Tag Archives: sun

The worst day of the year: surviving the days with no sunlight

An [American] friend asked me recently, “So are you guys still enjoying your stay over there?” To answer in a word, YES! These last couple of months have flown by so quickly that it’s hard to believe that in a few weeks we will have been in the UK for six months. SIX MONTHS, PEOPLE. That’s a long time. And a short time. You know what I mean.

And, as is the usual, I managed to take a break from writing for, um, a “few” weeks.

To me, these last couple of months have been critical in several ways, but mainly: I’VE SURVIVED THE DARKEST MONTHS OF THE YEAR WITHOUT REGRESSING INTO MY DEPRESSION!!!! Big deal. Huge. You guys, on what I often call “the worst day of the year,” aka December 21, aka the Winter Solstice, the sun rose at 8:00am and set at 3:50pm here in London. Less than 8 hrs of sunlight. And high noon looked like 4pm because the sun is so low here.

Those of you familiar with depression know that the depths of winter can be a trying time. Lack of sunlight = lack of vitamin D and also a lack of visual brightness, both of which are clinically proven to help reduce the effects of depression. Not to mention the potential of added stress of holidays and family and after-Christmas-blues.

I’ll be brutally honest: of all the unknowns and fears and general disruption of moving our family to London, my biggest inner fear was that, even while still taking my anti-depressant, I would not be able to handle the darkness of winter again and my mind would slip back into a state of depression. I was coming from a place where there is sunshine literally 360 days a year, and all I could remember about winters in Boston was being filled with dread, discontent and a general grumpiness.

BUT. So far so good! And here are a few things I believe have contributed to my “staying afloat” these last couple of months.

  • We walk EVERYWHERE.

    We walk EVERYWHERE.

    I’ve been outside a lot. We don’t own a car here (!) so I literally walk EVERYWHERE. I make the point to walk even when I could/should take a bus or cab. And while I wish I could say it was great exercise, it’s moderate at best. BUT being outdoors during the day makes such a big difference than when I was either in school or at work all day, and it was dark when I left home and dark when I returned. My little buddy Anders and I are out and about during the day, which means that when the sun is actually shining, we’re in it.

  • I own a “light therapy” light box, an amazing gift from my mother-in-law. This one, to be exact. It is not UV rays. It’s basically just a bright lamp that you sit in front of to give your eyes the illusion of being in daylight. I use it a couple of times a week, and while it’s not an immediate mood-booster, I’m positive it has benefitted my overall mood.
  • Sunrise Alarm Clock

    Sunrise Alarm Clock

    I also use a “sunrise alarm clock.” It slowly brightens as the hour gets closer to my “awake” time, so that when I need to get out of bed, it’s not pitch black in my room. I also use one in the kids’ room! It’s been most useful, actually, for my son when I need to wake him from his naptime and it’s pretty much dark in his north-facing bedroom.

  • I’ve been pretty regular at taking my vitamin D supplements, along with fish oil (omega 3s) and my multi-vitamin.
  • I’ve been praying against my depression, and I know my close friends and family are, too. (For which I’m so very grateful!!) When I start feeling anxious or stressed, I claim these promises. We’ve also found a church we can truly worship in, yay!
  • I’m still taking 50mg of sertraline. As I’ve written before, this is not a “happy pill”. But for me it’s made a major difference in my life and has enabled me to “wake up” and literally smell the hundreds of roses that are in this lovely city of London :-)

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly times I can feel hints of my past depression and short-temperedness, usually when I’m tired and trying to haul my stroller/”buggy” and a “soccer/football” and a few bags of groceries and two whining kids up the stairs to my flat and my darling son chooses that moment to lie on the third step throwing a tantrum because he wiped his nose with his hand and now his hand is wet… (Our poor, sweet neighbors have never once complained about our kids…!!)

But for now, for this moment, I’m doing ok. (So thanks for asking!!)

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My Battle Plan: 7 ways I’m fighting depression

My last two posts describe my journey of acknowledging that I suffer from depression. In this post, I’d like to share with you some of the ways I’m fighting that depression. I consider these things to be part of my battle plan; they are, literally, very intentional steps and tools I use to slay the monster that constantly threatens to rise. They are best effective when being done simultaneously; to pick and choose is not an option for me – that would be the same as putting on a chestplate but ignoring the helmet. It’s truly a holistic approach.

So, without further ado, here are 7 ways I’m fighting my depression!

1. I am on an anti-depressant. Please. Don’t stop reading! I reached an all-time low when Anders was about 10 weeks old. At that point, my mind was so overcome with a dark, all-consuming and sometimes frantic cloud that I literally had trouble forming coherent sentences. (You can read more about my symptoms in my earlier post.) When I finally went to my doctor, she recommended a low-dose of sertraline, a “selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor” (SSRI). I had mixed feelings about starting a prescription medication; didn’t that mean that I was “quitting” my fight? That I wasn’t praying enough? That I was now certifiably “crazy”?

