Preparing for Winter Depression - in Southern CA?
The other day, my house mate Paul parked himself on the living room floor and flipped on his light box.
What is wrong with this picture?
We live 40 miles out of San Diego 3,500 feet in the mountains, well above the city's cloudy marine layer. Through the windows, brilliant sunlight was streaming in. Pure sun, unadulterated sun, sun eight minutes out of the oven, direct from outer space, unimpeded by any foreign substance, natural or otherwise.
Real sun, not fake lightbox sun. And it was there for the taking. All Paul had to do was lift himself off the floor and walk four feet to the door. Then open the door. Then step out the door.
This is southern California. We're talking Van Gogh sun, Lawrence of Arabia sun, Akhenaton sun deity sun. Stepping out of a darkened room into this kind of sun is like being greeted with the brilliant burst of a supernova just above the trees.
Californians can be weird people. Correction, Paul is from New England, just like me, but it doesn't take long to go native around here.
Flashback nine months ago, early December last year. I had just bailed out of a failed marriage in New Jersey and found myself here in a rural town in Southern California. I was no stranger to winter depression. Bipolars are sitting ducks. On June 21, the longest day of the year, you find a lot of us reacting as if to a death sentence, in the full knowledge that the seasonal hourglass has just been turned.
But here in southern California?
I arrived here, fully expecting to fall to pieces. Marriage break-ups can do that to you. Unexpectedly, I found myself getting better, healing even. What was going on?
For one, I was out in the good weather. Even on the coldest winter days, I could take a long walk in great comfort. I found myself taking my walks when the sun was at its height. One day, I washed my face and the dirt didn't come off. I did a double-take in the bathroom mirror. I actually had a sun tan. Me, Albino Boy, on his way to becoming Nut Brown.
I was getting more sun during the winter here than summer in New Jersey (east coast humidity has a way of keeping me under house arrest, as does the brutal winters).
So here I was, getting more sun than I ever had in my life, with a sun tan to prove it. Moreover I was feeling better than I had ever felt in my life. A lot of things were going on, but surely getting out in the sun played a major role.
At the same time, my new house mates and neighbors were talking about winter and light boxes. I could only laugh. They had to be kidding, right?
Now this, Paul on the floor with his light box on during a brilliant sunny day. Could this be me in a few months? Could there be a rational explanation?
My guess is when we move to a new locale most of us gradually become acclimatized. This means I can expect to complain how cold it is when the temperature here drops below 70.
Last year, a comforting winter sun was a novelty. This year, coming out of a summer in which there was only one (no typo) day of hard rain, my winter sun is going to seem like a meager daily ration.
So, yes, I could have a good laugh at Paul not stepping out the door. But I also knew his early warning system was responding to the phenomenon of less daylight. Plenty of light by New England standards, but I'm a Californian now. Paul's early warning system picked up the change in September. It'll probably take me till December before I start missing the sun.
Then I might start talking about getting a light box. You people from the north can laugh all you want.