My brain needs sun.

I wrote the following for MamaNook, where I’m a contributing editor.

There are many reasons why returning to standard time is the worst thing about fall.

“Falling back” an hour can disrupt all members of the family, especially causing a frustrating shift in naptimes and bedtimes for the youngsters. For me, the few hours between sundown and my husband getting home from work feel especially heavy.

It’s getting dark! He should be home by now! Bedtime’s soon! But it’s only 4 p.m., and I still have to make dinner, tidy the kitchen, read several books, bathe my three kids if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, and get all of them to sleep. It’s confusing because the darkness usually means my mommy shift is almost over (spoiler alert: it’s never over!).

This is my sixth “falling back” time change as a mother, and it’s the first to really, truly affect me emotionally.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that usually starts in the late fall or early winter — it’s related to the lack of sunlight available during the shorter days. People who already suffer from depression are more likely to be affected, and it tends to alleviate in the spring.

I spent the week after the time change miserable. I didn’t connect all the dots immediately because there were other stressful factors at play: my husband had a few rough days at work that had him worried, my 1-year-old is in a superbly clingy phase, and kiddo sickness had kept me away from necessary adult interaction.

The whole week was a slow decline in my ability to cope with normal, everyday frustrations. Instead of giving a heavy sigh, I’d get teary-eyed. My patience for my young children’s shenanigans was running low. I needed a break in a big way, but didn’t want to ask for one. I was embarrassed.

Finally, I opened my mouth and an emotional breakdown spilled out. My husband had no idea — I’ve become pretty skilled at and talented at hiding my mental health struggles, including three cases of Postpartum Depression — and he felt really bad. Like, really bad. Which made me feel worse.

That night, I took myself out for a drive-thru dinner and cried in the parking lot about nothing in particular. I was just sad. Life felt so heavy. Why, though? What was so bad about my life?

Then it dawned on me. That darn lack of sunshine!

Don’t underestimate how much it could affect you. In fact, when my midwife prescribed Zoloft for my PPD, she said very clearly: do not stop taking this medication abruptly, and do not plan to stop in the winter. SAD is real, and it’s exactly how it sounds. Sad.

My first course of action, besides admitting I’m struggling and asking for help, is taking Vitamin D. Sun exposure is an easy way to get Vitamin D, but that’s pretty rare in the rainy, cloudy Pacific Northwest autumn that I’m accustomed to. I know I personally should be taking supplements year-round, but when my bottle ran low several months ago, replacing it slipped through the cracks of motherhood’s many responsibilities and I never got more.

Other natural remedies to consider include diffusing some essential oils: sweet orange and peppermint tend to perk me up! And so does a spritz of Sunshine Spray.

Next, I want to spend more time outside, even if the weather’s cruddy. If I can’t get real, legit sunshine, I at least want fresh air. My kids do, too!

If my depression worsens as the days get shorter through next month, I plan to reach out to my midwife for advice and a potential dosage increase.

This is no way to live. My family needs more from me, and I deserve to have energy, interest in fun activities, and hope as opposed to hopelessness.

And you bet I’ll be counting down the days until Daylight Saving Time returns on March 11.

From Mayo Clinic:

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide