Advice

My girlfriend struggles with seasonal depression and I’m already dreading her dread. What can I do to help?

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

Winter seems to have arrived here in Anchorage and my girlfriend is already expressing some of her annual seasonal depression. It’s not just about snow, darkness and cold, but ice on the streets, windstorms, the end of summer activities, you name it. The whole thing creates levels of stress, anxiety and just puts an overall morose vibe over her life, which puts the same vibe over our lives together. She’s just not her usual positive, sweet, energetic self.

To her credit, she’s tried just about everything. SAD lights and tanning beds, melatonin, cooking at home or going out with me and her friends more often. She’s even bundled up and tried running and hiking like we do in the summer months. But nothing seems to stick very long and certainly nothing has really turned the tide. She never quite snaps out of it and it makes our already long winters really long. Oddly, she does not want to move out of Alaska — her family is here and they mean the world to her. Though they aren’t very helpful — she’s been this way her whole life and they just chalk it up to her being her.

I feel bad because I’m not sure what to do or how to help other than listen and cuddle to keep her warm. I also feel a little bad because I actually enjoy winter — I love the quiet, secluded trails for runs, hikes and skis. I also don’t mind the cold and dark — I just dress for it and keep moving.

Anyway, heading into our fourth winter together I’m dreading her dread, the helpless feeling of coming up empty on everything we try, and the fact that I’ll spend a lot of time doing things by myself if I want to stay active. Do you have any suggestions that we’ve overlooked or might help get us through a happier, healthier winter together?

Wanda says:

Alaska winters break many a would-be resident, with the oppressive darkness and conquering cold temperatures. Some people — Wayne raises his hand — adore the snow and all its accompanying activities; many of the rest of us have to work a little harder to enjoy its charms.

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My advice: together, get a move on, but I don’t mean exercise and workouts — although that’s fine, too. What I mean is, leave home. Do a spa weekend in Girdwood. Rent a cozy wood stove-heated public use cabin. Book a trip to Hawaii — or if that’s out of your price range and logistical reality, try Phoenix! By changing environments, either near or far from home, you’re mixing up the monotony of those long winter nights and despairingly cold temperatures, and embracing a new environment that is both distracting and entertaining. And having excursions to look forward to does help the time pass.

Can’t afford Hawaii? Surprise your sweetheart with a slice of summer, right here in our hometown. The Municipality of Anchorage operates the Mann Leiser Memorial Greenhouse complex at Russian Jack Park, and that includes an open-to-the-public tropical greenhouse with all kinds of plants, a koi pond — and warmth! This is a great spot to visit for a picnic lunch in winter or a leisurely stroll around the sprawling space to appreciate the colorful blooms, leafy palms and exotic cacti.

Wayne says:

Frosty as charged — I do love Alaska winters! You know who else does? My dogs. And maybe, just maybe, a fun and furry, cute and cuddly canine companion is just what your partner needs to make winter, and life year-round, a little less heavy and a lot more tolerable.

Adopting a dog, or fostering a dog in transit, will create new routines for you and your girlfriend that simply can’t be skipped. Tough to stay in a slump when someone is relying on you. Together, you’ll care for them, from feeding to exercising, petting and chatting. And when dogs are well-cared for, they offer back wagging tails, cheesy grins and spins, and couch cuddles, which can cheer up, and warm up, anyone. Dogs, and pets in general, have a way of making you be in the moment more often, too, which is a nice piece of priceless peace with all the distractions in our lives these days.

Want to feel even better? Many dogs need you two a lot more than you need them. There are hundreds of dogs across Alaska waiting to be adopted, fostered or rehomed. Take in a young one if you want to stay busy and have that play hard, crash hard energy in your life. Adopt an older dog and give them their best life at a slower pace. Whatever you choose, they’ll likely appreciate and reciprocate the love you give them.

Getting a dog together can also be a relationship level-up, for what that’s worth. Is a dog a super-salve for her winter blues, though? Of course not. But it is one thing you haven’t tried yet and it couldn’t hurt. Take a chance on a foster for a few winter weeks and find out.

Wayne and Wanda

Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and been to therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at wanda@adn.com.

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