Is it really the rain that makes me so sad?
May 9, 2009 12:24 PM   Subscribe

How do fellow Pacific Northwesters deal with rain-induced depression?

I live in Portland and I suffer from terrible, sometimes debilitating depression. I've tried to manage it a number of ways - I currently take zoloft, am vegan, I bike. But still I can't kick it. I end up drinking a lot and often.

Something I've noticed is that when I go visit my SO's family in Miami I become instantly happier. I know part of this is because I'm on vacation and I like her family, but I also know a huge part of it is simply the sunlight. I notice it so instantly. The bright, beautiful sun.

I love Portland, but I really think the weather is a major contributor to my depression (there are many other factors, I realize). I'm wondering how other Oregonians/Washingtonians deal with the effects of the constant rain on their mood.

(I've lived here for two years after having grown up in the midwest and college in NYC. I'm 24).

Thank you in advance everyone.
posted by Lutoslawski to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If the sunlight helps, have you considered a light box? I have no experience with them, but they seem to be recommended quite often.

Or is it just the psychological boost of seeing the sunshine?
posted by Solomon at 12:29 PM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, get a lightbox! I'm very happy with this one, and sitting in front of it for half an hour every morning during the winter makes a big difference. It's not quite the same as getting real, actual sunlight, but it keeps the worst of the depression at bay. You might also want to look into some Vitamin D supplements.

(And if your depression is bad enough that you drink "a lot and often"--maybe consider trying a different antidepressant? I know I've had to try many meds before finding something that worked.)
posted by Vervain at 12:37 PM on May 9, 2009

One my friends has seasonal depression like this and she goes tanning in the winter to help alleviate it.
posted by DJWeezy at 12:38 PM on May 9, 2009

The gloom is pretty oppressive. The sys admin at my job tells me that he travels somewhere there is sunlight once during the Seattle wintertime, and that this keeps him mostly sane until the summer weather arrives in June.

Q. How do you know it's summertime in Seattle? A. The rain feels warm.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:56 PM on May 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I have always suspected that part of the allure of the tanning industry is depression treatment not labeled as such.

Also, I really think that the "drinking a lot and often" is a contributing factor rather than an outcome. If you're treating your SAD or other depression this way (spoken from experience), no wonder you never feel better. If you can't chuck this part of it for a while in the service of helping yourself feel better, you should look into professional help and possibly medication.
posted by dhartung at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2009

Go for a ride in the rain, smell the wet earth, go to the coast and watch a rainstorm over the ocean (highly recommended), go hiking in a forested area near a stream during the rain, etc... Learn to appreciate the Pacific Northwest for what it is, because it isn't going to get any sunnier.

Do you expect zoloft, some degree of exercise, and the possible effects of veganism to counteract heavy drinking? Alcohol is a depressant, and heavy drinking has all kinds of lingering effects besides the hangover. I get really drunk two or three times a year, and I notice the effects for days afterward; lethargy, irritability, weak and shaky muscular response while exercising. It sucks hardcore. Are you drinking so much that you've lost perspective about what the alcohol is doing to you? Are you getting a little down, turning to the bottle, and keeping yourself down?

This is an interesting question, because you and I appear to be polar opposites. I've always loved rainy, cold weather and disliked lots of sun, so moving to Eugene from Kansas has been a vast improvement for me. Maybe it's just genetic or otherwise deeply ingrained.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 12:59 PM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you should consider your alcohol problem separate from your SAD.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:02 PM on May 9, 2009

One my friends has seasonal depression like this and she goes tanning in the winter to help alleviate it.

Not good. How's she going to deal with the depression that will set in once she resembles a piece beef jerky and has keratosis and melanoma all over her body?

Do whatever you can to make your home bright, lively, and comfortable: plants, bright colors, good lighting, art, photos. Choose a hobby that can be done indoors so you have something enjoyable and constructive to do on dreary, wet days. Invite people over often. Start a Netflix or cooking club.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:02 PM on May 9, 2009

The sys admin at my job tells me that he travels somewhere there is sunlight once during the Seattle wintertime, and that this keeps him mostly sane until the summer weather arrives in June.

I forgot to mention that I went to Philadelphia in the dead of the Seattle winter and came back refreshed beyond belief, even though Philly feels like an arctic wasteland in the winter months. So I would recommend his advice to you: travel when you need to recharge your batteries.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:05 PM on May 9, 2009

Not everyone who finds the PNW winters depressing has SAD, but it sounds like you might. I second Vervain's suggestion of a light box (in the morning) and vitamin D supplements. It sounds like you're already getting regular exercise, which is the other thing I would suggest.

(Light boxes don't seem to do much for me either way, but I know a few people for whom they're very effective.)
posted by hattifattener at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2009

I end up drinking a lot and often.

That'll do it. Certainly more likely to cause depression than rain is.
posted by argybarg at 1:26 PM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

The lightboxes didn't do it for me, either.

My doctor gave me a blood test to check my Vitamin D levels. Guess what? MASSIVE DEFICIENCY. She put me on 25,000IUs of Vitamin D (by prescription, one pill a week) for 8 weeks, and man, did I feel better. Since then, I take 2000IU/daily.

