A familiar visitor showed up at my door last week. He comes by every year about this time, and yet I completely forgot about his arrival. It was my wife, Anne, who first realized he’d shown up. And when she did, she leaned gently into me and said, “Honey, I think it’s time to start your light again.”
This visitor of mine has a name: SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Web MD defines it as:
…a mood disorder that happens every year at the same time. In general, SAD starts in fall or winter and ends in spring or early summer.
For me, SAD began it’s annual visits about 20 years ago. The signs are subtle and usually begin in late August, increasing in intensity through the fall and winter. Symptoms include:
- Less energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Greater appetite
- Increased desire to be alone
- Greater need for sleep
- Weight gain
Sound at all familiar? For me the most pronounced symptom is the increased need for sleep. I compare it to what a bear must feel like just before going into a hibernation cycle. Just…want…to…sleeeeeeeep. But no matter how long I slumber, I wake up with a hangover-like feeling of being groggy, irritated and only wanting to go back to bed. I used to experience all the symptoms to one degree or another, in seemingly endless combinations!
My salvation came in the form of a smart therapist I was seeing at the time. He noticed the onset of the symptoms and recommended light therapy. Now I just call it “my light.” Light therapy uses a full-spectrum bright light (about 20 times brighter than normal room lighting) that shines indirectly into the eyes. I started with one 10- to 15-minute session per day and worked my way up to 30-40 minutes a morning.
The Lights I’ve Used
Over the years I’ve used a couple different lights to fight SAD. First it was a large light box that I would place on the kitchen table in front of me. It looked like the image on the left. It was big and bulky, but worked for me. You can find out more about this type of light at Sunbox.com. As we’ve come to expect, technology has marched on and I now use a much smaller light (pictured on the right) that takes up less room and is easy to take with me while traveling. This style of light uses only a particular kind of pure blue light that occurs naturally on very sunny, clear days. It’s manufactured by Phillips. (Buy it on Amazon for a better price).
There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the correct light. The Mayo Clinic provides a great list.
Some people with SAD recover quickly using light therapy. For others it may take longer. Work with your doctor to find the right light and routine for your specific needs.
When it comes to SAD, the most important thing is to take action. Don’t waste the next 7 months of your life struggling when you may benefit from light therapy. Accept that SAD is a thing (no, really), and you’re not alone. Part of nurturing our creative potential and ability to contribute is taking care of ourselves. We all depend on each other’s unique, creative contributions to the world. beLIEVE! that yours is worth taking the time to care for yourself!
If you’ve ever dealt with SAD, please leave a comment about your experience.