Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, was one of those things I scoffed at when I first heard about it years ago. I knew that many people suffer from depression, and it made sense that shorter, darker days might have some amplifying effect upon all of that, but for the most part I couldn’t understand how anyone could get into a months-long funk just because of the season or the weather.
Come on, I thought. You can’t be serious.
Now, though, I’m singing a different tune. I get it. Maybe it took living in Boston during the winter for a few years, but I have begun to see over the past few winters that SAD can and does happen—indeed, that it can happen to me.
There’s something that creeps up on the soul in mid-November. You know the days are getting shorter; you know the cold is setting in. Winter stretches in front of you like a tunnel, with December, January, February, and perhaps even March holding the promise of more days like this—with the added possibility of snow. It’s going to be a long time before we all pull out of this, you say to yourself, thinking of the winter (and perhaps also your mood).
Driving to work or walking to the library in the dark, doing the same in reverse at the end of the day, bundling up against the cold every time you move, and (most of all) barely seeing the sun behind the frozen gray skies… all of these combine to cast quite a shadow over your mood in the winter months.
But what a difference the sun makes!
I was saying to someone just the other day that I would rather have it be cold and sunny than warm and cloudy. Temperature matters, but light matters more—at least to me. There are days, even in the winter, when the sky is the purest of blues and the sun is the brightest of bright, and those days are fragments of hope in the middle of a long winter. Some days, the sun can appear when you least expect it, brightening up the world and (along with it) your mood.
Those are the days.
Now, I know that some folks get through the winter months with some sort of artificial sun lamp—an electric device that recreates some of the conditions of the sun’s rays and leaves users feeling like they’ve just been somewhere tropical for a while. I’m sure this is a good thing for those who use it, though I’d have a difficult time believing in it, myself. I’m not sure if, like hypnosis, these lamps require true belief in order to work.
The principle is nevertheless an intriguing one: when the sun disappears for a few months, find your own. Find something else that will allow you to feel the warmth and joy that the sun brings during the warmer months, and keep it close to you. Hang on to it and don’t let it go.
For some, the winter sun may be an activity. Exercise, for example, is a great way to get the endorphins flowing and feel like you’re accomplishing something in spite of the dreary weather. If you’re not so much into the gym, the list of alternative possibilities is endless. Challenge yourself to read a new book each week (or, if you’re too busy, then each month). Make weekly dinner and/or movie plans with friends. Sew a quilt. Decorate a room.
For some, the solution will be music. I buy more music during the winter than at any other time of the year. If your current collection seems worn (“I’ve heard it all before”), find something new to spice it up and put some spring back into your step. There are functions on Amazon.com and iTunes.com that suggest music to you based on what you already like (or have bought), and it’s a great way to branch out and take new musical journeys even when you’re stuck at the office or at home.
But for many, the sun in winter is not an activity, hobby, or musical discovery, but a person. Because for as many of us as there are affected by the winter blues, there seem to be many more who are not, and these are our lifelines from November to March. Hopefully you are lucky enough to know, as I am, someone who seems to be cheerful all the time, and whose sunny disposition can light up the room and your life just by being near.
It might seem strange to say that a person can be your winter sun, but why not? If an electric lamp can do the trick for some, why not a person? I can think of several people who do more for my mood than any appliance ever could, and I’ll bet you can identify at least one person like that in your life, too.
The one who thinks of others before himself. The one who always accessorizes whatever she’s wearing with a smile. The one who can make you laugh even when you don’t want to, and whose conversation keeps your spirits high. The one who senses when you’re feeling down even before you do, and always knows just what to say. The one whose love for you you can actually see.
Keep that one close—always, but especially in the winter months.