And yes, less drinking.
posted by krisken at 1:46 PM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was just going to say--most people get their vitamin D from sunlight or fortified dairy products. If you're going to stay vegan, make sure that you get your nutritional ducks in a row (B12 and D esp.)
posted by pullayup at 1:49 PM on May 9, 2009

My partner dealt with this when we lived in the rainiest part of the PNW on the North Olympic peninsula coast west of Seattle. He self medicated with caffeine for a couple of years until he had a winter that was so brutal and upsetting I convinced him to see our doc.

My point is to see a doctor specifically for SAD. It helps if you can bring in a log of your moods at different times during the day over a week or two, including in your log what the weather was like. Our doctor also had him note his coffee usage (you should note your alcohol and medication usage), what he was eating, and when he exercised. The reason this contributed to him uncovering a terrific plan to manage the SAD was because having a professional, third-party evaluate patterns related to nutrition, exercise, meds, weather, and self-medicating is just so much more valuable than evaluating it yourself or soliciting help from even other PNW veterans. Our doctor explained really well how differently everyone responds to different treatments--some do great with lightboxes, some need specific meds or supplements, some need a significant lifestyle change.

I can't stress enough how having a doctor familiar with SAD looking at a journal/log, talking with you, and evaluating you with ordered tests can make a really significant difference. Why play around with troubleshooting, trying one person's idea after the next when you could get a diagnosis and treatment to treat your SAD and start to feel better? In my partner's case, it turned out that by changing his lifestyle in some very specific ways that we could have never anticipated he was feeling much better in a couple of weeks, and in a couple more it was like living with a different person. We're in the midwest right now, getting some additional grad school, but are actually planning on moving back to the PNW despite his SAD because he knows it can be managed.

I truly sympathize with your situation, to folks who don't suffer, or can chase winter blues with a cup of coffee and a mid-winter vacay, there is little understanding of how devastating it can be. It seems amazing that this requires more than an attitude adjustment and a few folk remedies, but it really, really does. If your doc's not so familiar with SAD, ask for a referral to one he/she knows does. It's totally beatable, but it's worth calling in some professional partnership. I hope you can find your way to enjoying Portland soon! Mefimail me if you have more specific questions.
posted by rumposinc at 2:01 PM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

This winter sucked hard in Portland. More people than I count mentioned how this winter, versus previous winters, had kicked their ass. I haven't checked the numbers at but I wouldn't be surprised if we received even less sunshine than normal.

Our previous climates were likely similar - there are plenty of places that freeze like hell in the winter but at least have the funny yellow globe showing up more than once a month. Alcohol and caffeine are recognized and essentially accepted way to deal with it. Best ways? Of course not. Accepted and expected? You bet.

Implement all of the SAD recommendations well noted above and make some friends in LA or somewhere else you can escape to for a long weekend or two during the winter. Of course your pasty skin will make you stand out, but at least the homicidal look will have been vanquished from your eyes.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 2:14 PM on May 9, 2009

I dealt with it by moving to Austin Texas.
posted by xmutex at 2:37 PM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I use a lightbox and it is helpful.

Also, when the sun does come out, make sure you make it a priority to go outside and soak it up. Don't wear sunglasses! Just go and sit outside somewhere bright, or take a walk. Reading a book is good because the white page reflects a lot of the goodness up into your eyes but you don't have to look up!
posted by Rumple at 2:39 PM on May 9, 2009

A tangential suggestion: If you snore, go see an Ear, Nose, & Throat doctor about sleep apnea.

I have sleep apnea myself and am going in for a sleep study. One of the many side effects is depression.

I'm not suggesting you don't have SAD, just an additional "just in case you didn't think of it".
posted by Fleebnork at 2:49 PM on May 9, 2009

Moved to Boston...

Along the lights idea, full spectrum bulbs and lamps installed in your home may make a difference.

When I first moved I had an amazing southern window, and was just amazed how totally great it felt to be in the sunshine in the middle of winter. Bright sun on snow really makes a difference.
posted by sammyo at 2:51 PM on May 9, 2009

People are different. If you are unhappy when it rains and happy when the sun comes out, pay attention to that.

If you feel better in sunnier locations, then move. Don't make yourself miserable.

No one is keeping score, you know. You may be only 24 but, trust me, life is short.
posted by justcorbly at 4:41 PM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I lived in Seattle someone told me that part of the problem is that people who move to the northwest from somewhere else have been conditioned to stay inside when it's rainy. While that may be a good strategy where you used to live, it doesn't work when it's always rainy. So the trick is to make a point of doing something outside every day no matter what -- buy good rain gear and ignore what passes for rain. Just being outside helps even if it isn't sunny.

That's what I was told, and you might want to give it a try. But what really worked for me was moving back to New Mexico.
posted by Killick at 4:42 PM on May 9, 2009

It's not just the weather, Portland is further north than Miami so there are fewer hours of sunlight in the winter and it comes in at lower angle.

Really, the best way to solve this is to move south, but you can try to emulate that with a lightbox.

