate has been an absolute pleasure, always. However, I would be remiss if I didn't note the subtle yet significant changes in her attitude and demeanour at various times of the year. Specifically, Kate is a more positive, less cynical version of herself when the days are warm and sunny. Her motivation to move and eat well in any and all ways seems to become more of an innate need or something that just happens when the weather is great, whereas in the cold winter months she clearly white-knuckles her way through some of the things she feels she should be doing, even if part of her really just wants to sit on the couch." With pregnancy, travel restrictions, and lockdown in full effect I feel this past winter was especially hard for her. Her usual method of fleeing the cold for a place that's warm for 4-6 weeks was no longer an option, so she had to fight tooth and nail to create a new sense of purpose when she was feeling down.

Two things that I feel highlight just how much the weather plays a role in Kate's mood are her fixation on the weather and dedication to simulating brighter days. During the winter I received multiple snapshots of weather forecasts (mostly errant warm, sunny days) that she would be looking forward to, and many of her weekly check-ins at least partially focused on how the weather either facilitated or interrupted her week. She also committed significant time and effort to light therapy and a 30-day outdoor walking routine, both of which were attempts to make the winter feel more like spring or summer.

Kate always maintains a bit of humour about the way her mood and persona change when it's cold, however, in the winter it feels more life self-deprecating humour, almost as though it's a protective mechanism. Protection from what? Likely the true magnitude to which the winter months make her feel.”

I cried when I read the email. He didn't say anything I didn't already know, yet... hearing someone else say it out loud, say: "yes you are different in the winter. I know you struggle. I see you" has been really helpful.

It was also summer when I read this note, and it was hard to realize just how much winter can impact me. Sending him screenshots of weather forecasts? I didn’t even remember doing it until he mentioned it - it was like a throwback to some strange twilight zone.

The clinical psychologist did confirm the seasonal affective disorder diagnosis (and mentioned how lucky I was to have such an observant and supportive coach).

And I was able to get away this year. For the last few weeks I have been waking up in a small beach town in Nicaragua (that top image? that's the weather forecast this week). I have a diagnosis in hand, and a deck with a view as I write this.

What remains the same is how much a label can help sometimes. Whether or not your behaviors will change as a result, it can make all the difference for someone to say: “Yes, this is a thing! Yes, this is HARD. You are not alone.”


from a more positive, less cynical version of myself,


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