It happened while I was visiting my sister. It was a great winter visit and I was in love with my niece and nephew. But a few days before I was to leave — Boom! — it fell and anchored me to the bed. I asked my sister to take the kids to a baby sitter that day because I couldn’t deal with them. I couldn’t deal with anything except head under covers in a darkened room. True, I was being treated for depression, but the antidepressant, an SSRI, that had worked so well suddenly abandoned me. And that’s how I felt. Abandoned. I saw fear in my sister’s eyes. She’d never seen me like this. It went on like this for two days, and I couldn’t leave when I’d planned. Pack! Forget it. I could barely brush my teeth.
In my darkness I remembered my doctor’s advice that I find practitioner who specialized in light therapy. This was not the first autumn/winter that an antidepressant had failed me. A few winters before that I did nothing but work, eat, sleep, and I did manage to take care of my cats, but not my beautifully lush plants, and when late spring arrived, I discovered that they were dead and as crisp and the Cheez-Its (R) I had been stuffing my face with. I made my way to my sister’s computer, found a site that sold light therapy products, and ordered a light box and a book on SAD, seasonal affective disorder, for myself.
The light box and book arrived a week after I returned to New York, and I prayed that it would work, because if it didn’t, I had no idea what I was going to do. I was literally hopeless.
- Loss of energy
- Heavy, leaden feeling in the arms or legs
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed (Reading? Bah! Sex? Oh, please!)
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating (a short magazine article was the best I could do).
The light worked for me! In 2-3 days! Phew! I started out with 45 minutes a day and then decreased time until I found that 15 minutes did it for me. My energy returned and the winter blues lifted.
Looking directly at your light is not recommended, but you can simultaneously engage in such activities as reading and writing, or eating meals. It’s important to turn your head and body toward the light, concentrating on activities on the illuminated surfaces and not on the light itself. Your light needs might be different than mine. As I said, my sessions were 15 minutes long once a day in early morning, but sessions can last from 15 minutes to three hours, once or twice a day. The average length of a session for a light delivering 10,000 lux illumination is, for example, much shorter than for one delivering 2,500 lux (30 minutes vs. two hours).
The time of day for light therapy is another important factor. I used mine immediately after getting up, but on mornings when I was pressed for time, I threw my portable light into my backpack and set it up at my workstation on the job. Side effects: Having to listen to tanning jokes (I’m black) from coworkers.
Some very light-sensitive people, living and working in dim environments, might feel improvement with increased exposure to normal room light. Research studies show, however, that most sufferers of SAD and winter doldrums require exposure to light levels much higher than ordinary indoor lamps and ceiling fixtures provide. Such therapeutic levels are five to twenty times higher (as measured in lux or foot-candles by a light meter) than typical indoor illumination in the home or office.
If outdoor light intensities are what’s critical, can the therapeutic effect be achieved by spending more time outdoors in winter? For most of us, the strongest therapeutic effect requires exposure to artificial bright light in early morning — at an hour (6:30 a.m., for example) when it is still quite dark outdoors during long winter nights.
How does the light work? The therapeutic level of illumination has several known physiological effects. Blood levels of the light-sensitive hormone melatonin, which may be abnormally high at certain times of day, are rapidly reduced by light exposure. Depending on when bright light is presented, the body’s internal clock — which controls daily rhythms of body temperature, hormone secretion, and sleep patterns — shifts ahead or is delayed when stimulated by light. These physiological time shifts may be the basis of the therapeutic response. Light may also amplify the day-night difference in these rhythms. Research into the possible mechanisms is currently underway, and the final answer is not yet in.
An important possible side effect is that you could shift into a state of overactivity during which you might have difficulty sleeping or might become restless or irritable, and feel speedy or “too high.”
About a month later, I added this little beauty:
The dawn-dusk simulator. When we sleep, we gradually drift deeper and deeper , and then return to a lighter sleep state. It takes about 90 minutes to go through the entire cycle, and return to a light sleep state. Trying to wake up from the deepest sleep states is difficult – you’ll feel groggy and half unconscious. Waking up from a light sleep state is much easier; it takes less to wake you up, and you’ll feel pretty good and well-rested. To get the most from your dawn simulator… plan to sleep in 90 minute increments. Set your alarm for 4.5 hours, 6 hours, 7.5 hours, or 9 hours after you go to bed… and you should wake up easily, and feeling better. I did. I loved it.
“The baby bat
Screamed out in fright,
‘Turn on the dark,
I’m afraid of the light.”
― Shel Silverstein
I created a Happy Box. Get yourself a decorative box or two.
Fill it with your favorite New Yorker magazine cartoons. Old and new photographs. Birthday cards. DVDs of Louis CK, Tina Fey, Chris Rock, Wanda Sykes. Jokes, no matter how corny. Inspirational stuff like Wayne Dyer. In addition to him, I chose the Dalai Lama and Daisaku Ikeda and Thich Nhat Hanh.
What would you put in your Happy Box?
- How To Deal With The Winter Blues: Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder (naturalhealthezine.com)
- Combat Depression with Light Therapy (caringtouchspa.wordpress.com)
- Depressed Pets Can Receive Simulated Sunlight to Fend Off the Winter Blues Using the First Ever Light Box Designed for Dogs and Cats (prweb.com)
- Let there be light therapy (mnn.com)
- Combat Depression with Light Therapy (caringtouchspa.com)