mental health

The Other Vampires

I’m only happy when it rains
I’m only happy when it’s complicated
And though I know you can’t appreciate it
I’m only happy when it rains

~Garbage, “Only Happy When it Rains”

Like clockwork, Daylight Saving Time rolls around in the latter half of the year, and people start complaining. Not about gaining an hour of sleep (what person in their right mind fusses over that?). No, the whines start in about the sun going down earlier and earlier in the evening. People HATE losing the light of day. It’s a reminder that shorter days (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway) equate to colder temperatures. (That’s the theory, anyway. Where I live in Virginia, winter tends to be a crapshoot) All of those protests circle around the common diagnosis of SAD: seasonal affective disorder.

You got it: Depression for everyone else.

Seasonal affective disorder crops up when human beings don’t get enough sunlight in their lives. They start to experience mood changes and a general lack of interest in the world. For those around the Arctic Circle, where daylight makes a brief appearance during the winter months, communities put in significant efforts to stave off SAD. You’ll find plenty of indoor activities – complete with LIGHT – to engage the interest and engagement of the residents as they sit in perpetual darkness. (I can’t speak for the Antarctic region as I’ve never lived down there. I’m assuming the scientific outposts do the same thing. Everyone knows penguins entertain themselves with dance competitions) Seasonal affective disorder increases the risk of suicide in those areas, so the need for SOMETHING to distract people from their melancholy is considered vital. (I know, I see the irony, too)

When we lived in Alaska, you found everything you could think of: indoors. Recess shifted inside once winter settled in. Of course, that also correlated with the fact that we’d freeze to death in a matter of minutes. (Try explaining that to a bunch of kindergartners with cabin fever, though) Gathering INSIDE was normal. And, on occasion, you ducked outside to glimpse the Northern Lights. Seeing a vibrant display of color in the sky boosted the mood, though. Because human beings thrive on LIGHT.

“Normal” humans, at any rate.

I don’t want to minimize seasonal affective disorder. It’s a real form of depression, and I believe ANY mental health issue deserves attention. (Do I think it’s unfair that SAD gets news and sympathy? Of course! That’s utter bullshit. It’s also the world we live in) But I’m not here to hold the hand of the people queueing up to register their complaint of the dwindling light. Because I don’t add seasonal affective disorder to my roster of feelings. This time of year? I LIVE for it. It’s my favorite. Because of the decreasing temperatures (never mind that fibro means I’m constantly cold). And because all of that wretched sunlight finally disappears.

I LIKE the dark. Overcast skies, rain, snow (I’ll pause when it comes to ice, simply because it’s a nightmare to drive on) are the things that make me happy. The sun rising over the horizon and prompting your eyelids awake in the morning? Yeah, not so much. Give me a night sky with the moon and stars. That’s what settles my mind and makes me feel at home. I do my best work with rain pouring outside the window. And not for the reason you think. I don’t get distracted by a beautiful sunny day outside. (Why would I want to stand around, squinting in bright light?) The sound of water hitting the glass is soothing. It makes me feel comfortable and relaxed.

It sounds strange, perhaps. My depression leaves me feeling bleak, trapped in a dark place most of the time. So why would I gravitate toward more shadows? Shouldn’t I WANT the daylight and sunshine? It’s certainly one of the first remedies people like to suggest when I’m feeling down. (Never mind that standing under the beating rays of a summer day has NEVER improved my mood) And maybe that works – for some people. But my mind doesn’t work that way.

I’m happy in the dark.

I feel comfortable wrapped in the shadows. Because it’s where you SEE those pinpricks of light. Have you ever been away from a city? Somewhere you can actually glimpse a night sky? There’s SO MUCH to see. More stars than you imagined possible. You can SEE clouds swirling in the sky. Lightning moves from one bank to another, or it strikes full through the sky. The darkness amplifies the available light.

By the same token, the cold brings forth warmth. Snow and winter allow the earth to rest and rejuvenate for the coming spring. Without the months of ice and chill, you don’t see the refreshing of the planet. It’s a necessary part of the circle. Besides, that gorgeous “quiet” of snow falling is my favorite sound in the world. It softens and muffles everything else, bringing a perfect peace. How do you dislike that?

I get that people love the light. Midwinter festivals champion the return of the light to the world. But it’s OKAY to love the dark. You need both halves in the world. And NOT having seasonal affective disorder is okay. You don’t need to hide that or feel ashamed. Everyone’s different. Finding and accepting EVERY part of yourself is what allows you to breathe each day.

Whether it’s dark or light out. Raining or sunny. Winter or summer.