Tag Archives: depression

Are You S.A.D. in the Winter? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Since I’m up to my eyeballs in three different editing projects, I figured now would be a good time for an encore presentation of a previous post, and this topic is always worth mentioning this time of year.

I hate talking about depression because, well, it’s depressing. But if you’re one of those folks who gets S.A.D. in the winter, or you know someone who does, you may appreciate this post.

I’m talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder, i.e., folks who start getting more and more fatigued and listless for no apparent reason as the days get shorter and grayer.

If you’ve been told that you must have some deep-seated negative association with winter, forget that BS. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a biologically-based depression. It’s caused by a malfunction in a natural phenomenon that occurs in all of us. This natural phenomenon developed through evolution.

In cave-person times (tough to be politically correct when talking about that era), those folks whose metabolisms slowed down in the winter—so they burned fewer calories—were much more likely to survive until spring. They dragged their butts through the winters. But when spring came, they’d come bouncing out of their caves, full of renewed energy now that the sun was bright.

Much to the annoyance of their skeletal cave-mates who just barely made it through the first hunt.

Photo by Lynn Kelley Author, doing her spring happy dance (from WANA Commons, share-alike license).

I have a mild case of S.A.D. When I lived in Maryland, I would get increasingly grumpy in the fall. I often wouldn’t realize just how depressed I’d became during the winter months, until spring came along and I started feeling sooo much better.

It was kind of like a low-grade, chronic case of the flu—one where you don’t realize just how sick you’ve been until you start to get better.

In the winter time, all of us (thanks to that evolutionary tendency inherited from our more wintertime-lethargic, springtime-energetic cave ancestors) have an increase in the release of the hormone, melatonin, from the pineal gland. This hormone regulates our sleep cycles and promotes deep sleep. The increased melatonin release makes us all a little bit less energetic in the winter.

For those with S.A.D., the melatonin levels increase too much, causing more severe fatigue and lethargy. S.A.D. can range from mild cases, like mine, to people who become severely depressed in the winter.

What can you do about it:

1.  The first thing to do (and this may be enough if you have a mild case) is go outside as much as possible in the winter, especially on sunny days. Because it is not the cold that triggers S.A.D.; it’s the lack of daylight. In my thirties, I started horseback-riding regularly year-round. My S.A.D. got a lot better. It went from a moderate to a mild case.

2.  Light therapy. There are light boxes, and other devices, that simulate sunlight. These are specifically designed to treat S.A.D., although they serve other purposes as well. More on light therapy below.

3.  Move to a southern clime, (or at least winter there, if you’re retired or filthy rich). My S.A.D. is one of the reasons–a major one, in fact–for our move to Florida when my husband and I retired.

More about light therapy boxes:

If you think you have S.A.D. these are a worthwhile purchase. They can change your life. But do your research first to find the best device for your needs. Check out this article from the Mayo Clinic about how to choose a light box. They range from $100 to $400, and unfortunately many insurance policies will not pay for them. (But they will pay for antidepressants that cost that much or more per month or for hospitalization when you’re suicidal. Go figure!)

Light therapy lamp (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

A light therapy box.

Even if you have to pay out of pocket, it’s worth it to get your winters back! Someone asked me, shortly before our move south, why I was moving to Florida. I said, “Because I’m tired of wishing away almost half of my life.” I would start dreading winter by mid-October and wouldn’t really come out of it until some time in April. At that time, light boxes were much more expensive, but looking back, I should have bought one anyway.

Life is too short to spend anymore of it than necessary depressed!

Here are more tips on how to use light therapy effectively from PsychEducation.org.

Does this resonate with you? Do you think you, or someone you know, may have S.A.D.?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Mind & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Part 2

by Kassandra Lamb

PTSD brain

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

There are still some aspects of PTSD that we psychologists can’t fully explain, but there’s a lot that we do now understand. And our more recent discoveries about the brain, that offer those explanations, give me confidence that someday we will have all the explanations.

