The Disorder No One Talks About

 

Griffen Lovely is a lot like other 20-somethings you would know. He enjoys spending time with his family, hanging out with friends and playing sports. On the surface, he appears to be just like anyone else his age. In reality, Griffen has been battling with a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder for several years.

Griffen has lived in Aroostook County his entire life, where harsh winters for months on end is something that is expected. For years, Griffen never understood why his mood would worsen and his motivation would dwindle during the winter months. “It would feel like a switch would flip inside of me come the end of December. I would just want to hole up in my bedroom and just sleep all day,” Griffen said.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a disorder that is often overlooked. One reason for this may be due to its less severe symptoms compared to Bipolar Disorder or Manic Depression. It is a disorder that is hard to diagnose because it is primarily a seasonal disorder and its direct causes are hard to pinpoint. Despite all this, SAD is very serious and can lead to debilitating depression in people affected by it.

The symptoms of SAD would only get worse for Griffen as the years continued. As someone who was normally cheerful and highly motivated, Griffen began to get very concerned. It eventually got to the point where Griffen’s grades were starting to suffer, and he was turning to negative influences to help him deal with his depression. “I began to feel hopeless and was frustrated that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me,” Griffen said. “I started drinking alcohol on a regular basis because that was the only thing that seemed to numb my pain.”

It was not until Griffen felt that he had hit rock bottom in the winter of 2015 that he decided that it was time to do something about it. “At that time, I had distanced myself from my friends and family. I had just dropped out of college and was living back at my parents’,” Griffen said. “I finally said enough was enough and decided to go seek a medical professional to help me figure out what was going on.”

The decision to reach out to a professional ended up being, as Griffen put it, “The best decision I’ve ever made.” When Griffen told his doctor about the symptoms he was having, the doctor told him about SAD and encouraged him to look into it. This was the first time that Griffen was able to pinpoint the cause of his depression and mood swings. When he got home that day, he started researching SAD and the steps he could take to fight the symptoms associated with the disorder. “Once I researched SAD, it helped me immensely. It was relieving to learn that I wasn’t the only one going through this. There are a lot of people who suffer from SAD during the winter months,” Griffen said.

As of today, Griffen still falls into the patterns of SAD, but now has the knowledge and the tools to not fall into the heavy patterns of the disorder. Griffen says spending time outside during the winter is helpful against fighting SAD because the added sunlight increases his serotonin levels and helps balance his melatonin levels. “Even though we’ve had a lot more snow this winter than in the past, it’s important for me to get out and stay busy with outdoor activities because it is therapeutic for me,” Griffen said.

Griffen’s long-time girlfriend, Leslie Meija, is also a source of support for her partner in dealing with SAD. “Every time Griffen is starting to fall into the old patterns of SAD, I’m always there to help him overcome it. Whether that be listening to him vent or participating in activities with him, I’m always looking to help,” Leslie said.  “Griffen has a hard time expressing his feelings and he doesn’t like to open up voluntarily, so sometimes I have to pry a little to figure out what is going on.”

One thing that bothers Griffen about SAD is that many people don’t believe it is a real disorder. He often finds that people just assume he is depressed or that he just hates winter and the lack of sunlight. “I’m a northern Mainer at heart,” Griffen said. “I’m not just not used to the long winters, I’m actually very active during the winter months. SAD goes much deeper than just hating the snow.”

Eventually, Griffen would like to use his personal experiences with SAD to educate others on the effects it can have on someone who does not seek help. The person who has learned the most from Griffen’s battle with SAD is Leslie. “After learning about his experiences with SAD, I gained so much more respect for Griffen,” Leslie said. “I can’t imagine having to deal with a disorder like that for so long. It really shined a new light on a disorder that I had only heard about in books or movies.”

Despite all the hardships, Griffen has turned his experiences with SAD into something positive. “SAD has been a burden in my life, but it has shaped me into a stronger person,” Griffen said. “If anything, it has shown me that I have a great support group of friends and family.”