I have always suffered from a low-grade depression. Even as a child I don’t remember ever being full of joy. I’ve always attributed it to my high intelligence; I have a tendency to look at every angle and focus on the worst possible outcome. Recently, however, I’ve noticed that my darkest time of year coincides with the Earth’s darkest time of year. In other words, I’ve got Seasonal Affective Disorder. When daylight starts to wane, so does my mood, my energy, and sometimes, my will to live.
The lack of sunlight causes me to feel tired, cranky, anxious, and hungry for carbs — so not only am I pain in the ass to live with, but I get fat too. On average I put on 5-10 pounds every winter.
Last winter I put on 15. It was a particularly bad year.
Since I cannot take antidepressants, I have looked for alternatives. One of the things that has worked for me was purchasing a sunlamp (like this one). Light therapy is so effective in treating seasonal depression that most folks in Switzerland own a sun lamp, and a library near where I live has installed lights for patrons to use.
A negative ionizer (like this one) can be helpful as well. Our electronic devices emit positive ions, which can depress our mood, among other things. A negative ionizer helps put the air we breathe back in balance. A study done in 2006 showed that more than half of the people using a negative ion generator reported a significant reduction in seasonal depression. My sun lamp has an ionizer built into it, but I’ve found that having one on a table in my living room 24/7 is more effective. Both of these things combined with regular exercise, eating better, and eliminating people from my life who were causing me a lot of emotional trauma, have made this winter far more tolerable than those in years past.
Making substantial changes to my inner circle this year and has helped tremendously. I am an empath, and that means that I absorb energy from people. I did not realize how much chaos and depression was being generated by one particular relationship until I cast it aside. That got me thinking about self-care versus the obligations that we think we have to other people.
This time of year especially, we think we have to go to Aunt Susie’s or Cousin Bob’s house and spend time with people we don’t like or do things we’d rather not. Hold on to your chairs, people, because I’m about to say something revolutionary — you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. It’s true. You don’t even need to make excuses. You can simply say, “No thank you.” You can add “I’ve made other plans” if you wish, but it’s not necessary. If you would rather stay in your pajamas until noon on Christmas Day and then go to the movies, you can. We put so many expectations on ourselves, and I hear people say over and over that they wish they didn’t have to go to this place or that, or talk to this person or that one and I always ask the question, “So why do you?” Usually the answer involves some elderly relative that may die soon and they feel obligated to go, or they only see these relatives once or twice a year, so they think they have to go. They don’t. And neither do you.
This year I will continue to pare down my self-imposed responsibilities, minimize the need to take care of everyone but myself, pay attention to my body, my moods, the state of my head, and practice radical self-care. It truly is a matter of life or death for me.
I will never be the type of person who will feel joyful all the time. What I’ve realized this season in particular is that I can get through winter without bouts of despair. I can even (gasp!) feel happy at times. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, and it is manageable. A light box like mine can be extraordinarily helpful, especially in combination with eating good food and exercising regularly. You don’t have to hate the holidays. You can look forward to the holidays as a time to rest and relax and reflect on the relationships that are important, and meaningful, and add value to your life. I encourage everyone to take the time to pause and reflect on the people in their lives and the responsibilities they’ve assumed, and cull those relationships and responsibilities accordingly. Oftentimes, less is more.