The Pros and Cons of Winter

I love every season but by the end of it, I’m always ready for the next one. But, as a neurodivergent person with multiple physical and mental health conditions, different seasons present both different excitements and different challenges. With winter around the corner, I thought I’d share some of the good things and some of the difficult things, along with how I’m learning to cope with the difficult things. This list is, of course, specific to me and my location so it’s not going to match everyone’s experience but hopefully they’ll be something useful to you in here, even if your experience of the season isn’t the same as mine.


PROS:

  • The sensory experience – I think winter is my favourite season as a sensory experience. I love the crispness of the air; I love looking at all of the beautiful lights and pretty Christmas decorations; I love the smells associated with winter and Christmas (in my house, at least), like satsumas, the meals we generally only have in winter, the super sweet smells of sugary puddings and sweets, Christmas trees, and so on; the sight, sound, smell, and warmth of a fire. There are, of course, downsides, like busy shops and blaring Christmas carols but, over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding those things.
  • Fires in the evening – My Mum and I both love having a fire to end the day, like a little treat for ourselves. As I said above, I love the sensory experience and we both find it a really good destresser. One of our favourite things about this house is the gorgeous fireplace and every year, we both get really excited about having fires again.
  • Potential for snow – I love snow. It makes me so happy: watching it fall, standing in it as it falls, how beautiful it looks first thing before anyone has disturbed it, the way it crunches when you walk through it, watching the cats try to make sense of it, and so on. And because we get it so rarely, it’s always special. No, it’s not guaranteed but I still enjoy being excited about the possibility.
  • Christmas – I struggled with Christmas in my late teens and early twenties, which I think was largely to do with how much I was struggling with my mental health and ASD. But as I’ve gained a greater understanding of the long-term issues I deal with and talked about them with my family, Christmas has become much more relaxed and enjoyable. They’ve been fantastic at working with me so that I can do the parts that I really enjoy and not do the parts that I struggle with. It’s become such a better holiday since then. I see friends and family (COVID depending, obviously), spend warm and relaxed evenings with my favourite people, get a Christmas tree and decorate it with the decorations my family have been collecting for years, not feel guilty (or at least feel less guilty) about doing things I don’t usually feel like I have time for (like reading books or watching movies all day), exchange presents, and so on. We’ve found a way to make it a really special, enjoyable time.
  • The cats spend more time inside – With the colder weather, my cats (whose presence I find very soothing) spend most of the day inside when, in the summer, they spend almost all of their time outside. So having them around more is lovely. They’re usually in the living room with me, curled up on the cat tree or sprawled across the furniture, or, even better, snuggled up with me on the sofa. They’re gorgeous and it’s one of my favourite things about winter.

CONS:

