Looking Up from the Bottom of the Year

A closeup of the sun against a dark sky showing solar flares, and a silhouette of long grass at the bottom.
When poets refer to the “dark night of the soul,” or gasp “more light!” with their dying breath, I know exactly how they feel. As a person with Seasonal Affective Disorder, my personal objective each winter is:

Just get through it.

So it will probably not surprise anyone that today, the Winter Solstice, is my favorite holiday. Last night was the longest night (and shortest day) of the year. Starting today, each span of daylight gets a little bit longer for the next 6 months. There is another month or more of chilly weather ahead, but I made it through the bottom of the year, a very heartening milestone.

The head of a roaring bearWinter with SAD is an endless round of rediscovering, when I notice that I have become snappish and utterly unmotivated, that I need to tend to my light therapy, get my sleep cycle back on a reasonable schedule, and/or spend more time outdoors. I don’t even try to curb my carbohydrate consumption. With the limited energies of the season, I have to pick my battles.

What would it be like to live on the equator, with 12 hour days and 12 hour nights year round? The consistency would be a relief, but I’d sure miss the 16 hour days at the other end of the year.

I have tried to calculate what shape and orbit and tilt would be required for a planet with my ideal weather (58-72 degrees, 365 sunny days a year and rain only at night), but my limited knowledge of astronomy fails me. And honestly, if it’s impossible, I don’t want to know. We all need our winter dreams.

Plant-covered stone sculpture of woman sleeping stretched out on the ground as if she is halfway under the earth.

Here Comes the Sun

You may not have noticed if your weather is anything like mine, but the Winter Solstice passed about an hour ago. This means the longest night, the bottom of the year to people with SAD, is behind us, and daylight tomorrow will last longer than today. Hang in there.

Graphic of a large sun, with a vine stretching out from it towards the earth

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it

About those other things that have been going on with me lately? One of them is the weather. We just had a nasty heat wave, and I have Seasonal Affective Disorder.

A SAD State of Affairs

SAD, or, as it is officially (but inaccurately) known, Major Depression with Seasonal Pattern, is clinical depression in response to factors in the physical environment.

A graphic of a sun with a female face and rays blowing across it as if a breeze is blowing from the left sideWinter SAD, which you may have heard of, results from insufficient exposure to light. It was first observed as a winter-related phenomenon, since sunlight is weaker, days are shorter, and clouds are more common during winter in many climates.

However, SAD can also be found year-round in people who work at night and sleep during the day, or even those who live in sunny places but spend very little time outdoors. That makes the name misleading, and the official diagnostic criteria just plain wrong in far too many cases.

Summer SAD, which you probably haven’t heard of, is major depression triggered by heat, usually in conjunction with humidity (I’m fine in the desert). It also is not necessarily seasonal, but can occur wherever someone is exposed to hot and humid summer-like conditions, whether natural or artificial.

I have both types of SAD. Continue reading