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Seasonal Affective Disorder | Adventures in Light Therapy

As a sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you may understand that these shorter days can really harsh on my easy. It’s not just me…lots of people suffer from SAD during the winter months, and there are various ways to mitigate the difficulties to which SAD can contribute.

As my sister is similarly afflicted, she offered me a chance to test-drive her full- spectrum light box to see if I would find any positive effects.  Her particular unit is made by Verilux and the model is Happy Light Deluxe, though the unit itself says Happy Lite right on it. This light box is specifically designed to mimic natural sunlight and help ease the effects of dwindling daylight on SAD patients. I gave it a shot for ten days, and here’s how it went:

Day One:  Forgot to get myself in front of ye olde Happy Lite (HL) until after a nap this afternoon. I lugged it out (it’s big) and put it on the counter in the kitchen. I snapped it on as I checked the email and the feed reader. Was it the power of suggestion, or did the yawns go away pretty quickly? No time to reflect…the kids are rolling in from school.

Day Two:  Woke up early (4:30 a.m.). Came down and turned on the coffee maker, and flipped on the HL Damn, that thing throws off some serious light. The back porch is lit up because of this thing sitting on my counter. Don’t look directly at that sucker though—it hurts.

Puttered around the kitchen and loaded and ran the dishwasher, wiped down the counters (people really do this in the evening…after a full day?), scrubbed the pots and pans from last night. Time for my decaf and a cig. What–it’s only 5:40?  Cool.

Day Three:  Came downstairs, the kitchen is a mess. Plus, the coffeemaker overflowed (it always helps to actually put the filter basket inside the unit before you add coffee) so I’ve got lukewarm coffee and grounds all over the counter. Ugh.

Pulled out the HL, plopped it on the counter (a different counter–I didn’t sit it in a puddle) and I cleaned up the mess. Got a load of laundry going, dishes in the dishwasher, and took a few minutes to watch the morning news. All before the kids got up.

Daisy stumbles downstairs and is squinting in the kitchen—she retreats to the living room where it’s still dim. The HL is a little too much for her just yet…her eyes are barely open. It’s like being blasted with music after sitting in silence for eight hours. Only it’s your eyes that hurt. Weird.

Day Four:  I actually look forward to getting downstairs and getting my HL on. Since I cut caffeine out of my diet back in June, I’ve not gotten that a.m. ‘boost’ that I used to enjoy as a result of a delicious morning cup of coffee. HL gives me that—again, the yawns dissipate quickly. Though there’s a lot going down in el Casa de Barney these days, I’m not feeling too glum or overwhelmed.

Ran the dishwasher again before the kids got up.  Who am I?

**later**

Just realized that it is the gloomiest, greyest day out. It’s 11:35 am, and this big ol’ HL is fooling me into feeling like it’s a sunny day. I’m impressed.

Day Five:  I have had such an easy time getting up and going in the morning, all week long. I love the pick-me-up I get from my HL I want to marry it…or at least wear it like a pendant so I could have it with me always. But, there’s a problem–it’s not technically my Happy Lite. It’s my sister’s. I’m going to have to return it eventually.

Day Six:  ??

Day Seven:  Another weekend day. Never got a chance to park myself in front of my new bestie, yesterday or today. Took a two hour nap in the middle of the day yesterday—and still slept all night last night. Hmm. Anyhow, it’s already the evening–I don’t want to wake myself up by getting my fix of glorious full-spectrum light just before I go to bed, or else I’ll never get to sleep.

Day Eight:  Up bright and early—literally! When everyone got up today for school/work, I’d already gotten the kitchen cleaned up and began working on the cake balls I was making to send my dad for his birthday. Dishwasher is humming, snacks and backpacks are filled and everyone is out the door! Oh, my dear Happy Lite, how I missed you this weekend.

Day Nine:  Got up this morning and got right going (after some light therapy), which today included bestowing my highest possible endorsement upon a product– I ordered my own HL.  Two, actually:  I bought a twin-pack of smaller lights (think earrings instead of pendant).