  • The cold – I hate being cold. You can usually find me in a big jumper or wrapped in a blanket. I’m often cold in the summer so it’s even harder to stay warm in the winter. I’m super grateful for the heating, the fire, my electric blanket, and so on.
  • Managing temperature – I really struggle with temperature regulation. I get hot or cold really quickly but then it can take hours to return to normal (and then it can suddenly jump to the other extreme). And going from really cold outside to really warm inside can just make that even more tricky. Layering helps but only to a certain extent. I have been doing some research and there are brands that make clothes to help with this so I really want to investigate these as I can afford it. (x)
  • Different fabrics – Clothes for cold weather can cause sensory difficulties. They can be bulky, heavy, itchy, and so on, as well as making me feel claustrophobic and trapped in my own clothes, which can cause a lot of anxiety. As I said above, I tend to do a lot of layering with the clothes I’m comfortable in but that isn’t a fix all. I’m still looking for a coat that doesn’t stress me out and I really hate wearing gloves. But I’m still trying to find the best option.
  • Ice – I might love snow but the amount of ice around in winter can be pretty perilous. And between my less than perfect balance and my chronic pain making me somewhat unstable, I do worry that every step could disappear underneath me and land me on cold, hard pavements with painful consequences. Given how bad my pain has been recently, a fall could be very painful and that pain could linger for quite a while.
  • More difficult to meet friends – Especially with COVID in the mix, I find it much harder to meet up and hang out with my friends in the colder months. It’s so much easier (and cheaper) when we can hang out in a park or on the beach or something like that, plus it feels safer considering the times we’re currently living in. But finding somewhere to hang out inside poses certain challenges, like COVID anxiety, meeting everyone’s dietary needs, the costs of hanging out in a cafe for example for an extended period, and so on. It’s just that bit more complicated and harder to organise and I find that plans often get pushed back again and again. So I often end up seeing my friends less in winter which makes me sad.
  • Feeling sealed inside – In an attempt to keep the heat in and save money on the heating, we keep the windows and doors closed as much as we can. And while that does the job we’re trying to do, the side effect is that I often feel a bit claustrophobic, like I’m sealed into my house with only the same air circulating (obviously this isn’t scientifically true or I would’ve suffocated long ago). And that feeling really stresses me out. Mum has taken to leaving the windows cracked open at night to get some fresh air in, which does help, but the feeling does still start to creep in by the end of the day. So I’m still working on that.
  • Less light, more darkness – While I like how cozy the house feels when it gets dark early, I do sometimes find it stressful; it feels like the day is actually shorter and I have less time to get done everything I need to do. Plus, autistic individuals are often low in Vitamin D so with fewer daylight hours than usual, that can become a bigger problem. I’m already low in Vitamin D so I take a supplement prescribed by my doctor to avoid a serious deficiency that could cause health problems.

I don’t know if this is helpful but when I sat down to do some research for this post – to see what other autistic/neurodivergent individuals find good and difficult about winter – I couldn’t find anything for autistic adults. Everything I found was directed at parents helping their children to adjust to the change in season but that doesn’t just go away as we grow up, although the challenges might change. So, since I couldn’t find a single post or article relating to adults, I felt it was all the more important to write something on the subject. So I hope this has been helpful in some way. Let me know what you would include on your list or how you manage the seasonal change!

Experimenting With A SAD Lamp

Before I knew about my vitamin D deficiency, I was obviously aware of how tired I was, even moreso than usual. Since I’d also been struggling with my mental health, I thought I’d try out a SAD Lamp to see if it could help with my depression and my low energy levels. Since we were going into winter, a notoriously difficult time of year for people who struggle with their mood, I thought that if there was ever a time to try it out, it would be now.

I must make it clear that you should never use a SAD Lamp without approval from your doctor, as the effects can have a negative interaction with certain medications or a detrimental effect on your eyes depending on your prescription and history. So please, please don’t simply try it out without the advice of your doctor.


I kept notes throughout the eight weeks I experimented with the lamp, in order to keep track of what I tried and how I felt throughout the period. I followed all the instructions, tried different intensities and different lengths of time; I researched what others had found helpful and how long it had taken for them to feel the effects.

Nothing I tried made any difference. I’m as sure as I can be that I gave each different experiment enough time for me to feel some kind of effect but it didn’t seem to help at all. I was just as tired and just as low. During this time, I started taking the vitamin D supplements and when those started to take effect, I gave up my experiments since I didn’t know what else to try. The supplements seem to be helping so I’m content with that, even if it was frustrating that the SAD Lamp hadn’t helped.


I don’t want to discourage people from trying SAD Lamps. I have friends who’ve found them helpful and I’ve read many positive accounts so there’s definitely proof that they can improve things for people. But apparently it’s not for me, at this particular moment at least.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Back in October 2020, I had a long overdue blood test. I think it was actually supposed to be the test that told us whether I’d absorbed and responded properly to the iron infusion I’d had in June 2019 but with starting the Masters and then the pandemic, it had only just become possible.