Here’s a short list of the most common symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  1.  Experienced an event that involved a significant threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
  2.  Recurrent and intrusive thoughts or images of the event and/or flashbacks (acting or feeling as if the event was reoccurring).
  3.  Recurrent nightmares, insomnia.
  4.  Intense distress and physiological arousal when exposed to internal or external cues (triggers) that symbolize or resemble some aspect of the event; avoidance of those triggers.
  5.  Anxiety attacks and/or outbursts of anger.
  6.  Hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response.
  7.  Depression and/or irritability (an early symptom of mild to moderate depression).
  8.  Difficulty concentrating, memory problems.
  9.  Numbing of feelings and/or general responsiveness.
  10.  Inability to recall important aspects of the event (dissociative amnesia).
  11.  Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.

PTSD is the only psychological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the bible of mental health professionals) where the cause of the disorder is listed as one of its criteria for diagnosis. The person has to experience a traumatic event, and it’s not hard to figure out how something that overwhelming would cause intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.

But why #4 and #5? Why such an intense physical and emotional reaction to some minor reminder, that can even lead to a full-blown anxiety attack? Let me repeat the definition of trauma from a previous post: an event so emotionally overwhelming that it cannot be processed emotionally or cognitively at the time that it happens.

The emotions of that event have not yet been processed. They’re stored in the brain in their raw and still quite intense form.

revolving brain

The two hemispheres of the brain color-coded as red; the cerebellum as beige (animated image by -Database Center for Life Science CC-BY-SA-2.1-Japan via Wikimedia Commons)

Also, think back to last week’s post about where things are stored in the brain and what parts of the brain are and are not easily accessed consciously. Negative emotions, mental images, and learned associations are all stored in relatively inaccessible places–in either the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex or the cerebellum.

So it’s difficult sometimes to intentionally bring these memories and emotions back into conscious awareness so that they can be processed and put to rest. But because of learned associations with those “internal and external cues,” it’s all too easy for the intense emotions from the traumatic event to get triggered in day-to-day life.

How does this work? Let me give you an example.

One of my clients experienced a trauma during her childhood while she was standing across the room from a large fan. (For the sake of confidentiality, I won’t go into details.) Later in adulthood, she became phobic of fans. Whenever she saw a moving fan blade, she would have a full-blown, run-screaming-from-the-room anxiety attack. But she had no idea consciously why she had these attacks over something as dumb as a fan (The fan itself had nothing to do with the traumatic event; it was just present in the room.)

The memory of trauma was stored–as images and raw emotions–in her right hemisphere. The learned association (classical conditioning a la Pavlov’s slobbering dogs) between the sight of that fan and those intense emotions was stored in her cerebellum.

The neural impulses that were triggered whenever she saw a fan would look like a big V on the right side of her brain–the image of the fan in the here and now is processed in the right hemisphere, the neural impulse zips down and back to her cerebellum to the learned association, then is flung back up to the right hemisphere to stir up that old memory and its associated feelings.

Voila, anxiety attack. And with little or no awareness in the conscious mind of what was going on (because it tends to be focused mostly on left hemisphere activity, i.e. verbal thoughts).

angry woman

(photo by Lisa Brewster CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Intense anger can also occur with PTSD. This anger is a leftover feeling from the traumatic event. Whenever we feel threatened, anger is part of our response, even if it is trumped by fear at the time. Later, when we are once again in a safe environment, that anger can surface. And it can come out in ways that make it appear (even to the person feeling it) to be about here-and-now events, when it’s really about the past. This can be very destructive to relationships.

I think #6 and #7 are fairly self-explanatory. If something really scary has taken you by surprise in the past, you’re likely to be more on guard all the time, and startle more easily. And struggling with all this would certainly be depressing.

 

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

Up to this point, we have been talking about the intrusive symptoms of PTSD–the ways that this disorder intrudes into and disrupts the person’s life. Numbers 8 through 11 refer to the dissociative symptoms.

The human psyche, like the rest of our internal systems, is designed to help us survive. If something is too emotionally overwhelming, the psyche strives to block it out of awareness.

It may do this by suppressing the feelings, but often it’s not able to just suppress the specific feelings related to the trauma. So all feelings become numbed out to some degree. In the extreme, all or part of the memory of the event may be blocked out. But again this blocking of memory may be more generalized, making it hard to concentrate and remember things in general.

