When I’m not sick, it’s impossible to remember how sick feels.
I’ll have bold but naive notions of fighting through a bad cold or a flu. Like I can simply will myself to action.
Then the achy happens. The unearned muscle soreness. The pressure behind the eyes. Can’t sleep, but hurts to read or watch TV. Just lie there and moan like a little kid, shivering while burning up, and forget how it feels to be well and strong.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is like that. Through the long days of summer, even if I’m dealing with depression of a more general variety, I can’t really conjure what the symptoms of SAD feel like. Toward the end of summer, if I think about it, I’ll wonder if maybe the effects have lessened as I’ve managed one more trip around Sol.
And then, just about the time the clocks fall back, it rolls over me in slow motion. A tidal wave of chilled molasses, I can feel it siphoning the gas from my tank. The dread known by a school kid on a Sunday evening — tomorrow’s a school day. Soon it will be dark by noon. And some weekend morning, I’ll not get out of bed till the afternoon. The little dogs, who would live the rest of their lives burrowed beneath the blankets, they’re my staunchest enablers.
Every November for the last six years, since I learned about NaNoWriMo, the push some folks make to write a novel in one month, I’ve entertained ambitious thoughts of writing an entire novel in just one month. I guess I always forget how hard it sometimes is to get entirely out of bed in just one day.
There are strategies supposed to help with the dark months, and every year, I recommit to better using them. But it’s not always easy or effective.
I crave sunlight the way plants theoretically crave Brawndo. The hours and hours of sunlight doled out in summer put me to rights and give me energy. My one and only trait in common with Kal-El (the one who doesn’t call Nicolas Cage “dad”). When it’s still light at 9 P.M.? That’s my happy place. In the winter, folks with SAD are advised to get as much sunlight as they can. Sit by windows. Use a sunlight lamp. Go outside.
As simple as it would seem to do, following this advice can be tough. For one thing, sitting near a window hasn’t always been possible. I used to work in a cinder block building with nary a window. There were many days during the cold months that would find me and many others arriving before the sun, and not leaving till after the sun had gone down. I’m not entirely sure the sun came up at all on some of those days. If it were anything like me, it wouldn’t.
The lamp? I appreciate the idea, but maybe the part of the brain I’m trying to trick lives next door to the part trying to do the tricking, so my brain knows it’s a trick and just gets annoyed with all that light in my face. Next?
Going outside. Right. Outside is where all the cold is. While I do like to say I love the outdoors (whether it’s true or not, who knows), I don’t like the outdoors when it’s freezer burned. Shivering is not my favorite way to pass the time or burn calories or chip my teeth.
With my tendency toward working late into the night, and the dearth of daylight in the winter, I succumb to the pull of late night’s small hours. This further handicaps my ability to be up when the sun is. When I was self-employed, this was more true than it has been the last couple years. I would go on strings of days when I would get up when the sun had gone down, and work till about the time the sun came up. Like Clark and Superman, we two would never meet.
It was some bit of mercy that I was let go from my job before the time change this year, as I had been working a night shift, and I was concerned with what not seeing the sun for days on end might do to me. I had worked ten-hour night shifts in college, and it was a mistake then.
In the absence of copious amounts of sunlight, vitamin D3 is supposed to help with the SAD. Does it? I’m not sure. I take it, so I’m sure it helps those who sell it. The jury’s still out on the efficacy of the stuff. Fish oil, too. And I’ve even heard that cashews help. That’s good, because I like to eat.
I’ll frequently and ravenously cave in to this seasonal urge to not only eat, but gorge. That’s what we’re supposed to do. Eat cheap (easily come by) fats and carbohydrates to store all the energy we can for a time when food will be scarce. The DNA we inherited knows nothing of Taco Bell’s “Fourth Meal,” so we want to eat. A lot. In the winter it’s natural to eat like we don’t know when we’ll eat again. Then hibernate. It’s tough not to nap after about five million calories. The key to balance, maybe, is to keep moving somehow.
So, exercise! I do what I can. Anyone who has ever felt the immobilizing powers of depression knows it’s akin to exhaustion. Just being drained. And, even though I know I’d feel much better after having done something physical, the thought of getting ready to make it happen is just daunting. (“I’d go run those ten miles, but my shoes are all the way upstairs!”) And then, once I’ve decided to give in to the lethargy, I feel, well, let down. Even more disappointed in myself than I had been. Maybe tomorrow! But an object at rest, and all that.
I always look to the spring to rectify everything. It can’t come soon enough. But something weird happens when spring gets here. Just like forgetting how the winter feels when it’s summer, I forget what happens in the spring when it’s winter. When the spring gets here, I don’t feel any better. All of the things that have been keeping happiness at bay are still there, plus, now I have a restlessness. It may stem from the years in school, being conditioned to look forward to summer. But as a grown-assed man, summer still involves the daily routine. There are no road trips and there’s no sitting in front of the TV all day or playing kickball all day or turning brown at the pool all day or doing whatever seems like fun to do all day.
My apologies if you have SAD. Further apologies if you made it to the end of this thinking I had something constructive to offer. The secret to happiness. But I don’t. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dealt with this, and I must be doing a halfway decent job with it, as I’m still here to deal with it. The calendar we’ll buy in January at 70% off will have printed pages promising sunny months to come. The way time’s been flying faster and faster as I stack more and more days behind me like so much cordwood, those blindingly-bright, hot, sweaty, long, coconut- and dreamsicle-smelling days will be here before I know it.
And now, even though it’s only 7 P.M., it feels like it’s midnight. It feels like it’s time for bed.
Wake me when it’s June.