Finland, my adopted home, is pretty far north – on a par with Alaska, and the northern parts of Russia. In practical terms, this means that summer days are long and glorious, and winter days are basically non-existent. Today, on November 1, already we are down to less than 9 hours of daylight. Sunrise today was just before 8am, and sunset will be just before 4:30pm this afternoon.
I was thrown by how quickly the shorter days started to affect my moods this year. Last year our family made it through until January before we started seeing persistent grouchiness, constant cravings for carbs and sweet things, perpetual lethargy, and even headaches and feelings of being just not quite well. At the time, I was still firmly in denial about Seasonal Affective Disorder, honestly believing that it could be prevented or cured with The Power Of Positive Thought. I was sure that if I told myself often enough to “suck it up” and “get a grip”, and brightly encouraged my exhausted kids to jump around the playground in the cold, weak sunlight, then we would be just fine.
We really weren’t. My then-5-year-old summed it up perfectly: “Mummy, I just feel sleepy and sad all the time.”
This year, I am already feeling that dark, leaden curtain of Seasonal Affective Disorder descending on me. I feel unreasonably exhausted and snappish and S.A.D.
This year, though, I am ready to fight it - tooth and nail.
Practical strategies are already firmly in place. The whole family has been religiously taking Vitamin D supplements. The kids play outside at least 1 hour every day, and sometimes more than 2 – rain, hail, or shine (since, as Finns like to say, “There is no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothes!”) – and I force myself to take a brisk 20-minute walk twice a day between home and Little Sister’s daycare. I’ve been feeding us all lots of Positive Energy foods – bananas, oatmeal, blueberries. We are trying to sleep longer nights.
We even bought a Brighter-Than-Bright light-therapy lamp! The instructions recommend that our retinas be within 1 metre of the Dazzle Lamp for at least 30 minutes each morning. If the idea of sitting in front of a bright light for a full half hour sounds odd, let me tell you that at first it really was a weird feeling, not to mention difficult to accomplish as far as my lively children’s retinas were concerned. Eventually, we put it in the middle of our breakfast table. There we sit each morning, like deer in the headlights, eating our highly-illuminated oatmeal or eggs.
(PS: I took this photo without a flash not only to make it look artsy and to showcase Dazzle Lamp in its full glory, but because a flash would have highlighted the
It is the middle of the day here as I write, but it’s so dark and gloomy outside that I have turned Dazzle Lamp back on. It does seem to help – a lot. The brightness is apparently lowering our levels of melatonin; in practical terms, having it on actually makes me feel brighter. Comforted. Empowered.
It is, quite literally, a light in the darkness.