I’ve had several clients who had memory and/or concentration problems that interfered with their schoolwork or jobs. But once certain traumatic events (that their minds were working overtime to suppress) had been processed, they rather suddenly went from C to A students or could now easily remember things (like people’s names) that they’d had great difficulty with in the past.

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

(Note: How the mind blocks out feelings and/or memories is one of those things we don’t yet have an explanation for, but lots of scientific research confirms that this does happen.)

Sometimes that numbing of feelings makes it hard for the person to connect with others. Also, the experiences they’ve had may leave them feeling irrevocably different from most people. Group therapy and support groups are particularly helpful for this symptom, as well as the others.

Besides group support, the most effective therapies for PTSD are the ones that help the person finally process the memories and feelings related to the trauma. Depending on the trauma (and the therapeutic approach used), this can take some time, and it can be painful to relive those feelings. But releasing the emotional charge on those events and putting their meaning into perspective allows the person to move from trauma survivor to getting on with living and thriving.

And here’s an interesting tidbit from the scientific research. In last week’s post, I talked about how memories are stored where they are first processed. Research has found that traumatic memories are stored in the cerebral cortex right next to the emotional parts of the brain (called the limbic system). But after therapy, when those memories have been re-processed, they are now stored further out in the cerebral cortex, away from the emotional limbic system. Concrete proof that the feelings have truly been discharged and the experience of that memory has been changed!

Any thoughts on all this? Do you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or have you struggled with this disorder?

PTSD is on my mind these days because of my new series, About a young woman who trains service dogs for PTSD sufferers. Please take a moment to check out Book 1 in the series, To Kill A Labrador.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

1st Sign of Spring–Not the Robins!

by Kassandra Lamb

There is one HUGE reason why I live in Florida – the winters are mild and very short. Just the other day I experienced the first sign of spring.

For me, it’s not the azaleas starting to bloom–although they do so in Florida at the first hint of warmer days. Nor is it the increase in the song birds in my backyard.

azaleas

The azaleas outside my study window

I know that spring has arrived when I wake up in a good mood, for the first time in weeks!

I liken it to having a mild case of the flu, one where you can stay functional with just a little bit of effort. So you don’t quite realize just how sick you were until you start to feel better.

That’s me in the spring. I don’t realize just how depressed I’ve been all winter until the depression lifts in the spring, and suddenly that crabby mood that I’ve been blaming on other things for the last couple of months is gone. I’m alive again, have energy to do things, and feel pleasure in my accomplishments.

I, like many other people, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, whose acronym, ironically, is S.A.D. I’ve posted about this disorder before, about its cause (less sunlight amping up the production of a hormone called melatonin) and its treatment (light boxes).

But I wanted to comment on it again, as a reminder to folks like myself who have milder cases, especially those up north who are still knee-deep (some of them literally) in winter.

Our depression isn’t always obvious. It takes the form of irritability and a general feeling of malaise. We sleep more, have less energy and eat more. But we won’t necessarily realize what is going on. It’s too subtle, starting gradually in the fall as the daylight hours shorten.

The risk is that we will blame the down feelings on other things. As human beings, we have a natural tendency to look for explanations for our emotions. This can lead us astray in life when the emotions are more motivated by biological changes than life circumstances.

penguins arguing

Crabby penguins arguing (photo by Brocken-Inaglory CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

We may pick fights with our friends or family members or decide we can’t stand our house and want to move.

You know how they say one shouldn’t make big decisions right after a major loss… well, the same applies to S.A.D. sufferers in the winter!

It helps some though, to know what is going on. If you keep reminding yourself that this is not about your life, it’s about the time of year, then you can get through ’til spring a bit easier, and with a lot less wear and tear on your relationships.

And if you’re one of those weird people who likes cold weather, please understand that our dislike of it is not just a preference. It’s a craving for the return of joy and energy!

How about you? Do you hate winter, or like it? Do you think you might have a touch of S.A.D. or do you know someone who does?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Achoo, I Think I’m Coming Down with a Depression

by Kassandra Lamb

Hapci-frDepression is considered to be the “common cold” of mental disorders because it is, well, so common. All of us get at least a little depressed at times.

