Yesterday was the summer solstice, also known as the longest day of the year. I love this day, partially because it has a cool-ass name and partially because for me it’s a reminder of how much better I feel than I did six-months ago on the winter solstice. That’s because I suffer from this thing called Seasonal Affective Disorder, more commonly known as SAD. Basically, SAD is a subset of Major Depressive Disorder that affects people only during certain seasons, which for me is the fall and winter. So, because of SAD I get sad when it’s cold outside, and especially when it starts to get dark outside.
In fact, SAD is intrinsically linked to darkness. For those with winter SAD, the most common form of treatment is light therapy, which is essentially when you sit in a room with super bright lights for an hour or so and trick your brain into thinking it’s sunnier outside than it is. Another popular treatment is incorporating dawn simulators into your bedroom so that when your alarm goes, the room slowly brightens as well. I think we can all agree that dragging yourself out of bed when it’s still dark outside is kinda the worst, so this helps. It’s interesting actually, because even people without SAD generally feel happier during the warmer, sunnier months. Some biological link to hibernation, or something like that a therapist told me once.
Of all the mental illnesses, when I explain SAD to people, it seems to be the easiest for them to connect with. Almost everyone has experienced feeling gloomy when three rainy days hit in a row, or the extra pep in your step that occurs during the first day it truly feels like spring outside. SAD is basically that cycle on a bigger scale. For me, the days getting shorter makes me an all-around less productive person. The symptoms of my depression become more poignant and more acutely felt. More than one rainy day in a row is enough for my anxiety to kick in and panic attacks to start. On those days where it seems like the sun is only out for an hour, it takes every last bit of energy I have to get out of bed, brush my teeth, and go to work. And it’s not like every day of the winter is a bad day, just that it is substantially more likely for me to have a bad day during the dark months than during the spring and summer.
Sometimes I experience things that aren’t textbook side-effects to SAD, but I think are related to that same type of sensitive to darkness. I’ve never liked sitting in the dark for too long watching TV or movies and I prefer every light in my house to be on the highest possible setting. I think I was one of the few people in my college dorm who preferred the harsh, industrial overhead lights over some sort of mood lighting. I loved those huge, bright, ridiculous things. Even sitting in a dimly lit restaurant for too long messes with my head. Even though I think that a decent chunk of these things might be related to some sort of placebo effect, I still drive my friends crazy asking to keep the lights on during movies and opening every single curtain in their rooms.
But I think there’s also some good side affects too. For one, no matter how tired I am, being outside in the morning light instantly wakes me up. I’ve never had to drink caffeine in the morning because my body naturally seems to release endorphins or adrenaline or whatever the thing is that coffee replicates to makes you awake as soon as the sun rises. It also means that I get to experience a unique sense of joy the first time I can lay on the grass and feel the sun on my face. Even though depression is a mental illness, mine has very real effects on my daily life, and sometimes it feels as though a weight is literally floating away from my body when it starts to get nicer out. I’m not really sure what it feels like to be that free all the time, so I am able to truly appreciate and cherish every single good day that I have, and there’s a ton of them.
Yesterday, as I was thinking about how happy I was that it was summer solstice time again, an annoying little voice from somewhere in the back of my head popped up to point out that this means everything is slowly starting to get dark again. I knew this was a ridiculous way to look at things, but it still made me cranky and was probably partially responsible for me lashing out at my friends later that night (sorry, Ronnie). I brought this negative thought up today during my session with my therapist, and she smiled and said that I was the third persons today who said the exact same thing. She also pointed out that while today may be slightly shorter than yesterday, it’s still the second-longest day of the year, which is equally worth celebrating. I liked that thought.
In Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, my boy Newt explains that “worrying means you suffer twice.” I think it is time to listen to smart people like Newt and my therapist and embrace that sort of lifestyle. From now on, I will do my best to appreciate the sunny days while they’re here, and deal with all that other nonsense once the leaves start falling.
Happy Summer Solstice, plus one!