As You Like It: Winter Light

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I’m not a winter woman. The cold, the dark, the endless nights — not for me. When I was a child I loved winter because I loved playing in the snow. I can still see the mountains of ice on the New York City streets looming higher than our building. We would climb them thrilled at the adventure and the day off from school.

Being winter disgruntled began in high school. The long walk was not a pleasure in the slush and ice of a New York City sidewalk. I remember aching to be able to wear pants so that the trek wouldn’t be so unbearable. Back in the 60s, the idea of girls wearing pants to school was inconceivable. The belief was that if we dressed too casually we wouldn’t be in a proper state of mind to learn. I never really understood that.

But at least back then I loved ice skating, so that took the edge off the winter blues. Friday nights at the rink, skating under a full moon and a sky filled with stars, my boyfriends on hand to supply me with cocoa and soft pretzels, were winter things that even I could appreciate.

Israeli winters were uncomfortably wet and brisk but never bone chilling, so my winter woes began in earnest when I returned to the States just in time for the great blizzard. And then winter became truly awful when I learned to drive and had my first icy spin-out.

Lisa was born during one of the coldest Decembers on record. The two of us were stuck inside for three months until the spring thaw. My winter blues ran rampant as I went slowly crazy with 1-month-old Lisa as my only daily companion.

From then on, every time we moved the clock back I would grumble at and about everything and everyone. During the first week of early darkness, depression would come slithering out to wrap itself around me. All I wanted to do was linger in bed. I moaned to the unfortunates around me that spring would never come, that we would be stuck in this infernal refrigerator forever.

And each year I would wail to Shatz, “What is wrong with me?” And each year Shatz would look at me and say, “It’s your usual winter doldrums. You go through this every year, and every year you come out of it in the spring.”

And each time I would look at him as if he was some amazing oracle, because invariably he was right. As soon as the days got longer, as soon as we moved the clocks again, my depression would magically lift up and away.

It took a few years before I could actually give my winter crazies a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I had an actual disorder. And it wasn’t only me. There was a whole world of people out there who suffered from seasonal depression. SAD is a result of an upset biological clock that controls your sleep patterns. It also affects your serotonin level, which in turn affects your mood. So you feel grumpy, dumpy, moody, and anxious — a regular seven dwarves bundle of fun! You gain weight, sleep more yet always feel tired, and have trouble concentrating.

However, naming something doesn’t cure it; it only reassures you that you are not completely mad. I began doing a bit of research on possible solutions. Wintering in the Bahamas was not an option, but then I read about a light fixture that mimicked the sun’s rays. You sat in front of it for a specified amount of time each morning and your SAD problem disappeared. That seemed exciting until I saw the price — much too much for grumpy me.

Until this year. During Thanksgiving Lisa and I got into a discussion about my seasonal “happy” time and she told me about a co-worker whose world changed thanks to a SAD therapy light. I decided to order one no matter the cost. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the prices had gone down considerably. I ordered a small one, keeping my sad fingers crossed.

It arrived when I was at work, so Lisa actually used it before I did. She felt more energetic on that very first day. It took me about a week to realize that I was feeling better — creeping up on me unawares. I was out shopping and saw a dried flower arrangement that simply announced, “I’m spring!” and then a mug with a garden running riot over it. Suddenly I found myself smiling and thinking to myself, “Spring is coming!” I had never had that thought in January.

Shatz told me that he had noticed my sudden cheerfulness and an attitude change that shocked him. It was then that I realized that I had been sleeping better and that I had more energy. Even at night, after an evening of teaching, I no longer dragged myself home as if I were at death’s door. It had to be the light. Nothing else had changed. After all those sad winters, I had finally found my own little miracle.

So now every morning I plug in my “happy light” while drinking my coffee. I don’t dare miss a day, I’m feeling too good. This will do until one day we can move to a place where the sun is always shining. I’m thinking Hawaii.

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avatar Posted by on Jan 29 2015. Filed under As You Like It, Featured Content, Opinion. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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