If you’re thinking, Not me; I never get depressed, then you may have some misconceptions about depression. You don’t have to be extremely sad or down to be considered depressed.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–the bible of mental health professionals–the mandatory symptom required for a diagnosis of depression is a “depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day” OR “markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities.”

In other words, not wanting to do the things you normally want to do is depression.

During the summer of 2002, I spent most of almost every day on my back deck reading mysteries. I had cut my psychotherapy practice back to just a few clients, in anticipation of retiring the following year, and I was only teaching one summer class.

We owned a horse farm at the time, and there were ALWAYS projects that needed doing. Normally I loved projects! And I loved riding horses.

My horse farm in Maryland -- I still miss it (but not the icy winters!)

My horse farm in Maryland required a lot of upkeep. But I loved it! Still miss it (not the icy winters, however 🙂 )

But that summer I only did the projects that were absolutely necessary, and I had to push myself to do those. I rode maybe once every two weeks, and again, had to push myself to do so. My main trail horse ended up foundering, a disease that can be caused, in part, by inadequate exercise!

In September, I went to my doctor–who’d known me for years–for my yearly check-up. I told him how I’d spent the summer. He gave me a worried look. “Kass, you’re depressed.”

I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging open at that point. And yet I knew he was right. How could I have lounged around all summer on my deck without realizing that I was depressed?

Because I hadn’t felt down or sad. I just didn’t want to do anything–which was totally not me. Usually I was full of energy and couldn’t wait to dive into projects.

Another misconception about depression is that it means there is something seriously wrong with you. Nope, normal human beings get depressed on a regular basis. (“Common cold,” remember.)

Depression can be caused by biological and/or psychological factors. People who chronically struggle with depression often have some biological factors operating against them. They may have inherited a tendency toward depression or bipolar disorder or may suffer from hormonal imbalances that affect mood.

The psychological factors can come from a variety of losses, from changes in one’s routine to the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. They can also be related to things from our past that we haven’t yet resolved.

My depression that summer was a combination of biological events. I have a mild case of bipolar disorder (inherited from my father), and I was entering peri-menopause, the period before true menopause when the hormones are all over the place. Often when the depression is more a matter of loss of interest in normal activities rather than a blatantly down mood, it’s biological in nature.

A psychiatrist friend of mine once commented that depression is a disease of fatigue. That is so true!

-Avoid_fatigue_-_Eat_a_lunch_that_packs_a_punch-_-_NARA_-_513896 pub domainAs I’ve aged, I’ve really seen this. Anything that makes me tired puts me at risk of becoming depressed–allergies, a slowed metabolism from a flaky thyroid gland, side effects of medications. You name it–if it slows me down, it depresses me.

So what can we do about this common cold of mental disorders? If it’s related to a loss, we may need to acknowledge the loss and let ourselves grieve (not as easy as it sounds; more on how to do this in our 11/17 post next month). If it’s more biologically caused, we may need medication to combat this.

But keeping the fatigue factor in mind, there are other things we can do. Getting enough sleep eating right, for example. I find that regular exercise also helps to combat the depression. Anything that is a natural stimulant to our system can help.

I’ve had depression on the mind lately because of the book I’ve been writing and editing–Suicidal Suspicions. I worried that it was too dark and, well, depressing. My early readers have reassured me that it isn’t. They tell me that the mystery, subplots, and moments of humor in the story keep it from becoming too heavy.

I hope you agree. Today is its official launch day! And it’s the last day that you can get it for $1.99 (tomorrow it goes up to $3.99).

SuicidalSuspicions FINALSUICIDAL SUSPICIONS, A Kate Huntington Mystery, Book 8

Psychotherapist Kate Huntington is rocked to the core when one of her clients commits suicide. How can this be? The woman, who suffered from bipolar disorder, had been swinging toward a manic state. The client’s family is threatening to sue for malpractice, and Kate can’t fault them since she blames herself. How could she have missed the signs?

