If you have "no place to go," come here!

Dark times -- literally! Like... It's dark!

Here is a note I wrote to a friend, and I hope they won't take it amiss if I republish it, slightly revised, on behalf of anyone else who is suffering in this season:

This sounds like Seasonal Affective Depression [SAD] to me (although as you point out, there are plenty of situational reasons to be depressed)*. It is, after all, the equinox and the light has changed!

I know what SAD is, and the best (and indeed the correct) way to think about it is as a disease for which there is treatment. I have been there.

1. No matter what, FORCE YOURSELF into some sort of motion every day. Even if it is only to get out of bed and get a book or walk to the window and look out. If you don't want to shower or brush your teeth or whatever, don't worry about that, you can do it when you are well, just force yourself into SOME KIND of motion, no matter what. Then do it again.

2. GET PLENTY OF LIGHT. This is the key.

a) Try walking

b) If you sit, sit where there is light, say, at the window, or even possibly outside at a cafe (see #1).

c) get yourself a Verilux Lamp:

Order it from Amazon, you don't have to leave the house ;-)

Don't just order a lightbulb, treat yourself to a nice lamp. I did, the first year I was here -- Maine is very dark! -- and it's one of the best things I ever did.

3. Some recommend lots of vitamin D. I have never tried that, but you might find it useful.

4. UNDERSTAND THE DISEASE. SAD in particular (although depression in general) is very insidious. I remember when I lived in Boston and I was travellng over the Charles on the Red Line at 4:30PM in the frigging dark because of turning the clock back. And I was reading a Scientific American article about SAD, which mentioned one of the symptoms: Craving for starch. And I realized... I was eating, like, an entire bag of cookies at one go, and in fact I felt tired, sad.... ZOMG!!!! I've got SAD!!!!!! The kicker here is that I already knew what SAD was, I knew I was susceptible to it, I knew I'd already had it, and I knew it had caused big problems for me in college (because the light changes at key points in the academic calendar).

So, I "knew" I'd had SAD and could have it again but I didn't realize I had it, until I read the article! That is how insidious depression is.

I won't say "Cheer up!" because that's like telling somebody with a broken leg to start sprinting. However, I do beg you to believe that SAD is a disease and like any disease it is treatable and remediable (And AKAIK it is also the empathetic and imaginative who are subject to it. No such thing as a depressed sociopath -- they are big on smiling!)

Do take care.


Readers, thoghts?

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ralphbon's picture
Submitted by ralphbon on

Measuring vit D levels is increasingly becoming a routine part of standard checkups. This is a recent development, so one should not count on their primary care physician to order the test unprompted. My levels turned out to be clearly in the deficiency range. I began supplementation (2000 IU vit D3 [cholecalciferol] daily). Immediately noticed an increase in overall energy, skipping my typical afternoon mug of coffee, as well as improved mood. A physician subsequently told me that pretty much all fair-skinned adults in northern latitudes have levels in the insufficient or deficient range. It may not be a complete solution for someone with full-fledged SAD, but absolutely worth pursuing.

Submitted by hipparchia on

1. move to florida! not only are our winter days longer, but our weather is milder and you can spend time outdoors without getting frostbite or hypothermia.

ok, so that's a snarky way of saying 'i second that'... but on your #1 item, i would add that not only should you get up every day and move, but that you should get up every day and GO OUTSIDE - into the sunlight. windows and lamps and light boxes and full-spectrum light bulbs are all excellent, but create [and/or take advantage of] as many opportunities to soak up the real thing as you possibly can.

speaking of lamps and light boxes, here's an article from the mayo clinic probably nobody has insurance anymore that will actually pay for buying a lamp or light box for SAD, but it might be worth looking into if you do have insurance.

i didn't buy the lamp or light box [kind of wish i had, because now i have even less money than i did before] but i did two things that seem to have helped me-

a. i replaced all the light bulbs with full-spectrum light bulbs.
b. i bought two timers that i plugged into the two outlets in the bedroom, set timer #1 to go on 30 minutes before the alarm clock was set to go off and plugged one lamp into it [ordinary household lamp with a 75 or 100 watt full-spectrum light bulb], set timer #2 to go on 15 minutes before the alarm clock was set to go off and plugged a second lamp into that. a very crude simulation of sunrise, but it did help.

2. cod liver oil. yes, yuck, but you can get it in capsules. here's an article on the interaction of vitamin a, vitamin d and cholesterol [and cholesterol-lowering drugs].

as an environmentalist, i can't really in good conscience recommend depleting our already over-fished cod fisheries, so in addition to the food sources of vitamin d listed in the above article, here's a list of food sources of vitamin a too

cholesterol??? but isn't cholesterol bad for you? well, sure, cholesterol building up on the walls of your arteries can kill you, but cholesterol is also an essential basic building block [your body uses sunlight to turn cholesterol into vitamin d, for instance] of many important things including the brain and nerves

if your doctor has you taking cholesterol-lowering drugs or eating a low-cholesterol diet, you should definitely consider the possibility that you've also got a vitamin d deficiency, so talk to your doctor about that [i think the blood test for it is pretty cheap these days, but i can't swear to that; probably depends on your insurance].

Submitted by lambert on

Palmetto bugs. Not moving to FL!

Submitted by hipparchia on

you say palmetto bugs, i say self-propelled cat toys.

Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

If you want to get in touch with your SAD, spend a winter in the Pacific Northwest. Sunset at 4PM in December and January, nearly constant cloud cover. I hate winter in a way I wouldn't have thought possible when I lived in the Northeast. The winters are usually mild here, but really depressing.

I agree that real sunlight helps. I don't know about full spectrum light bulbs. The light that comes from the Sun, even on a cloudy day, is orders of magnitude more intense than what you get from a light bulb. Maybe it helps, but I think being outside a half hour or so a day would be a lot more helpful, particularly because you're probably also getting some exercise while you're outside.

Re: diet, eat foods that are good for you. Pretty simple really. If you have a deficiency of some sort, take vitamins for that.

And yes, having a reason to get up every day helps.

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

and Mr. Alexa and I never suffered from this syndrome (or disorder).

This may have been the same disorder that some folks called 'cabin fever.' Not sure, though.

At any rate, we were always 'on-the-go,' and didn't allow 'minus 60-80 degree temps, which were brief, to hinder us. [Usual winter temps were minus 30-50 degrees, which wasn't bad at all, once acclimated.] Maybe we were both just lucky.

Actually, what bothered us the most (not the we didn't love the gorgeous summers) was getting the ole circadian rhythm to adjust so that we could go to sleep at a decent hour during the summer months. I put up seasonal black-out curtains in part of the house, eventually. Helped a little bit.

But Lambert's "instructions" seem to be very thorough, from the little reading that I've ever done on the topic. Thanks for the post.

Brings back very pleasant memories, in a very 'round about way.' :-)