Looking for the Light

We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.  – John F. Kennedy

It is that time of year when the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer.  Here in Alberta Canada, we have just had our first untimely snow fall.  I know this snow will not last long, but I also know the fall is upon us and the winter is coming.  I used to fear the coming of winter.  Winter makes getting out and moving around much harder for me and many people with a disability.  The likelihood of falls increases and the cold can wreak havoc for some people’s muscles and strength.  For this reason, I used to dread the coming of winter.  I felt more isolated and just did not have the energy that I do in the summer.  Trips somewhere warm were how I dealt with it initially.  Although I still love a vacation in the sun, that was a solution for a short period of time and sometimes financially, that is just not realistic.

Another reason why the winter was not my favorite season, was that my mood drastically changed in the winter.  I would get really anxious and somewhat depressed during the months when there was little sunshine.  When I still worked, I spent every hour of sunlight in a brick building.  I went to work in the pitch dark and came  home in the same darkness.  It could feel like I spent months under ground and that was really hard on my mental state.  In addition to that, looking back at the past 18 years since my diagnosis, every MS relapse I have ever had, has happened in the winter months.  I don’t think that this correlation is merely a coincidence.

That led me to do some research and look at ways to cope with the fall and winter months, that in my neck of the woods, can last a good 7 months.  I came to the realization that jet setting to a tropical location was not my only option to stay out of despair for those months.

I found out that there is an actual disorder for people who are affected drastically by seasonal changes called S.A.D, Seasonal Affected Disorder.  This was a great discovery for me.  One of the main things that I found was something called a Light Therapy Light.  They say that you should turn on a light therapy machine for half an hour first thing in the morning during the winter months to help your mood.  I was pretty disbelieving at first.  However, I decided to try one.  They had certain stats that one needed to have to be therapeutic and I actually found one at Costco that met those standards.  I brought it home and tried it the next morning.  I could not believe, even from the first day I tried it, what a difference it made.  My mood was much more positive, I had more energy and I felt better all around.  What I have found, is that using it first thing in the morning is necessary.  I would sometimes turn it on around 3:00 in the afternoon when I had a slump in energy.  It did not help and I actually had a hard time falling asleep at night when I had used it in the afternoon.  I looked into it and found out that because the light box mimics daylight, it disrupts your circadian rhythms if you use it during the mid day.  Now, I only use it first thing in the morning.  I have a morning routine I do every morning, so I have it in that area and turn it on while I write in my journal.

It also provides some extra Vitamin D during the winter months where we in Canada, are all suffering from deficiency.  I went to a conference this weekend and listened to a presentation on a study around MS and vitamin D.  Everyone with MS suffers from vitamin D deficiency.  Due to that fact, I take 5000 iu of vitamin D daily in the spring and summer, and 10 000 iu in the fall and winter.  The presenter recommended 4000 iu in the winter for healthy individuals.  Any extra I can get in the form of a light box can only be helpful.

The requirements for a therapeutic light box are the following:

  •  10 000 lux of light
  • emit as little UV as possible

Typical recommendations for use:

  • within the first hour of waking
  • for 20-30 minutes
  • at  distance of 16-24 inches from the face
  • eyes open but not looking directly into the light

These requirements and recommendations are from the Mayo Clinic website.   I purchased my first light box from Costco for around $80, so a great investment in comparison to a trip to the Bahamas.  I am not saying that I enjoy sitting in front of the light box as much as I would enjoy tanning in the sun, but it has been a great addition to my toolbox to get me through those rough winter months.  Now that my attitude towards the winter is more positive, I can see the beauty in the icicles on my eavestroughs.   I can also enjoy walks in the snow.  Most of all, I can enjoy celebrating Thanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas and all the wonders of the winter months.

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