Searching for answers for herself and the grieving parents, Kate discovers some details that don’t quite fit. Is it possible the client didn’t take her own life, or is that just wishful thinking? Questioning her professional judgement, and at times her own sanity, she feels compelled to investigate. What she finds stirs up her old ambivalence about the Catholic Church. Is her client’s death somehow related to her childhood parish?

When she senses that someone is following her, she wonders if she is truly losing it. Or is she getting dangerously close to someone’s secrets?

AVAILABLE NOW on Amazon US   Amazon UK   Amazon Canada   Amazon Australia   NOOK   KOBO    APPLE

ALSO PLEASE STOP BACK SATURDAY FOR OUR HALLOWEEN POST (AND THE LAUNCH OF KIRSTEN WEISS’S NEW BOOK)!!

KWeiss_Hermetic_5_25x8_5 72 dpi(Psst! It’s available for PREORDER NOW at AMAZON and KOBO ~ coming soon to B&N)

The Hermetic Detective, A Riga Hayworth Paranormal Mystery

A Monstrous Assassin. A Metaphysical Detective.

Housebound with five-month-old twins, Riga Hayworth just wants to get back in the metaphysical detecting game. But when she’s called to help an elderly woman, haunted and alone, a deadly threat follows Riga home. Can Riga prevent a tragedy and protect her family?

The Hermetic Detective is the seventh and final book in the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mystery novels. Buy this book to finish the epic series today.

 

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and has started a new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries (coming soon).

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

9 Common Errors Authors Make about Psychological Disorders

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

by Kassandra Lamb

Do you get as frustrated as I do when you read something in a novel or short story that you know is just plain wrong?

Today I’m over at Jami Gold’s cyber-home, talking about some common mistakes authors make about psychology. Come on over and check it out!

 

9 Common Errors Authors Make about Psychological Disorders

As a retired psychotherapist, I cringe sometimes when I read inaccurate references to psychological phenomena in fiction. But as an author, I know how hard it is to get every detail right. We can’t all be experts in every field, and I’ve certainly made some cringe-worthy errors in areas outside my own expertise.

Today, I want to correct several misconceptions about psychology and psychological disorders that I’ve seen misrepresented in fiction.

One: Schizophrenia and multiple personalities are NOT the same disorder.

This common mistake is understandable because this misconception is widespread in our society…READ MORE

 

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged – Mourning Robin Williams

by Kassandra Lamb

Almost everyone familiar with Robin Williams’ work is mourning the loss of that talent and the tragic way that his life ended.

His death hit close to home for me for so many reasons. He was just a year older than myself and I spent my early adulthood years laughing at his hit TV show, Mork and Mindy, and at his comic routines on The Tonight Show.

Robin Williams--2007

Robin Williams–2007

But the main thing he and I have in common is Bipolar Disorder. I’m not sure if he ever said in public that he had this disorder, but I’m relatively comfortable making this armchair diagnosis (armchair because although I’m a psychologist, I never met the man in person).

A few days after his death, his wife shared that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This had apparently sent him tailspinning into anxiety and depression. This again hit close to home as a dear friend of mine has PD. And the saddest part of my friend’s experience with this disorder (so far) has been watching this previously calm and upbeat man struggle with the anxiety and depression the disorder has caused.

But back to Bipolar Disorder. This biologically-based psychological disorder is not well understood by the general public, partly because it is not extremely common (1-2% of the population). It is believed to be genetically-transmitted.

Like most diseases, physical and mental, there is a continuum of severity. I, fortunately, have a mild case. Robin Williams had a much more severe case. In my case, the out-of-kilter brain chemistry affects my emotional state. In more severe cases, one’s mood is often almost completely dictated by the brain chemistry. It is not unusual for people with bipolar to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol as they search for a way off this emotional roller coaster.

Most of the time I am mildly manic, which makes me an outgoing and cheerful person. But irritability, a symptom of both depression and mania, lurks close to the surface (ask my family; they’ll be happy to give examples). And if something happens in my life that is depressing, I plummet much faster and further than the average person would.

So I have had a taste of what Robin Williams must have suffered even before his PD diagnosis.

