Pretty perfect description of severe seasonal affective disorder

Q: I am not a phsician but I am a scientist and keen observer. Over many years of marriage, I came to realize that something was wrong with my husband. His symptoms begin in the fall, around Thanksgiving or early December and last until approximately the second week in March. Some years, he sleeps and eats a lot and becomes quiet and non-communicative and the symptoms never become worse. At about ten year cycles, his symptoms would include moving out (he has done so twice and is preparing to go for the third time), he is forgetful, easily irritated, takes offense at small things that would not normally bother him, disappears for several days at a time, sleeps a lot, arguemenative, or does not speak for weeks or months at a time (not an exageration). Although he has never hit me, the emotional abuse is devastating to me. There seems to be this rage that is directed at only me. There is a strong history of family mental illnesses (14 closely related family members) and by my count, 5 attempted suicides by siblings and other blood relatives. I have tried to convince him to get counseling and help but there is no concession on his part that something is wrong. From mid March until late November, he is as kind and gentle a person as God ever created, but for 4 months out of the year, he is a bear to live with.

Dear Phyllis -- Quick, read about seasonal affective disorder (SAD):

Learn a lot about light boxes and "dawn simulators", so you'll be prepared for next winter!  It's almost too late this year to tell for sure if "it's working", there's getting to be enough sun again.  To your great relief, I'm sure...

There could be a few other "diagnoses" to consider, but this one sticks out far beyond the rest.  Get him to a psychiatrist who knows about seasonal affective disorder to rule out the other possibilities, which include bipolar disorders (particularly if the light box doesn't solve the problem!).

Dr. Phelps

Published February, 2001