"Only those who risk failing greatly can ever succeed greatly." –RFK
Friday, February 16, 2007
Bye-bye winter blues
For years, I have had Seasonal Affective Disorder. I get SAD in the winter when the days are short and the skies are dreary. For years, I have known this but for many years prior to knowing, I did not know what it was. Why was I always less motivated in the winter, less cheery, less optimistic? Why did I smile less, eat less healthfully, feel more tired despite sleeping more hours? Why did I feel a subtle anger every morning when I turned on my headlights to drive to work and then turned them on again to drive home after work? I knew I felt depressed but I was also aware that this mood was intimately associated with lack of SUNlight. And then, BAM! Right in the midst of a month of dreary winter days, we'd have a brilliantly SUNny day. And if I could get outside or even stick my face in front of a window and absorb those warm soothing rays, I would be in heaven! My eyes would open, my muscles would relax, my soul would lift...and I would be revitalized...for the rest of the day maybe. And then the SUN would set and the darkness would close in around me once again.
I never got to the point where I was overwhelmingly sad. I never sunk to how I felt in my younger years when I was a mess in more ways than that. I would, however, feel melancholy for days and even weeks on end. And sometimes I wouldn't even notice that I felt that way until Bam! Another SUNny day! And I would feel the rush of energy that I had been lacking.
And like a turn of a switch, come Spring, oh glorious Spring, the days would lengthen and the SUN would be shining on my way to work and still shining on my drive home from work. Weekends would start when the SUN tickled my face in the morning and I would wake with a smile on my lips and a brightness in my soul. And then, I would spend every last waking moment outside in the SUN, sometimes stopping mid-step just to turn and raise my face to the warm SUN, soaking up the energy and spiritedness of her rays. I would skip along and sing and hum tunes and smile at strangers. I would don my running shoes and run the long hilly roads in the Palouse and just LOVE every step I could take and I would focus on the feel of the SUN warming my shoulders...and my sole would soar.
David laughs at me on SUNny days because I've been known to sigh and repeat, "Ahh, I just LOVE the SUN" or "Ahh, the SUN warms my soul." And I would feel like a kid, springing with boundless energy, filled with goodness and love and smiles. And no matter what time I would drift to sleep in the night, I would wake refreshed and eager to face the day the moment the morning SUN touched my face.
It was actually this response to the Spring SUN that clued me in to the fact that I missed her so much in the dreary winter. It was this JOY of Spring that convinced me in to the fact that I had SAD. So, a few years ago, I bought a small light box for my desk and started turning it on every morning while I did some computer work or checked my email. That, together with my morning cup o' joe really made a difference. I felt like it was actually morning and I could wake up and move on with my day.
Then, this fall in preparation for the coming gloom, I bought a larger light box. I paid about $250 for this Alaska Northern Lights North Star 10,000 lux monolith and I positioned it on my desk by my computer, and I promised to sit in front of this faux star for 30 minutes every morning. And that's what I did this winter. Now, Spokane's winters are really not all that dreary, but this year was a particularly dreary winter for Spokane...but I never really got SAD. Or rather, I have SAD, but never really felt the effects of SAD this year. I attribute that to my morning star routine. David laughs again when he walks past my office doorway in the morning and he has to cover his eyes from the glare of the blinding light. "How can you sit in front of that thing without going blind?" he's said more than once. But he's just goofing around; he knows it helps me. He also knows that soon I will yet regress into months of childhood play when the real SUN replaces the desk monolith. Phototherapy has proven to me that it works, and it works very well. I have no opposition to antidepressant medications, but I do have opposition to medications when there are other more natural therapies that may work. For me, and for many, many others with SAD, phototherapy works. It's not expensive ($250 is pennies compared to over-the- counter or prescription medications or vacation treatments - though I must admit my Death Valley weekend was fantastically SUNny and glorious) and you really don't even have to pay that much for a good light - you just have to sit closer to one with lower lux. For me, it is, hands down, the most appropriate and effective therapy.
So, for now, I still use my light...every morning without fail. I actually look forward to it. However, I also look forward to the days when the real SUN hangs around longer than my work day. We are already starting to have some signs of Spring here. The weather is warming up (35 degrees feels like t-shirt weather!) and the forecast is calling for temps in the 40's this weekend. Now, if only those 40 degree temps would be together with a shining SUN, I will again be in all my glory. I will run, walk, and stand face to face with the SUN and let her rays touch me and warm my soul like she never fails to do.
I can't wait.
Until then, I will keep turning up the lux.
PS - The SUN is SHINING today! I can't wait to run!
I am an ultra runner, physician and have been medical director of some of the toughest ultras. I tend to be a mover and a shaker and louder than my size suggests. However, my Gemini twin is gentler and contemplative, an artist, a writer, and a poet. I am a dog lover, a believer in souls, and have a special affinity for those who struggle because I have been there.
This is my crazy lovable huggable Weimaraner, Steely Dan. I call him Steely. He left us in January of this year at only 6 years from lymphoma that did not respond to chemotherapy treatments. Steely was a total goof. He loved trail running, road running, treadmill running, new experiences, making eye contact, sleeping on his back, me, kids, and liver treats. He was Zappa's best friend. We miss him dearly.
This is Stella. A rescue from the shelter. She's about 6 months old and a Border Collie. She is a joyous bundle of energy and curiosity and now also Zappa best friend. She will make a nice running partner when she grows up.
This is the now the big brother of my family - a rescued Greyhound. His name is Frank Zappa. I call him Zappa. He's 7 years old and has learned all about life beyond the track and crate from Steely when he was with us. It was very rewarding to watch his personality bloom as he settled into the family. And yes, he runs like the wind!
This is Natasha, my dearest friend. She was with me through college, medical school, residency, and she moved with me from Chicago to Spokane several years ago. She was my best running partner for 10 years. My sweet Natasha died from bone cancer in 2006. I miss her still. I hung a windchimes over the deck outside. When it chimes, I smile and think she has finally -- wherever she is now -- caught a squirrel!