Unfortunately, a few people, shortly after his death was announced, insisted on showing their ignorance of mental disorders and their insensitivity to the man’s family by making obnoxious comments about his decision to kill himself. I can’t answer for Mr. Williams’ decision but I can tell you that if I were diagnosed with PD or some other debilitating illness that would eventually kill me anyway, suicide would certainly cross my mind as an alternative.

depressed woman huddled in a cornerCould I cope with having such an illness–probably if I wasn’t bipolar. But it takes a lot of emotional energy to cope with adversity, especially an adverse situation that you know is only going to get worse, not better. What I might not be able to cope with is that illness plus the depression it would inevitably trigger. Because when one is depressed, emotional energy is nonexistent!

Now before my family totally freaks out, I’m not saying that I would commit suicide, but I can certainly put myself in Robin Williams’ shoes and understand why he did what he did.

I will post more about bipolar disorder at a later date, but right now I need some time to mourn this wonderful man, who brought so much pleasure and laughter into my life and the lives of millions of people around the world!

One of the positives that has come out of this is that so many people are speaking out, sharing their stories and perspectives. Here are a few:

Depression: No Blame No Shame No Stigma – Pirkko Rytkonen

Losing Robin Williams—The Dark Side of Those Who Make Us Laugh – Kristen Lamb (no relation to me)

A good article on Williams and bipolar disorder at Psych Central.

And the man himself on the subject of drugs and sports (warning: foul language and hysterical laughter are involved)

Rest In Peace, Robin Williams. You will be sorely missed!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Do You Experience More Ennui or Joie de Vivre?

This is the second installment in our Just for Fun Friday series on Emotion Words Around the World. And we have hit on what we think is a great prize for the best comment. Whoever comes up with the best story about our emotion word or words of the day will get a free e-book.

Yay! Who’s gonna turn down a free book, right?

Today we explore the deeper meanings of two French terms, ennui and joie de vivre. These may very well be words you’ve heard before, since they are often used in English as well. But just as often something gets lost in their translation.

Ennui is defined in English dictionaries as boredom and listlessness. Well, yeah, but in French it means a bit more than that. It often connotes a certain level of dissatisfaction with life, and maybe even an unwillingness to do anything about being bored. When someone is suffering from ennui they are mired down in a weariness and discontent that may be hard to shake. Indeed, the root of the word, from old French, means annoyance. So there’s a certain amount of low-grade irritability involved. The word is not synonymous with depression, but it is describing the feelings that we often experience when we are mildly depressed.

(photo by Jessica Mullen, CC 2.0 license, Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s contrast ennui with bored:

American teenager (with slouched shoulders and glazed-over look on face): “Mother, I am sooo bored!”

French teenager (with head thrown back, eyes closed, back of hand against forehead): “Maman, j’ai ennui!

American teenager isn’t annoyed so much as she is annoying–to her mother. French teenager, you’re starting to worry she’ll become suicidal. Either that or you want to enroll her in drama school.

Now joie de vivre on the other hand, does translate more directly into English–joy of living. And yet we Americans never say that. We don’t walk around saying, “I’m feeling joy of living today.” But it is okay to say, “I’m full of joie de vivre today.” Why is that?

My best guess is that because we’re not too comfortable with public displays of intense emotions in this country, it is somehow more acceptable to express feeling crazy happy with life via a French expression. That’s okay, because you know those French, they’re an emotional lot.

I’m a fairly intense person (just ask my husband; he’ll be happy to tell you all about my mood swings), so I feel both ennui and joie de vivre a good bit.

For me, ennui is definitely not simple boredom. I rarely experience boredom, except in doctors’ waiting rooms when I forget my kindle. But some days I do have ennui. Not because I have nothing to do; au contraire, I usually have too much to do on those days. And yet I don’t feel like doing any of the things I should be doing. For me, ennui is a vague, itchy-in-my-own-skin restlessness combined with a not-quite-depressed-but-definitely-less-than-happy feeling.

Needless to say, I’m not fond of ennui.

Joie de vivre, on the other hand, is wonderful. It’s chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry on top!