Also, get a good rainhat if you don't have one.
posted by yohko at 5:06 PM on May 9, 2009

I use a lightbox, take Lexapro seasonally, sharply limit my alcohol and caffeine, try to eat lighter, exercise regularly, and I took up a couple of winter sports (skiing and snowshoing). I've always suspected that a midwinter trip somewhere warm would help but haven't managed it yet. I still struggle but it's manageable and for me the positives of living here make it worthwhile. But the PNW is certainly not for everyone.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:46 PM on May 9, 2009

When the rain gets me down, I head south to sunny Seattle.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:49 PM on May 9, 2009

Contrary to TomSophieIvy, I found this winter to be more bearable than the previous winter where I was all, "screw this Oregon grey bullshit, let's move to Arizona!" I attribute that to the Vitamin D supplement that I took this past winter. I started it with a Calcium/Magnesium supplement that has Vitamin D and Zinc added. The Calcium is good for bones, the Magnesium apparently helps me sleep better (look it up) and the D and Zinc were bonuses. I didn't get a winter cold until March and I found the grey rainy time to be much more bearable.

Try it out -- take one at bedtime and enjoy less insomnia and better waking life!
posted by amanda at 7:36 PM on May 9, 2009

Also, to piggyback on yohko, it's not just the rain, either, it's the overcast. Even when it's not raining, it's gloomy. Plan a vacation in a warm and/or sunny place in January or February.
posted by amanda at 7:37 PM on May 9, 2009

I'm not the most helpful, because I generally like the weather. But it might be worth pointing out that it is cloudy much more often than it's actually raining. And even when it's raining a bit, it's still often not a problem to be outside. So, along with your biking, make sure you take long walks, walk your errands, play sports outside, do some gardening. Anything that can help you soak up the light. It may not lure you outside, but the sunlight on an overcast day does still help cheer you up.

And what other people said about doctors and a light box.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:52 PM on May 9, 2009

posted by P.o.B. at 8:59 PM on May 9, 2009

Try a lightbox and see if it helps. Get outside in the winter. Try to start ignoring the rain ... when it's cold, wear polarfleece and maybe a raincoat. When it's warm rain, just go out in a long sleeve shirt and jeans (or shorts) and pretend like it isn't raining. If you just think of the rain as a companion instead of a hindrance, it helps. (What really gets me down is clouds where there's no rain. Such a bummer). Also, it's good if your house has east-facing windows. Make sure to keep the shades open in the morning and soak up whatever sun you can get.

And whatever you do, don't use umbrellas - they block out what light you have when you walk and really stop you from being able to take in the greatness that is a rainy northwest day.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 9:06 PM on May 9, 2009

This is my sixth winter living in Portland and it has been by far the mildest winter of my time here. Aside from the freak snow event in December there was very little precipitation the rest of the winter. So if you thought this season was bad, wait until you get one where it rains everyday all day for 40 days. That really sucks.

As far as staying positive during the rainy months, for me that means working out a ton and staying as active as possible. Check out Crossfit Portland in North Portland or Recreate Fitness in Northwest. Both are great gyms owned by really knowledgeable folks. Both have really positive, supportive communities. I've found that when I have something like Crossfit to look forward to it helps alleviate my naturally depressive moods.
posted by alpinist at 10:08 PM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seattle here. Oh my god, this winter kicked my ASS. I don't know if I can handle too many more like it.

I got a lot of mood relief when I started taking 200mg Sam-E each morning, along with 2-4 grams of fish oil. Very light tanning sessions help a lot too - 12 minutes in a tanning bed about once a week.

But I'm not saying that all of that put me in a good mood, it just barely prevents me from killing myself. Your mileage may vary.

Now that the weather is improving, I'm trying bicycling, but I'm as weak as an astronaut who just returned to earth. I hope I can motivate myself to keep it up. I'm a WRECK after a Seattle winter.
posted by markjamesmurphy at 1:35 AM on May 10, 2009

I grew up in Oregon, lived in Seattle for 8 years, and I love the rain and grey and gloom. But for you I would recommend

a) stop drinking, for a while at least, and examine if it should be a permanent change in your life or if you should just cut down;
b) find out if you actually experience SAD itself or if there's some other problem, so in other words seek a therapist;
c) think about a lightbox and vitamin D;
d) get out and see the sunshine -- as a native PNWer, I know the weather is far from constant rain 12 months a year or even the 3 months of winter. Go find the sunshine, get outdoors more! Even partially cloudy days can be a welcome change for those who don't like the grey days.

In the end, though, evaluate whether you want to stay. PNW winters are the reason Californians and others tend to inflate the housing market in the summer and then flee after their first winter.
posted by asciident at 9:00 AM on May 10, 2009

Urgh. I live in Brisbane and the winters here are RAINY and gloomy. Thank goodness I'm avoiding the worst this time by heading to Malaysia! It's more the cumulative experience I find - cold, wet, clammy, no energy to go out, hibernation instinct kicks in, everything's grey.

Thanks for posting this; the answers have been helpful.
posted by divabat at 4:24 PM on May 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone. Great suggestions.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:12 AM on May 11, 2009

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