Thankfully, I have wise people in my life to dispel those lies for me. A serotonin imbalance is just that: it’s a physical, chemical imbalance. My husband and I prayed a lot about this. I realized that my perception of God was that if I took this medicine, I’d be turning my back on him. I came to understand, through wise counsel of friends and family, that God does not view us this way! He knows that our physical bodies are FLAWED. We get sick. We get cancer. We get injured. And God has given us the ability to create medicine to help us heal. (Here’s a great article on Christians and anti-depressants.)

Sertraline is not a “happy pill.” That’s just not the way an SSRI works. But what it did do was pull the dark cloud back just enough for me to see my situation in a more objective way. I wasn’t all of a sudden “Happy! Yay! Isn’t life grand!” But I stopped feeling overwhelmed with anger. I stopped sobbing for hours. I started noticing when my daughter laughed and my son smiled.

I started to see clearly for the first time in months, and I could finally breathe.

2. I started exercising regularly. Once my medicine allowed me to come up for air, I knew it was only beginning of my journey. I started researching depression, and one of the most common ways to help fight it is to have a very regular exercise plan. Exercise has been proven to release serotonin into your brain! So we joined the local YMCA and thankfully my kids love the childcare there. :-) I try to go 4-5 times a week. This is a lot, I know, but I NEED to do it. If I go more than a few days without exercising, I notice a distinct change in my mood (yes, even while on the SSRI – again, it’s not a “happy pill”!)

The big thing for me is making the choice to JUST SHOW UP. I never regret going once I’m there!

image3. I started memorizing scripture and being more intentional with my prayers. Why? I know some of you don’t believe in God or prayers, but I do, and I hope you can read this knowing that I’m just sharing my own experience. :-) Now that I know my brain has a tendency to become depressed, I need to arm myself with the peace that comes from the Word of God. Some of you might call it “positive thoughts”, but I truly believe there is power when scripture is spoken. A sweet friend wrote out a few verses for me and I have placed them around my house in spots where I spend a lot of time (my bathroom, my kitchen counter, the laundry room, etc.). This forces me to turn my thoughts to God instead of focusing on the stress of a “To Do” list. Scripture and prayer help me feel more centered and stable, and I swear it makes my blood pressure drop :-)

For a list of my favorite verses that help encourage and empower me, visit my resources page!

4. I surround myself with supportive friends. I have talked about my great circle of friends from my church: strong, loving, non-judgmental and honest women who have been a huge part in my recovery. If you don’t have a group of friends like this (and I’m not talking about friends who just say, “oh, I’m sorry” but friends who call you specifically to say “How are you today? What can I pray for?”), then I’d sincerely encourage finding a counselor or therapist you can talk to. TALKING about your feelings sounds so cliché, but it is SO FREEING!!! I have forced my husband to feel comfortable using the word “depression.” Because, after all, if I’m living with depression, and AJ lives with me, then AJ is living with depression, too.

5. I try to get enough sleep. “Enough” of course, can vary for each individual. Right now, I have two small children. My 3 year old daughter still likes to get “help” using the potty in the middle of the night (beats having an accident!) and my son still suffers from reflux/upset tummy off-and-on. I never know if I’ll have a solid nights’ sleep or, like last night, be awake three times from 12:00-3:00am.

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If I go too long with poor sleep, I REALLY notice my mood gets terrible. This happens to anyone! And it can be especially dangerous for someone battling depression. Therefore, I do two main things to help ensure I am sleep-savvy: 1) I take naps when I feel I need one. Simple. No questions. Laundry and dishes come second to sleep. 2.) I communicate with my husband about it!! If I’m drained, I’ll ask him to be the one to get up in the night, and I’ll put in earplugs. Thankfully he falls back to sleep very quickly and is willing to help in this area.

6. I try to maintain general good health. This means eating well, which, for me means minimal carbs and wheat and focusing more on proteins and produce. (Did you know chronic depression can be a symptom of a gluten sensitivity?!) It means taking the proper vitamin supplements to ensure my body can fight diseases. It means being outside, in the sun (vitamin D can help fight depression!), and being active.image

7. I take breaks. My husband and I try to be intentional about planning regular dates, and this meant working babysitting costs into our budget. I also try to take a break from the kids and house at least once or twice a month, to go shopping or get coffee or go out with some girlfriends. This is so important because it allows you to think about things besides your “duties”! it can be so freeing to get away, even if just for a few hours.

My approach to fighting my depression is, I believe, a holistic one. I’m trying to prepare myself so that if I ever need or want to stop taking my medication, then I am fully able to do so without it being a catastrophe. And in order to do that I need to objectively and deliberately look at ALL areas of my life and adjust them accordingly.