(photo by Zachariah Judy, CC 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

(And nuts. I forgot to mention the nuts! Because what would life be without a few nuts in it, right?)

Even though I’m not a morning person, I most often feel joie de vivre early in the day (maybe because I’m not all that tired yet). And it’s not usually associated with something spectacularly wonderful that’s happening in my life. I most often feel it when I’m driving somewhere in the morning or early afternoon–usually to someplace relatively mundane, like the grocery store or Zumba class. I’ll get this light, bubbly feeling in my chest and I’ll just feel happy to be alive!

How about you? When do you tend to feel either ennui or joie de vivre, and how would you describe your experience of those feelings?

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Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

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Do You get S.A.D. in the Winter?

I hate talking about depression because, well, it’s depressing. But if you’re one of those folks who gets S.A.D. in the winter, or you know someone who does, you may appreciate this post.

I’m talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder, i.e., folks who start getting more and more fatigued and listless for no apparent reason as the days get shorter and grayer.

If you’ve been told that you must have some deep-seated negative association with winter, forget that BS. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a biologically-based depression. It’s caused by a malfunction in a natural phenomenon that occurs in all of us. This natural phenomenon developed through evolution.

In cave-person times (tough to be politically correct when talking about that era), those folks whose metabolisms slowed down in the winter, so they burned fewer calories, were much more likely to survive until spring.They dragged their butts through the winters. But when spring came, they’d come bouncing out of their caves, full of renewed energy now that the sun was bright. Much to the annoyance of their skeletal cave-mates who just barely made it through the first hunt.

photo by Lynn Kelley Author (from WANA Commons, share-alike license) Doing her spring happy dance.

I have a mild case of S.A.D. When I lived in Maryland, I would get increasingly grumpy in the fall. I often wouldn’t realize just how depressed I became during the winter months, until spring came along and I started feeling sooo much better.

It was kind of like a low-grade, chronic case of the flu–one where you don’t realize just how sick you’ve been until you start to get better.

In the winter time, all of us (thanks to that evolutionary tendency inherited from our more wintertime-lethargic, springtime-energetic cave ancestors) have an increase in the release of the hormone, melatonin, from the pineal gland. This hormone regulates our sleep cycles and promotes deep sleep.This increased melatonin release makes us all a little bit less energetic in the winter.

For those with S.A.D., the melatonin levels increase too much, causing more severe fatigue and lethargy. S.A.D. can range from mild cases like mine to people who become severely depressed in the winter.

What can you do about it:

1.  The first thing to do (and this may be enough if you have a very mild case) is go outside as much as possible in the winter, especially on sunny days. Because it is not the cold that triggers S.A.D., it’s the lack of daylight. In my thirties, I started horseback-riding regularly year-round. My S.A.D. got a lot better. It went from a moderate to a mild case.

2.  Light therapy. There are light boxes, and other devices, that simulate sunlight. These are specifically designed to treat S.A.D., although they serve other purposes as well. More on light therapy below.

3.  Move to a southern clime, (or at least winter there, if you’re retired or filthy rich). My S.A.D. is one of the reasons–a major one, in fact–for our move to Florida when my husband and I retired.

More about light therapy boxes:

If you think you have S.A.D. these are a worthwhile purchase. They can change your life. But do your research first to find the best device for your needs. Check out this article from the Mayo Clinic about how to choose a light box. They range from $100 to $400, and unfortunately many insurance policies will not pay for them. (But they will pay for antidepressants that cost that much or more per month or for hospitalization when you’re suicidal. Go figure!)

Light therapy lamp (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

A light therapy box.

Even if you have to pay out of pocket, it’s worth it to get your winters back! Someone asked me, shortly before our move south, why I was moving to Florida. I said, “Because I’m tired of wishing away almost half of my life.” I would start dreading winter by mid-October and wouldn’t really come out of it until some time in April. At that time, light boxes were much more expensive, but looking back, I should have bought one anyway.

Life is too short to spend anymore of it than necessary depressed!

Here are more tips on how to use light therapy effectively from PsychEducation.org.

Does this resonate with you? Do you think you, or someone you know, may have S.A.D.?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!