“I hate when the season changes and the number of things that are going on decreases,” admits my friend Karla De Juan Romero, who is also the editor for HUMANIZE Magazine and former sufferer of seasonal affective disorder, which is aptly acronymed “SAD”.
Fortunately for her, I just learned, she has a little stay-sunny strategy that helps her chase away the blues. Karla told me winter for her is now a time to discover new music and artists. It’s because she doesn’t spend as much time outside during the colder seasons, and her computer time fills in that void. “I get more work done,” she says. “I may not get that live inspiration, but I get that international inspiration; I order a bunch of magazines and watch a lot of movies.”
Like Karla used to, I also experience the negative effects of fall, with its shorter days and less sunlight. It hits me in a big way, but I know I’m not alone. SAD affects between 4 and 7 percent of the population. The recurrent depressive disorder happens when the seasons change.
“It has a lot to do with the amount of light that one is exposed to,” explains Dr. Arturo Salazar, who specializes in family medicine. “The lack of light creates chemistry changes [serotonin and melatonin] that decrease excitability, and people tend to get depressed,” he says.
I thought I was getting the flu recently. There were several days in a row that were overcast, gloomy and rainy, and I had a difficult time dragging myself out of bed. That, and I was irritable, very tired and my entire body ached. I craved carb-laden foods, such as pasta, potatoes, and big sandwiches, and I indulged those cravings while listening to sad songs.
In retrospect, I found out those are also textbook symptoms of SAD. But Salazar told me a few ways that others help lessen SAD’s effects. “Some people benefit from having a light therapy lamp (also known as happy lamps),” he says. “However, it can be treated like other forms of depression by doing exercise, staying active, getting medication and having interaction with other people.”
I have never tried to use a light therapy lamp, but I remember the one thing that got me through last winter was the fact that many of my friends lived nearby. In fact, when we all got snowed-in and faced the extreme cold weather, my husband and I bundled up and made the trek across the block to our neighbors at the Commonwealth. There, we played board games and music, and we cooked food. It was one of the best times I ever had.
Karla also recommends making “house shows” a positive winter activity. “You walk into a place, you are all looking for that same feeling of warm bodies, and the sound isn’t great -- houses are not equipped for sound -- but that is part of [the charm of] it,” she says.
Although it can be hard to stay on top of where house shows take place, one can pick up a copy of Not Nothing from General Public Collective or from Luna Music and learn when and where music gatherings will take place. Pop-up shows are a good reason to follow local artists on Facebook, as they are the equivalent of house shows for visual artists, and are also hard to come by.
As mentioned by Salazar, interacting with other people can be very important, so staying holed-up indoors the entire winter is probably not a great idea. Locate your nearby friends, like I did, and head over to discover local watering holes, attend First Friday, or go to museums.
Karla recalls fall and winter being hard for her for many years, but somehow she began to appreciate winter and found that the cold weather can bring its share of inspiration and things to do as well. She says that learning how to make soups, trying new and different kinds of hot teas, ordering take-out, and exploring your more adventurous, romantic side can also help stave off the blues when staying homebound.
These are all ideas I am very willing to subscribe to. November's First Friday is coming right up, along with quite a few other events. I’ll give them a try and let you know later what works for me. And if you know of additional “therapies” -- especially if they involve culture and arts –- please share.
Personally, I will surround myself with friends and make Indianapolis’ arts calendar the medicine that gets me through. Although a happy lamp sounds good too.