My “battle plan” is unique to me. If you are suffering depression (any kind of depression, not just post-partum!), you need to evaluate your OWN circumstances and create a battle plan that is right for you! But I hope that I have at least given you a place to start, and have sparked some thoughts of change and hope in your life. You can overcome this! And until it is completely overcome, you CAN manage it, and you can live a life in full bloom.  :-)

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Disclaimer:

I am not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. The comments and opinions expressed in these articles are merely comments and opinions. Please seek professional medical advice before making any changes to the diet, exercise, or medication of yourself or your children.

Ahhh, Sweet Sun!

Funny Seasonal Ecard: I am not sunburnt...I overdosed on Vitamin D!

Those of you who know me know that I LOVE SUNSHINE!! There are very few things I love more than being able to stretch out my bare toes in the sun and feel warm.  When I soak up the rays, I truly feel that I am soaking up energy and restoring balance to my body.

I have felt this way since I was a child. Part of it may be that I come from a long line of New England sun-worshippers – I have many distinct memories of my mother “laying out” and of my grandmother “catching some sun.” This might be due to the extreme darkness of New England winters; when it’s finally summer (read: 60 degrees and sunny), you take advantage of it (read: bathing suit and tanning oil).

But perhaps my love for sun is actually my body’s way of telling me what it sorely needs: vitamin D.

I now realize that I have had chronic depression since I was a teenager. When I was in high school my friends would call me “Sunshine” for two reasons: partly because they knew I loved the sun, but mostly as a satirical comment on my anything-but-sunny outlook on life.  When I was a freshman in [a New England] college, I learned about a thing called Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately called SAD), which is also known as the winter blues or seasonal depression. Whoa. This was huge to me. My depression had gotten pretty severe that winter, and had come with the stereotypical symptoms of insomnia and a terrible body image. I craved sunshine. I felt so desperate for it that I bought a UV light bulb for my dorm room!

Now I realize that I was probably severely vitamin D deficient. I got sick often. I had trouble sleeping. I had depression. And I hadn’t seen the sun in 5 months. Experts at the Mayo Clinic say “Some studies suggest an association between low vitamin D levels in the blood and various mood disorders, including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and premenstrual syndrome. Also vitamin D supplementation may improve symptoms of depression associated with seasonal affective disorder.”  And here’s another great article about the risks of Vitamin D deficiency.

imageDid you know that if you live north of San Francisco/Washington DC, it is impossible to get enough vitamin D from the sun in the winter? As in, IT IS NOT POSSIBLE. The sun is too low in the sky to penetrate the atmosphere effectively. Some people call it a Vitamin D Winter. Crazy, huh!

So now you’re probably wondering: if sunshine is the cure for depression, why have I struggled with it while living in Southern Arizona?

First of all, sunshine is not a cure for depression, but it can ease symptoms in some cases. Second, hormones and genetics also play a big role. And third, nearly 75% of people living in Southern Arizona are vitamin D deficient!!!* Isn’t that just crazy?!?! The sun shines literally 360 days of the year here!

But, as I noticed very quickly upon my arrival, the people of Arizona are afraid of the sun. They hate it. They will park 50 yards away just to be in the shade. They refuse to be outside between the hours of 9 and 3. At the park, every child (and parent) is wearing a hat, sunscreen (even at nine o’clock in the morning – literally, I saw someone today spray their kid and it was 8:50am) and sometimes even long sleeves even though it’s almost 100 degrees. NO ONE has a tan.  We see people using umbrellas walking from their car to the store, and now my daughter asks, “It’s really hot out, Mommy, can I have an umbrella?”

The truth is, we NEED sunshine! Our bodies absorb vitamin D from the sun much more efficiently than from a supplement, and 10-20 minutes in peak sunlight can provide us with the appropriate amount without risking skin cancer. Of course I put [a natural] sunscreen on my kids when we’re out for a long time. But walking from the car to Target? Bring on the sun!

For the first four years of living in Southern Arizona, my depression symptoms drastically decreased. My insomnia was gone, my attitude was better, and overall I just felt healthy. Even my husband noticed a difference in me. The roller-coaster hormones of pregnancy and post-partum of two babies is what did me in, but more on that later.

I firmly believe that sunshine can make a difference, even if slight. So if you are having a lousy day, are sick all the time or are feeling blue, try getting your 15 minutes of rays every day, and see if it helps!

* REF: Am J Clinical Nutrition. Mar;87(3):608-13. 2008

 

Disclaimer:

I am not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. The comments and opinions expressed in these articles are merely comments and opinions. Please seek professional medical advice before making any changes to the diet, exercise, or medication of yourself or your children.