The big unit my sister lent me is amazing, don’t get me wrong. It’s like having the sun rising and setting right on my kitchen counter…it’s wonderful, but it’s pretty intense. Having two smaller ones, I can strategically place them and not have these wicked bright lights taking up a good deal of flat-surface around here (and blinding my daughter when she gets up in the morning).

Day Ten:  Can’t wait to get my own Happy Lite. I want to be sure that my sister gets hers back before the winter days really kick in. After a week and a half, I can tell you that I actually look forward to getting up in the morning and using the light. I feel generally more pleasant, patient and yes, happy. And boy, I can sure get a lot of housework done in the wee hours of the morning.

I’m eager to see how this winter plays out for me with consistent light therapy—it’s got to be a whole lot better than my usual winter dread, which is usually hitting its full force by Veteran’s Day.

Have you ever used light therapy to stave off the symptoms of SAD?  What were your results? 

Disclosure:  This is not a sponsored post. I am offering an unbiased opinion on one form of therapy for the treatment of SAD, but this post should not replace appropriate medical consultation. 

Margaret Barney is a 42 year old mom, writer, and the woman behind Just Margaret. Ordinarily shying away from incendiary topics like politics and religion, every now and then she feels compelled to write about them.

11 Comments

  1. Donna

    November 21, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    A great way to work with seasonal and other forms of depression is to change the lightbulbs in your home to ‘full-spectrum’ bulbs, avoid CFLs. True full-spectrum must use those words, not ‘like natural sunlight’, etc. Chromolux is a great brand that lasts 5+ years. Using full-spectrum lighting in your home will give you a balanced array of light frequencies, aiding in reduced stress, reduced depression, improved hormone production, focus, general good health, and perhaps surprisingly, proved reduced dental cavities. Schools report reduced absenteeism, better grades, focus, productivity and behaviors. Full-spectrum feeds the body like no other indoor lighting source.

  2. Becki

    October 18, 2011 at 9:19 am

    I’ve never heard of a Happy Light. I do use the daylight lightbulbs that are supposed to be like Reveal (except I like the energy efficient ones which is why I don’t use Reveal bulbs). I use them through out my whole apartment and I have for years. I like them a lot. A friend’s therapist recommended the Reveal bulbs, so now I will have to do some research on the Happy Light and how it is different from my daylight bulbs and/or Reveal bulbs.

    • Margaret

      October 28, 2011 at 11:28 am

      Oh, yes! I’d be interested in hearing a comparison. :)

  3. Missy | The Literal Mom

    October 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    I’m so glad it’s working for you! Yay, Margaret!

    • Margaret

      October 17, 2011 at 6:52 am

      I now have my ‘twin pack’ of smaller happy lights, Missy, and I have to say I’m still just as pleased. I truly recommend this to anyone who thinks they may suffer from SAD.

  4. Christin

    October 13, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Wow, I have been thinking about getting a Happy Light myself, after reading this post I am really interested. Living in gloomy, grey Belgium is not helping my mood…think I need a happy light. :)

    • Margaret Barney

      October 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      It’s worth it, I’d say, to give it a shot, Christin. I know that verilux ships internationally, and if you don’t want to commit to a whole light box, they also sell individual household bulbs that can be used in regular lighting fixtures.

  5. Marilyn Yamartino

    October 13, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I used the Verilux HappyLight 6000 during the entire winter of 2010/2011. I love it!! I keep it on my sewing table, and as I spend a great deal of time in the sewing room, I get plenty of light daily.

    Between the HappyLight and extra doses of Vitamin D, I happily got through last winter. While I do not look forward to the winter season, I know I can with it in a fairly pleasant manner. Which definitely makes my husband happier! LOL

    • Margaret Barney

      October 14, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      And Marilyn, we *know* that keeping our husbands happy can make all the difference! ;-) BTW, I’m reading this month’s book right now–definitely enjoying it!

  6. Jackie (WritRams)

    October 13, 2011 at 8:04 am

    WOW. I was completely surprised by the difference you documented. I had no idea it would be that…night and day.

    • Margaret Barney

      October 13, 2011 at 8:12 am

      LOL…it really is amazing. So simple, and yet the results are practically immediate.