Game of Thrones viewers, all 8 million of them, know that no words are as ominous as “Winter is Coming”.
Today is the first day of October. Winter is still many weeks away. But I have felt the first hint of chill in the air, and winter is coming. I, and other people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, know just how forbidding those words are. Research in the 80’s first uncovered SAD, a mood disorder that is far more debilitating than the average “winter blues”. This discovery made instinctive sense to a lot of people. After all, except in the tropics, winter has historically been a difficult time, a time when people struggled to survive. Even now, insulated in the warmth of our modern-day homes, it is normal, by the time March rolls around, to be completely over the wonder of a white winter and be longing for spring.
The oldest metaphors for winter are metaphors of loss, abandonment and retreat
Interestingly, a study published in the Scientific American last March finds that SAD may not actually exist. The original research had asked people questions specifically about winter, and its effect on their moods. It also focused on people who actually complained ahead of time about winter affecting them negatively. This might have led to a confirmation bias — results affected by what you expect the results to be. The new surveys asked people general depression screening questions, without mentioning anything about the season. This was done at different times of the year, and the researchers found no seasonal variation in the results.
If you suffer from SAD, your disorder is probably as real to you as the electronic screen in front of you right now. You will almost certainly be sure that this new study is flawed. And perhaps it is. But perhaps you can take this study as a good omen, and this year, contemplate without fear that Winter is Coming.