Archives for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Yesterday, I wrote this: a post about how it's okay to feel crummy sometimes. It's okay to feel crummy and to write about feeling crummy. In a way, I was responding to commenter Reader547 when s/he left this message on a recent post about how I was feeling the post-holiday blues: “While it is all too true that the lights come down and everything is put away in January, I feel the writer has no helpful perspective in her article on how people can think differently about it all! How about trying to view January as a “new start into the fresh and unknown future”? Now, I'm back -- to explain my rationale for refusing to tie a shiny bow around my woes.
I love my blog readers. (Hey, that's you!) I read each and every one of your comments -- even though I don't always reply to each one. Your comments are very meaningful to me -- I empathize with your stories of shared suffering and shared recovery. I truly love reading them -- they make me feel far less alone! One recent comment on my blog post called "The Post-Holiday Slump: The Presence Of An Absence", became a bit "stickier" than most -- and I found myself thinking about it quite a bit over the past 24 hours. The blog post was about how January and February basically suck and feel super dreary in comparison to the brightness and happiness of the Christmas season. Putting away the tree and the lights creates a weird void in not only my living room (where the tree stood), but also in my gut. The commenter pointed out my lack of positivity.
Some people find the holidays to be depressing. And I can easily see why -- there's plenty of "family" this, "family" that, and if you've lost a loved one recently, the holidays can sting. I, on the other hand, fall into the post-holiday slump. I mean, let's face it: the Christmas season is the most exciting part of winter, no? There are decorations and family and trees, and ornaments and lights and cookies -- and it's early enough in the winter that people are still excited about snow. Snow! Snow. It's like this novel thing in December. All the kids are collectively hopeful for a white Christmas, and I don't think most adults would mind (too) much. You put up the tree, you put up the lights. You get single lines of Christmas songs stuck in your head for days ("...from Atlantic to Pacific; gee, the traffic is terrific...") You wrap the presents, perhaps in a single marathon-style sitting, bitching about the stupid Scotch tape getting stuck to the carpet or about how the paper is so damn thin that you can practically see the title of the book you've just wrapped right through the paper. But still, you don't mind. Something about life feels warm even though the world outdoors is bitter and cold. Then, the 25th rolls around. And in the wink of Santa's eye, it's suddenly December 26th -- just another day.
"But you don't look sick." Yeah. I've heard that one before. Have you? There's migraine. Fibromyalgia. Lupus. The pain and autoimmune problems aren't immediately visible. Within the mental health spectrum, there's panic disorder. There's depression. There's bipolar disorder, PTSD, and OCD. It's not easy for others to visually see our suffering. But just because an illness isn't showing doesn't mean it's not legitimate! THIS STUFF IS FOR REAL When I have a bad migraine, the only overt evidence of my suffering is the pair of sunglasses I'm probably wearing indoors. Also, I tend to walk very lightly on my tiptoes in a futile attempt to suppress the gnawing, throbbing, and stabbing pain on the right side of my skull. But a big pair of sunglasses coupled with a delicate walk? I look more like some cross between a drunk ballerina and a celebrity-in-hiding. I don't look like I'm suffering. It's the same thing with panic: if I have an attack in the middle of the grocery store, there's no good visual indicator that I'm suffering. Sure, I'll probably abandon my cart and walk quickly toward the exit -- but how does that make me different than any other woman who has forgotten her wallet in the car?
I am typing this blog post outside on my deck. The temperature? 74 degrees. The scenery? A backyard tree that's bursting with baby leaves, a just-about-to-flower rhododendron bush in a terra cotta pot, and a cloudless and sunny sky that's got me smiling. The sounds? Wind chimes, a few birds, and some kids yelling and playing soccer down the street. It is unmistakeably springtime. Winter has been long and unforgiving for many of us. For me (and perhaps you), it's also been a time of great anxiety. The short days, the lack of sunlight, the bitter cold...everything about winter serves to shut us indoors, it seems, and away from our natural world. But it's finally time to emerge from those fluorescent-lit caves that we call home during the coldest months. It's time to get back outside and reconnect with nature after avoiding it for so long. Here are a few ideas to get yourself in sync with our natural world again:
Today, I slept until 10:40 am. Oops. At the moment, I don't have a steady 9-to-5 gig, so the consequences of sleeping too late aren't financial. They're just annoyingly...biological. You see, I've been diligently trying to train my body to wake up earlier. I have this wonderful soon-to-be-husband with whom I'd like to sync sleep cycles. Last night, he went to bed at 9 pm so he could wake up at 6 am for work. Five hours later, after organizing my counter, putting away dishes, and listening to a few podcasts, I finally settled down to sleep at about 2 am. I want to be a morning person. I really do. In fact, I blabbed enough in December about wanting to be a morning person that my fiancé bought me the Philips Wake-Up Light for Christmas. It's this nifty little bedside alarm clock that slowly lights up like a sunrise. A half hour before your programmed wake-up time, the light glows dimly. Then, each minute, it kicks itself up a notch. When your alarm finally comes on (buzzing or bird sounds, in my model's case), the now-bright light should make it easier for you to rouse yourself from sleep. Should. Should.
I won't lie: I've never followed through on a single New Year's resolution. Despite having promised myself many times, I've never started exercising consistently. I've never followed up and joined a gym. I've never started reading more novels. I've never done this; I've never done that. I guess I'm not one for resolutions. They're big. They're bulky. They're heavy. Even though "resolution" is an abstract concept, it carries weight. It carries mass. And I get overwhelmed just thinking about the gravity of creating one. Now, let me be clear: I've definitely dropped bad habits before. I've also picked up good habits. But it happened in July. And September. And March. It happens when I'm truly motivated -- not in late December or early January when the calendar suggests I ought to be motivated.
Today, here in Pennsylvania, the sun will shine for just nine hours, nineteen minutes, and fifty-seven seconds. That's pitifully equivalent to the average workday, isn't it? Think about it: today, office workers are stumbling into their cubicles at dawn and filing out at dusk, having missed the natural light of day entirely. For lack of a better word, blah. I can't help but compare all of this to June and the fifteen gracious hours of sunlight that she brings each day. Even if you spend ten hours holed up in a fluorescent-lit office building, five whole hours of daylight are yours for the taking after your shift! Not to mention that the air is warm! And the world is alive! And the trees are green! (And the exclamation points are plentiful!) My name is Summer, and boy have I grown into that name over the years. (Thanks, Mom & Dad, for avoiding the trendy names back in '84 and instead picking something uncommon.) Summertime is my natural habitat. It's when I'm in my element. It's when my mood aligns with nature and I feel like an integral part of a living, breathing, and growing ecosystem. No -- a living, breathing, and growing world. Warm weather, green grass, and sunlight make me feel whole. They connect me to the world at large in a numinous way. Oh, the scent of the earth -- did you know it's called geosmin? -- can lift my mood up into the clouds.