Going out and going to the Doctors’ Surgery did cause me a lot of anxiety – I’m still struggling with going out and with feeling very vulnerable when I’m out – but the appointment felt very safe and very efficient. I was probably in and out in less than ten minutes. About a week later, we got the results back and my iron was within the normal range. So all good there. However, my Vitamin D levels were seriously low, so low that they wanted to take immediate action. I was prescribed Colecalciferol, a prescription Vitamin D supplement, and instructed to take one a day for ten weeks.

It wasn’t surprising to hear that my vitamin D was low. It’s not uncommon for autistic individuals to have low vitamin D levels and with the pandemic and lockdown, I was staying inside a lot more and therefore not getting as much sunlight as usual, let alone the sunlight I needed. So I wasn’t shocked. I was pretty wary about taking supplements though: my last attempt with supplements had rendered the anti-depressants I was taking at the time completely ineffective, leaving me in a deep, dark hole of depression. Even though I stopped taking the supplements immediately, the anti-depressants never worked again. So I was concerned that something similar might happen again and I’d lose the only consistent (and I use that word loosely) anti-depressant I had in my toolbox. But my doctor explained just how important it was to get my vitamin D up and despite my anxiety, I committed to taking them.


For the first three weeks, I didn’t feel any different. My sleep was as sporadic as ever and I was constantly tired, something that is very much linked with my anti-depressant medication but is also a symptom of a vitamin D deficiency. Week four passed and I still didn’t feel any change but my Mum felt that there had been a slight shift, in my day to day behaviour and my engagement in whatever I was doing. She couldn’t quantify or qualify it any more than that but she did have a feeling that something was slightly different. I was reluctant to believe her, not feeling it myself.

Weeks five and six were tough: I was constantly exhausted and incredibly depressed, although it wasn’t always noticeable, covered up by anxiety-induced busyness. I was sleeping a lot but I was still tired but by the end of that sixth week, I was starting to wonder if I felt different. It’s just so freaking difficult to tell when the change you’re watching out for is so gradual. I wasn’t sure, just cautiously optimistic.

I’d been instructed to go back to the doctors’ surgery for another blood test between four and six weeks to see how I was responding to the supplement. It was closer to six weeks given some difficulty getting an appointment but when it finally happened, it was quick and efficient, just like the first appointment.

During what was the seventh week of this period, I was still tired and sleepy but again, I was starting to think that it wasn’t quite as bad as it had been. It wasn’t drastically better but I did feel a slight – intangible, I guess – difference. But week eight gave me a real sign that things were changing. I was still fatigued easily, still had days where I was really sleepy but I suddenly noticed that I wasn’t needing to drink as much Red Bull as I had been. Ever since I started this round of anti-depressants, I’ve been relying on Red Bull to keep me awake during the day and when the vitamin D first showed up as  problem, I was probably drinking three a day – more when I was commuting to university (and yes, I’m aware that this isn’t healthy and have a plan with my psychiatrist to address it, although that has been derailed somewhat by the pandemic). But during week eight, I realised that I was getting through the day on one, sometimes less. Still not super healthy, yes, but a really good step in the right direction. And if I wasn’t feeling like I needed them as much to stay awake, then I had to assume that my energy levels were improving, to some degree at least.

When the blood test results came back, they showed that my vitamin D levels were back within the normal range but still pretty low so my doctor wrote me a new prescription for the rest of the winter with potential for extending it throughout the duration of the pandemic. I’m grateful for that; it’s one worry off my mind at least.


My energy levels still aren’t great. But getting my vitamin D levels under control was never going to be ‘the fix.’ Fatigue is a constant in my life, between my anti-depressants, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and other health (physical and mental) problems. But that doesn’t mean I can’t improve my situation. Getting my vitamin D levels back up has helped, hopefully hydrotherapy will help, perhaps the next anti-depressant won’t have such bad side effects (whenever I have time to try a new one – mid-Masters isn’t exactly the perfect time, especially having just reached the modules I’ve been most excited for). Sometimes I need to rage and cry about the pretty constant tiredness, but most of the time I can look forward and focus on the next thing that could help.