I Used to Think Winter Blues Were a Con, Now I've Seen the Light

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Seasonal affective
disorder – SAD – was something I used to think people
made up as an excuse to be grumpy.

how could a lack of sunlight make you depressed?

And then I
returned to the UK after living in America for four years.

One of the
things I loved most about America – even more than free coffee
refills – was the crisp, sunny winters. Even between December
and February, you can average five hours of sunshine per day.

In London,
we get one hour in December, and two in January and February.

My first winter
in the UK for four years hit me with an almighty wallop. On the
outside everything was going well – our first child was even
sleeping through the night – so why did I want to crawl under
the duvet and stay there until June?

A friend suggested
I might suffer from SAD, but I pooh-poohed her suggestion. I soldiered
on, sinking deeper and deeper into my black mood as the winter progressed,
refusing – very Britishly – to give in.

The next winter
was even worse. We had two children by then, so sleep deprivation
was added into the mix.

The leaden
skies made for a grim succession of depressive symptoms. I didn’t
want to do anything. I didn’t want to see anyone. I couldn’t
be bothered to cook, so I loaded up on toast, crisps and pizza.

My work suffered,
too. My creative output totalled one unfinished short story –
about a man who refused to get out of bed.

Still, I obstinately
refused to listen to my friend, who gently advised I might want
to try some bright light therapy. As a SAD sufferer herself, she
swore by the mood-changing power of her lightbox.

On a sunny
day, she explained, the strength of light outside is approximately
50,000 to 100,000 ‘lux’ (a lux is simply a unit for measuring
light intensity), whereas indoors on an overcast winter’s day
it is as little as 100 to 200.

An effective
‘bright light therapy session’, she explained, would require
me to be exposed to a light source of at least 2,500 lux for about
an hour a day, two or three times a week. This should be enough
to ward off the blues.

In October
last year, when the clocks went back, I was still insisting that
bright light therapy was an overreaction to a spot of the winter

My wife disagreed.
Without my knowledge, she ordered me a circular 10,000 lux lamp
costing £140 made by a Finnish company called Innosol. (Gloomy
Finland has the highest rate of SAD in the world, with 9.5 per cent
of the population formally diagnosed as sufferers.)

the rest of the article

28, 2009

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