SAD story: 'Aussie sun changed my dad from grumpy to happy'
Arriving in Australia by migrant ship, a bewildered 11-year-old Beverley Bunting stared in amazement at the man greeting her and her mother.
He looked like her dad but his face and behaviour were completely different and he no longer looked like the grumpy and bad tempered man she was accustomed to growing up with.
Beverley, now 63, recalls: “My dad suffered badly with Seasonal Affective Disorder - although at the time, we did not know that’s what it was.
“It is only now years later that I can look back and realise how SAD affected my childhood and family life.
“My dad was always grumpy and I hardly every remember him smiling.
“He was an electrical engineer and travelled a lot and his job was very demanding.
“He slept a lot and would come home from work and go to sleep. He didn’t want to do anything at weekends and wasn’t sociable and did not want to do family things.
“I am an only child and I remember my dad always seemed low and down, but he was a lot worse in the winter.
“Then one day, I remember him coming home from work after travelling five hours in the thick fog.
“He said to my mum: ‘I can’t spend the next 25 years until I retire doing this. We have to do something.’
“It was then that he decided he wanted us to move to Australia.”
Beverley’s dad Ernest travelled to Australia alone to see what is was like and get settled with a job and place to live before sending for Beverley and her mother three months later.
Beverley remembers: “When I first saw him, I could not believe the difference in him.
“He was smiling and his whole face and eyes looked happy and he had a suntan.
“It is difficult to explain, but his whole demeanour had changed. I thought: ‘Who is this man?’ as although he looked like my dad, his behaviour was completely different.
“He loved Australia and the climate out there and as a result, he became a completely different person.
“His personality changed. He became more fun and wanted to visit places and be in the outdoors.
“The sunshine of Australia made such a difference to my dad.
“Looking back now, I realise my dad must have suffered terribly with SAD but in those days, no one knew what it was.
“Mental health is still a difficult issue for people to talk about but many years ago, people wouldn’t own up to feeling that way.
“My dad was very instrumental in my understanding of the condition.”
Beverley spent the next decade basking in the Australian sunshine and enjoying life out there.
However, in 1974 at the age of 21, she returned to the UK for a holiday to visit relatives and ended up staying longer as she met up with some Australian friends who invited her to move into a flat with them.
Beverley then met husband Philip - and ended up living in England again for good. Three years later, the couple married.
Beverley began feeling tired and lethargic and in the first six months of returning to England, she put on one and a half stones in weight and felt miserable and homesick for Australia.
Beverley also craved carbohydrate foods and lacked the energy to do anything.
For the next 20 years, she struggled every winter without really knowing what it was. But during the summer months, she would be fine.
Beverley explained: “I felt very low and depressed in winter and tired all the time.
“Looking back, I realise I must have suffered from SAD as a child as I always hated winter and felt down and poorly during these months.
“For years, I struggled without really knowing what it was.
“Philip and I had twin daughters and then another daughter and I tried to hide the way I felt from everyone else and carry on.”
Beverley, who lives in Southport with husband Philip, finally discovered she had Seasonal Affective Disorder when Philip, a pharmacist, read an article about light therapy in a medical journal and came home with a lightbox in 1995.
Beverley says: “I read the leaflet with the lightbox and it listed all the symptoms of SAD and I thought ‘that’s exactly how I feel!’
“People with SAD are usually told that it can take a week to two weeks for the effects to take place.
“But for me, it was instantaneous.
“Using the lightbox was like sunshine and it was as if a dark cloud had been lifted.
“It made me feel wonderful and lifted my mood and made the tiredness disappear.
“I felt so much better.”
Beverley explains it is not the cold of winter months that bothers her, but the darkness and dreariness.
Buoyed by the success of lightbox therapy on herself, Beverley and Philip decided to set up a business renting out lightboxes for people with similar experiences and worked from home for 10 years.
They now have The Sad Light Hire Company based on Stanley Street, Southport.
Beverley retired last year, but the shop is now run by her daughter Lora and husband Philip.
Beverley, who has twin daughters Lora and Kerris, 33, and younger daughter Rebekah, 27, says her children have all struggled with SAD at some point during their lives.
She says: “They were all more temperamental in the winter and always got ill at this time.
“I used lightboxes on them and it helped them.
“Luckily, none of them had it as bad as me.”
Beverley says there is a lot more recognition of SAD now and most people have now heard of it.
She says: “After realising I had SAD and because of the way I suffered with it, I can now understand why my dad was the way he was.
“He loved living out in Australia and only came back to the UK once after 14 years in 1978 for my wedding.
“He told me then: ‘I’m never coming back again’ and he never did. He died in 1990.
“My mum lived in Australia for 35 years and came back to the UK in 1998 and died six years ago.
“Lightboxes are quite expensive to buy, so with our business, we rent them out so people can try them and see if it works for them.
“I still suffer from SAD now, but now know the telltale signs so I can stop it before it starts and I am still using a lightbox.”
• For more information on the Sad Light Hire Company, visit: www.sad-lighthire.co.uk or call 01704 500505
SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER SYMTOMS
•Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of winter depression that affects sufferers every winter between September and April - particularly during November, December, January and February.
•It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter
•For around 21 per cent of the population, SAD is a debilitating condition causing discomfort but not severe suffering called sub-syndromal SAD or “Winter Blues”
•For a further eight per cent of people, SAD is a psychiatric disorder and seriously disabling illness preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment
•A diagnosis of SAD can be made after three or more consecutive winters of symptoms which include the following:
•Sleep problems - A desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake; disturbed sleep and early morning awakening
•Lethargy: Feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine
•Overeating - Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods usually resulting in weight gain
•Depression: Feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem; hopelessness and despair, apathy and loss of feelings
•Social problems: Irritability and desire to avoid social contact
•Anxiety: Tension and inability to tolerate stress
•Loss of libido: Decreased interest in sex and physical contact
•Mood changes: Extremes of mood and short periods of hypomania (overactivity) in spring and autumn