Coping with seasonal affective disorder and FSHD as best I can

My top strategies for overcoming the winter blues

Robin Stemple avatar

by Robin Stemple |

Banner for Robin Stemple's column,

The symptoms of my facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) make staying positive a daily challenge. Many people with muscular dystrophy struggle with depression. This battle is magnified every winter as I also feel the impact of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Exposure to sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D, a compound that can help boost serotonin levels. During the winter, “less sunlight and not getting enough vitamin D from foods and other sources may result in low levels of vitamin D in the body,” the Mayo Clinic notes. This is a major risk factor for SAD, which affects millions of Americans every year.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter blues may be offset by holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, winter solstice, and First Night. However, we may feel a post-holiday letdown as the winter weather continues into the early months of the new year, with cold temperatures and snow that keep us locked in our homes.

Although the hours of daylight are slowly increasing, it’s hardly noticeable. It’s dark when we get out of bed, and it’s already dark again as we sit down to eat supper. This all adds up to many of us feeling the winter blues.

Even when I was much younger and my FSHD didn’t affect my life nearly as much as it now does, I was already struggling with SAD. Every January, I found myself fighting feelings of depression, a lack of enthusiasm, and general fatigue.

Recommended Reading
Banner for Robin Stemple's column,

Walking the tightrope, falling off, and getting back up again

Switching gears

Over the years, as the winter blues have persisted, I’ve developed some strategies to overcome these feelings. I make myself replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. When I find myself dwelling on what’s going wrong in my life, I switch gears and start counting my blessings. I think most people would find this strategy helpful. It’s uplifting to concentrate on the positives rather than on the negatives.

Because of the weather conditions here in Pennsylvania, I have some extra time on my hands. It boosts my spirits to use that time to call folks from my prayer list to find out how they’re doing and encourage them a bit. This also reminds me that I’m not the only one dealing with health issues and other problems. In fact, most people are dealing with issues of one kind or another. That’s just a part of life. Again, I think this is a strategy many people could employ to help them get past the winter blues.

Rather than just sit around vegging in front of the television or scrolling on my phone, I try to use January as a time to start a new project, learn a new skill, or join a new group. I gave up doing music videos for Facebook and YouTube when we moved to Pittsburgh last January, but I have a friend coming over this week to help set things up so I can start making videos again. As a blind guy, I need some assistance with camera positioning and lighting.

While I’ve served on the United Church of Christ’s (UCC) Disability Ministries board for the past two years, I just became a member of its executive committee, as well. This is an additional time commitment, but it will enable me to have a greater impact as I work to improve accessibility for people with disabilities throughout the UCC.

I’m also planning to purchase software that will allow me to transcribe some of my original music onto standard sheet music. This will allow the sighted musicians I perform with to play along. I’m hoping to share the music with other musicians, as well. The software is supposed to be accessible for musicians who are blind, but I’m sure there will be a learning curve that will keep my mind engaged for a couple months. By the time I have it figured out, spring will be approaching. Hopefully, with the additional hours of sunlight, my spirits will be higher by then!

I found some other helpful suggestions for overcoming SAD on the NHS Inform website. I hope all my readers in the Northern Hemisphere can get through the winter months without too much sadness. I also hope those readers in the Southern Hemisphere are enjoying a great summer of sunshine and storing up some vitamin D for the winter to come. Let’s all just hang in there. A better day is coming! Until next time, take care.

Note: Muscular Dystrophy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.