In 1986, the Claude Monet exhibition was coming to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where I was working after graduating from college. At the time Monet was one of my favorite artists, so even though I knew it would be a zoo (and crowds are not my favorite experience) I decided to buy a ticket. I had to buy it months in advance, so I carefully mulled over the choice of which weekend I should order tickets for. Then it was obvious - it had to be some time in November.
When I lived in New England, which was about three quarters of my life, I loathed November. October was beautiful with its brilliant sunshine, flaming leaves and bright blue sky. December had the distractions of the holidays, so it wasn't too bad. When it came to gray skies, January and February were no fun either, but for some reason November bothered me the most. It seemed that we always had more gray days during that month, for one thing. But I think the real reason I hated November was that was the month when the prison door of winter clanged shut.
So I had instinctively chosen November as the best time to see the exhibit. I knew that the skies would be dark and heavy, and that my mood would match. Monet's paintings would be a welcome relief and the perfect antidote to the darkness that always seemed to permeate my life at that time of the year.
When I first realized that I probably suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in addition to depression, it made sense. Even in summer, I crave light. The only reason I'll keep curtains drawn is extreme heat. Also, now that I think back, all of my bouts with major depression began in the fall. Maybe SAD tipped my dysthymic disorder (long-term, low-level depression) into major depression. It could be just a coincidence that those bouts all started in the fall, but there's no question that I've had SAD for years. In the late fall and winter I've always had less energy, eaten more carbohydrate rich foods and basically crawled right into bed as soon as I got home from work.
When we moved to California from Connecticut in January of 2006, I was thrilled that I had seen the last winter filled with gray skies, and probably the last of SAD. Years ago, I met a man whose SAD was so severe that he moved to Hawaii. At the time, I envied him, as I didn't know that I would be able to permanently increase my sunshine intake a few years later.
Although the East Bay's rainy season is in the winter, there are many fewer of those days with low clouds blanketing the sun that we got in the Northeast. Even when the sun shows up in New England in the winter, it's watery and pale. Here in California there are many more sunny days in the winter, and the sun is strong when it is out. So the first winter we were here, and the next, just flew by. I spent a lot of time outdoors soaking up the sun. I had to keep reminding myself that it was winter - my least favorite time of the year. It certainly didn't feel like it.
Then last summer I started working at the University of California (I had been working from home). Last winter I started seeing the symptoms of SAD again. It didn't take long to figure out why. My cubicle is far away from any windows and I only get direct sunlight when I go outside. The heavy fog (you have no idea what fog is like until you move here) often obscures the sun when I'm going to and from work, so some days the only sun I get is at lunch. Combined with the increased number of cloudy days in the winter time, my SAD symptoms started to re-emerge. The symptoms this time were fairly mild, relatively speaking, so it took me until the beginning of spring to notice.
But I figure any amount of SAD is too much, so this coming fall and winter I'm planning on giving light therapy a try. I'm going to research it and write more about it in a future SharePost.
Published On: September 27, 2008