In Alaska the seasonal light and dark differences are tough on some people. According to the Alaska Mental Health Association, as much as 20% of all Alaskans may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. My family arrived in April 1970; I seem to recall it was a little hard to fall asleep at first, but after a few times of Mom chewing us out to get our butts in bed asleep or else we would be SAD, we figured it out. It was just the way of life, light summers, dark winters. In fact, when I am in the Lower 48, I am still a little startled how dark it gets there, and how fast. One minute the sun starts going down, the next it is black dark. Here, summer nights are only briefly dusky, and winter’s darkness is tempered by the moon’s reflection off the snow, so it just does not seem that dark to me.
As an adult, however, I have noticed the dark bothers me when I work long hours in windowless offices. Unless I go out to lunch or search out a window every day, I will not see daylight at all. That is bothersome. Health professionals say too much darkness contributes to brain chemical imbalances and vitamin deficiencies. Too little serotonin contributes to depressive moods, too much melatonin contributes to fatigue, as does too little vitamin D, which also compromises calcium absorption for bones and cellular health. Without sunlight exposure alternative treatments are ‘happy’ lights, anti-depressants, and vitamin D supplements. I have worked with people who use the happy lights – they are as bright as fog lamps! Not good for migraineurs. Looking out the window when there is daylight works for me; and it is always a relief to feel the warming sunshine as Winter gives way to Spring.
So the seasonal darkness does not bother me too much; it is the ever present dark melancholy within that seeks to dim my spirit. The long standing stigma of depression prevents people from getting help because admitting the inner struggle may be interpreted as weak character or failure. More often than not family and friends subscribe to the stigma, and quickly grow weary witnessing the inability to ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ and get over it. The resulting guilt and shame of perceived defectiveness adds to the chronic depression’s downward spiral. In the past few decades much progress has been made educating people that a diagnosis of depression is no less a neurological disease than Parkinson’s or Huntington’s. While it may not shorten length of life as those terrible diseases do, depression has both psychiatric and biological components that can be debilitating. Still, approximately half America’s population, including healthcare professionals, believe a depressed person is weak willed or perhaps plain unwilling to meet life’s challenges. Frankly, I prefer to call it ‘dysthymia,’ which is essentially chronic depression, but it strikes as an authoritative medical term rather than just ‘depression.’ It makes it easier to accept I am not defective nor is it my fault I have the illness.
How does one conquer this internal darkness? Thinking one can eliminate a chronic illness may be unrealistic, but it is possible to keep the symptoms at a minimum. Just as a diabetic can successfully manage that illness, preventing ancillary body damage, a dysthymic person can challenge the untruths the black cloud forecasts. By far, what helps me the most is my faith in the Lord. John 8:12 says, ‘When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”’ This has proven true over and over again; no matter how black the darkness gets, there is always the Holy Spirit’s steady glow to lead me out again. I have written the Devotional ‘Breadbox for the Broken’ to share Scriptural light that dispels darkness. It is difficult admitting I struggle with chronic depression. But more so, I am compelled to share with others similarly afflicted that there is hope for the journey. The same as we steadily gain daylight, it is possible to gain ground against dark thoughts through prayer and the Scriptures. The Psalms are my favorite, such as Psalm 119:105 ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.’ Avail yourself of spiritual, medical and emotional resources to brighten your world; then may you be a source of light and hope for others. I liken the results of this path to the words of a well-loved Sunday School song: ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine; This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine; Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.’