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Weary of Winter: My experience with SAD and thyroid issues

Updated on October 28, 2009

Lassen National Volcanic Park

A frozen lake within the park
A frozen lake within the park

The rain is finally here in California and I am sad to say that for me it signifies a long, dark, depressing winter. I have been affected by the seasonal changes of light and darkness, not to mention the weather, for a long time now. I wish that I could hibernate like a mother bear with her cubs and come out of my house in a few months to restock the pantry. Alas, humans are not equipped with the means to do this. With the economy as slow as it is, I'm not sure that my work would even miss me, but the bill collector would definitely not let me sleep very long.

I have a low functioning thyroid; not low enough for them to treat me of course, just low enough to suffer the symptoms. Since my body temperature is two degrees lower than everyone elses, winter cold makes me shiver almost nonstop. I have to wear shoes year round or it takes hours to rewarm my toes. Right now as I am typing, it is about 74 degrees in my house, which is relatively warm, and my fingers are like little icicles. You would think the finger typing dance would keep them warm, but it doesn't seem to help. More often than not when people ask what I want for Christmas I usually answer "thick socks, or sweatpants". Its not because I'm broke, I just really like to keep warm!

Last year around Christmas our family took a trip to the Mojave desert to visit family and we went up into the nearby mountains to go tubing at a snow park. It was so much fun and much easier than skiing. Of course, my process for getting ready for a day in the snow was much less than easy. I wore a snowbib, a full set of thermal underwear, sweatpants, and boxers, two sets of socks, two t-shirts, a sweatshirt with hood, and a thick winter coat. I also had snow gloves, and hat with built-in ear muffs, thick scarf and snow boots. I have to say, I was warm! I was so happy to be warm that I had a great time! It was the first time that I remember being warm while playing in the snow. My husband was joking with his brother in law that "god forbid she start to get cold" or we would have to go home. I looked rediculously fat from wearing so many layers of clothes, but he affectionately called me his little snow bunny, and I thought it sweet of him to love me just the way I am. That day took quite a bit of planning on my part. Consequently, I do not like to go to the snow very often, no matter how much fun it is.

Having said all that, I should note that I don't like to be too hot either. I grew up in the San Francisco bay area, where we don't have four distinct seasons. We have wet winters, long pretty springs, warm pleasant summers with plenty of bay breezes, and a mild fall with naked trees. Now I live in mountainous northern California and things are very different. Winter is freezing, with plenty of snow. Spring is short and warm, and leads to long sweaty summers of temps in the high 90's to 110 degrees. Many years have a sprinkling of days over 110 degrees. Fall is short, rainy and windy and nothing special. My favorite thing about this area are the long summer days that extend into the night. You can literally get up in the morning, put on your favorite shorts and tank top, and be comfortable wearing that same outfit till midnight. Midnight here is often still 80+ degrees.

I used to operate a mobile grooming business in this area all year round and I really enjoyed it. I was forced to give it up when the heat began to compromise my health. After four grueling summers in my van with inadequate cooling, I began suffering heat exhaustion every day. Dizziness, delerium, and dehydration were killing me slowly. So I bought a grooming shop, and now I get to regulate my surroundings to my heart's content. Aaahhhhh.

Believe it or not there are some major problems with transitioning from working outdoors to indoors that I did not expect. Working outdoors I was exposed to so much more sunlight per day than I get now and it makes a huge difference in my mood. I do seem to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder to some extent, and getting less sunlight was hard for me. I bought a special lamp for my desk at home with a sunlight mimicking bulb and at times you could find me hovering underneath it, almost for dear life. I also discovered that tanning is a great way to get some relief from a lack of sunshine. I am by no means a vain kinda gal, I go tanning in the winter for my mental health. If I could lay there with all my clothes on I would be happy, but the light needs to touch your skin to be effective. These two coping techniques really helped me to transition but it has taken over two years to make the adjustment to working indoors.

There is something that happens in your brain naturally when you work outdoors and you see the change of light during the day, vs. being indoors and then coming outside to find yourself in the dark. Another factor is your body's ability to make vitamin D using UV rays from the sun. Here is a link to an important and thorough fact sheet for your reveiw. Some of our foods are supplemented with vitamin D, but getting sunshine on your skin is the only way for our bodies to make it.


 So, between my low functioning thyroid that makes me colder than most folks, and seasonal affective disorder ruining my mood, winter time for me is not a welcome visitor. I can only think warm thoughts for so long before I have to step out into the rain and snow to run to my favorite tanning booth and grab a hot mocha on the way. If you have a person in your life with either of these two conditions, I have the perfect Christmas gift idea for you! Think warm socks, coffee gift cards, vitamin D supplements, and cerificates to a tanning booth. I know you would make some major brownie points with me.


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    • Mrs. Obvious profile image

      Mrs. Obvious 7 years ago from Northern California

      This winter, 10-11 has been much better for me. I finally adjusted to working indoors, and have been supplementing myself with iodine (for thyroid) and Vitamin D for the SAD part of my winter blues. I can honestly say I am not depressed anymore! This has also been a very mild and dry winter compared with the last few years. Unfortunately, my body temp refuses to come up, and I am still freezing all the time, even in the house with socks, shoes, and sweaters on. I crawled into bed last night to warm my icicle hands and feet against my hubby's body, and almost gave him a chill instead! Thank God for electirc heating blankets. Take care all, thanks sympatheticone for the well-wishes, and stay warm.

    • profile image

      sympatheticone 7 years ago

      I too suffer from low grade hypothyroidism, I know how real it is. Don't give up, keep looking for a doctor who will treat you.

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 8 years ago from Washington MI

      Very well written article, and informative as well. I have hypothyroidism and don't suffer from the tempeture issues some do. I do however HATE winter and live in a state that winter is forever. The solution for me would be to move back to Florida. Keep up the good writing.

    • Mrs. Obvious profile image

      Mrs. Obvious 8 years ago from Northern California

      I once lived in Escondido from January thru August when my ex was stationed at Miramar. It was nice. Prior to that I lived in Orange County for about 2 years, and I really liked that too. Maybe when I get old and retire I will move back to that area someday. Thank you all for the well wishes.

    • IslandVoice profile image

      Sylvia Van Velzer 8 years ago from Hawaii

      I have never met anyone with your condition, and i do hope this winter, you will find comfort through some solutions which may be out there. Best to you.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Wow. Sorry about your thyroid...and the heat too. Sounds like you need to move to San Diego. The heat bothers me more than the cold. As you say, you can always put on more clothes, but you can only take so many off.

      I hope you find the solutions to your difficulties. It seems as though you are coping, but perhaps it will get easier!