JOE LAGUARDIA: God can help you cope with the winter blues

Joe LaGuardia

Joe LaGuardia

Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes according to tradition, once wrote that all is vain in the world: “Vanity of vanities. What profit has a man from all his labor… one generation passes away, and another generations comes?” (1:2-4)

Scholars debate whether Solomon’s book is a record of his bouts with depression. With poetry that wavers between pithy wisdom and moody, melancholy reflections, I have always wondered the same.

We Christians have always wrestled with the causes and prognoses of melancholy and depression. Some say we get depressed because we lack faith, while others contend its a natural part of figuring out life.

I like to think that Ecclesiastes was placed right in the middle of the Bible to help us get past these musings and acknowledge that people, Christian or not, struggle with feelings that are hard to understand and manage, especially for those who face seasonal depression when dark days of winter hit.

Over 12 years ago, I didn’t realize how widespread seasonal depression. I moved here from Florida, so I didn’t know such a thing existed.

In the first year we moved to Atlanta, there was a snowstorm. My wife and I took pictures of our snow-covered cars for family in Florida. It was really fun.

The seasons changed, and I appreciated all that God had to offer in creation. During the second or third year here, however, I started to feel different in the winter time.

I believe it was the dead winter of 2004 that I went to a friend to tell her that I had feelings of isolation and depression that I had never felt before in my life. She recommended a therapist, and I went with great results.

Spring came, and I recovered quite well from the whole ordeal. Our first child had her first birthday. Things moved right along.

Then, when winter hit again the following year, those same feelings erupted. I became lethargic; I gained weight. Although my withdrawal wasn’t as severe as the previous winter, I definitely felt different.

I noticed a pattern. Winter came and I would get severe mood swings. Finally, when one winter in 2010 proved mild and I still got melancholy, I got scared: spring came along, but I never recovered.

I was burned out, and my family noticed a difference. My best friend told me that I seemed depressed to him, and he mentioned on more than one occasion that I was always the life of the party, what had happened?

I realized that I was no different than roughly 6 percent of the U.S. population that struggles with what many doctors call Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. (During harsh winters, that percentage can get as high as 20 percent of a regional population.)

SAD is common among people who face harsh winters or, in the least, winters in which very little sunlight is available. It can be a symptom of mild depression on the one hand or, in severe cases, bipolar emotional disorder or chronic depression on the other hand.

The more I acknowledged my own wrestling match with this illness, the more I opened up about it with folks at church. Turns out I wasn’t alone: By the time March hit, I gathered an informal small support system of like-minded people who also faced depression during the winter season.

We inquire about our health every so often. We send encouraging texts and emails (especially on overcast days). We share resources, we laugh and commiserate together.

If you struggle with depression or SAD, you are not alone. There is hope in God and in the solace of others: Although “sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b).

I encourage you to seek help, speak with a trusted counselor, doctor or therapist, and hang in there.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinityassociate@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.