Light Therapy for "Indoor" Seasonal Affective Disorder
I alluded in a previous blog to my feeling that my antidepressants weren’t working as well as they had been in the past. I was not severely depressed, but I lacked motivation to get things done around the house or do crafts. I noticed that I was not particularly talkative and I knew that my overall demeanor was somewhat grim.
I was discouraged, as I’m on the maximum standard dose of Wellbutrin. Where do you go from there? And why had it stopped working?
As I was writing my series on light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder this past winter, I started thinking. Maybe my depression was a result of lack of light, and I had in essence developed SAD all year round.
A few years ago we moved from Connecticut, with its months of gray winter skies, to sunny California. Initially I wasn’t working outside the home, so I spent a lot of time outside, even in the winter. Fifty degrees in the pale winter Connecticut sun is chilly; fifty degrees in the bright winter California sun is comfortable. For the first time in a while, I was gardening.
A little more than a year after we moved, I started working full-time. My desk is about twenty feet away from the closest natural light, and I leave the fluorescent overhead lights off, as they tend to give me a headache. Initially I took a walk every lunch hour, but heat waves in the summer and wimpiness in the winter cut down on them pretty significantly.
So in reality I was getting very little sun. I’m inside, nowhere near a window, for most of my waking day, Monday through Friday. In the summer I’m outside on the weekends a fair amount, and I felt that in retrospect, my mood had been better in the summer.
A couple of days after I came up with this hypothesis, I decided to see if I could treat my possible year-round SAD with light therapy. I bought a small light therapy device that was well reviewed on Amazon, and put it on my desk at work. I must confess that while I planned to record the length of time and brightness, that fell by the wayside. My job is fairly hectic. So I just kept it on throughout the whole day, initially. I started having insomnia, which I found fascinating. Who would think that a simple thing like a bright light during the day could cause insomnia hours later? While fascinating, this was also quite tiring, so I started turning the light off at noon, and my insomnia was mitigated.
Two months later I can report with a fair amount of confidence that the light therapy has made a difference. My mood is much improved, and the only thing that changed was the addition of that little (about 5" x 5") light on my desk. Of course, colleagues asked about it, and I simply said that my cube was far too dark, and I found it a bit depressing.
If you think that you might be suffering from mild to moderate depression for that reason, you might want to try light therapy.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.