Seasonal Affective Disorder is real

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My trusty SAD lamp – a SunTouch Plus NatureBright*

No updates on the leave request

I’m still waiting to hear back from my manager on my request to take a 6-month unpaid leave of absence next winter. I’ll admit it’s been fun to imagine where I’ll go and what I’ll do with that time, if my request is approved. The top contenders so far are Florida, Mexico and California, probably in that order.

It’s dark AF here

Meanwhile, the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere – was yesterday, marking the first official day of winter. (Although it’s been cold and awful since November.)  To be more precise, the winter solstice was at 5:23 p.m. yesterday. Was I at some kind of pagan festival, raising a mug of mead? Nope. I was at the gym, like a boss, getting my free weights together for a group fitness class that felt suspiciously like cardio. After several weeks of feeling too tired and discouraged to go, I managed to get myself to three (3!) hour-long weights classes this week after work! I hope you don’t mind if I propel myself forward by patting myself on the back.

Theoretically the days start to get longer from today through the summer solstice on June 21. This is cold comfort to me in Toronto, which is experiencing some record-breaking darkness and cloudiness right now. Here’s the Weather Network rubbing it in that even notoriously dark and rainy Vancouver got more sunlight than Toronto in November. I’m certain the trend has continued into December as the sun seems to come out about once a week.

Fighting SAD and surviving winter

Surviving winter is a challenge for me each year as someone who has struggled with depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) since my early 20s. Two things that reliably help me are using a light therapy box and exercising regularly.

My trusty SAD lamp

For the last 8 years I’ve been using a SunTouch Plus NatureBright 10,000-lux light therapy box* I got on Amazon. I was convinced to get this model by the hundreds of glowing (ha) reviews at the time, despite the cost being up around $175 USD back then. It was money well spent. I see it’s now got over 3,500 reviews and the price has dropped to $70 USD. It’s not the latest model on the market, and it’s kind of clinical looking, but it continues to serve me well.

10,000 lux is the gold standard for clinically efficacious light therapy for the treatment of SAD. I keep the lamp on my breakfast bar and use it every morning from about November to April for 15-30 minutes while I’m eating breakfast and reading the news. Basically you just turn it on and orient it towards your face. You don’t need to look directly at it for it to work, although it doesn’t emit UV and won’t injure your eyes if you do.

*This is an affiliate link for a product I use and trust, which means that if you end up making a purchase through it, I could earn a bit of money from Amazon at no extra cost to you.

Exercise is hard to do 

In terms of exercise, ideally I’d do 45 minutes of exercise 4-5 times a week. In practice, though, I’m working out closer to twice a week. My energy levels and mood are really tied to exercise, so when I start skipping workouts it’s no bueno and I can get pulled into a downward spiral of exhaustion and despair. Fear of the spiral setting in (‘Oh shit, it’s the beginning of the end! This is when I completely give up and stop getting out of bed and going to work!’) usually pushes me to get back to the gym though. Stay on the horse. It’s a battle. By contrast, summer rolls around and I’m all energized by the long sunny days, and it’s no problem for me to hit the gym 4-5 times in a week. It’s also much easier to get up in the morning when the sun is already up.

One particular gripe I have about attempting to exercise in the winter is the hassle of peeling off and putting back on the thermal layers I’ve donned under my work clothes so as not to freeze to death during periods of exposure to the outdoors. Going to the gym in the winter is 30% exercise, 70% managing all of my goddam layers, boots, bags, coat, hat, and scarf plus my work clothes and my gym clothes. I never shower at the gym because I’m not hauling in shampoo, soap and moisturizer on top of that. 

Would it be too much to ask for to just live some place where the sun comes out in the winter and where I don’t need to wear thermal underwear? 

Free light therapy at Toronto Public Library locations

Quick note: I just discovered that certain branches of Toronto Public Library have light therapy boxes you can use for free in-library. TPL has got to be one of the best library systems in the world. I pay my overdue fees happily! And a friend of mine is really into experimenting with their free 3D printers (don’t worry she’s not printing weapons… yet).

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