Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Putting a Spotlight on Seasonal Affective Disorder

A moment of reposeAlmost exactly one year ago I made a discovery: I suffered from Winter Depression, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. As I detailed in “I Wondered What Was Happening”, I had been on the lookout for a change in my behavior once Autumn rolled in. Then I forgot about it. (Ah, blessed ADHD)

When Daylight Savings Time began I had a rocky week. Most of us do. The shift in our sleep schedule is like experiencing jet lag without all the exotic scenery. At first. I thought I was just having a hard time adjusting as usual, but by the end of the first week I remembered what I was supposed to be on the lookout for: Winter Depression. I was moping, moody, miserable, morbidly sad…and all for no reason that I could think of. The only thing that made sense was that I was sensitive to the lack of light.

That should be an easy enough to prove or disprove, I thought. All I needed was more light. People online recommended visiting a tanning salon for treatment. I was skeptical, but decided to call a few salons. The following is a near exact transcript of the conversation I had:

“Hello, I’m doing some research on tanning beds and their ability to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?”
“SAD?”, I offered.
“Ooooh, we like have people come in here all the time for that,” the phone girl offered—obviously happy to finally have a mooring in our conversation.
“You do? That’s great. Can you tell me what types of lights you use? Are they full spectrum or just ultra violet?”
“Uhh, let me get you somebody who can help you.”
A moment later another young lady came to the phone. I began asking the same questions.
“We don’t have full...what was that called again?”
“Full spectrum”
“Yeah, I’ve worked here for seven years and like I’ve never heard of full, you know, uhhh..”
“Spectrum. You know how the sun has a full spectrum of...”

This wasn’t going to work, so I tried a different tact.

“The wavelengths of light from the sun spread from infrared all the way to ultraviolet. Full spectrum light is brighter, whiter. Like the sun? Tanning beds usually only focus on ultraviolet.”
“Oh! Like all our lights are like the sun. That’s how they like tan.”

I politely inquired about pricing, which was almost as complicated as our phone call, then I called the next salon on my list. That conversation was more baffling than previous ones, plus it was filled with more “likes” and “ums”. Now I know where all the cute, high school girls are employed in my state. If I was dating, or 25 years younger, that might be important information.

My next step was to look up light therapy on the internet. This yielded very interesting sites that dabbled in light machines for clearing acne and depression, plus giant chunks of salt rock with interior light bulbs that produced negative ion flows. Perhaps the ions mingled with the salt and made the light more savory?

Clearly, my only other recourse was to contact a psychologist to inquire about light boxes, but I was hesitant. From what I understood, and I’m being technical here, the way light boxes work is that you stick your face in the things and look at a special lightbulb for a set amount of time—every day. That sounded dreadful to me. Surely there was a way to get the light I needed without torturing my ADHD brain with a very boring light show? On top of that, the light boxes were very expensive.

If all I needed was fuller spectrum light, couldn’t I install full spectrum bulbs into my ceiling lights and benefit that way? I thought about which rooms I spent the most time in then bought six daylight spectrum CFLs. Four went into the kitchen and two went into the studio.

What an amazing difference they made.

I held off blogging about them until I could test their results over the winter and through the next Autumn DST transition. I can report to you now that full spectrum light bulbs were miraculous for me, and because they were CFLs they are still burning strong today. They removed Winter Depression from me last year and smoothed the transition through Daylight Savings Time this week. To think I used to be miserable throughout past winters—wondering why I was having such a hard time staying upbeat.

Most amazing to me was how simple the solution was. I can’t speak for everybody, but they were the perfect solution for me. I would definitely recommend full spectrum daylight CFL bulbs if the lack of daylight brings you down. Analyze your symptoms, work with an expert, and find relief today.

What do you do to treat SAD/Winter Depression?