Light Therapy

I’m sitting under my light therapy light, gently cooking myself like a corner-store Jamaican patty under a heat lamp. The thing about this light is, it works. The unfortunate part is that, like pretty much any professed “cure” to depression, it only works when you use it. And using it, much like all the other non-pharmacological treatments – exercise, meditation, CBT – getting out of a depressive state to do damn near anything is an impossible feat.

I only need the lamp half the year, and occasionally in the summer when my sleep patterns go off again. I have Seasonal Affective combined with a sleep disorder called Delayed Sleep Phase. My luck here is that both problems have the same solution – light therapy. For depression, I am supposed to get up early (as if) and sit under the lamp for 15-30 minutes a day starting in the early- to mid-Fall. For the sleep thing, I am supposed to get up extra early (ya rite) to try to “correct” my sleep schedule to one more attuned to the working world, and sit under the lamp for at least half an hour. Good luck with that, bro. Sincerely. See you in my dreams. Literally.

I use a BlueMax full spectrum desk lamp, which is supposed to be top of the pops if you believe the research I did six years ago when my mom bought me this lamp for my birthday. “Happy Birthday – Please Don’t Kill Yourself – Here’s A Lamp” is what the card would read, if the card were in a particularly unfunny New Yorker cartoon. To be serious, this lamp has been nothing but a gift, one that I have gotten more use out of than any other in my life.

File Lamp Time under “Things That You Never Want To Do But Will Be Glad You Did Later”. Other activities in this category include the aforementioned exercise; flossing; wearing sunscreen; washing dishes; writing.

Sleep is the ultimate drug, to me. On a good Saturday I will gladly sleep for upwards of 16 hours. My body, in any kind of sleep state, clings on desperately to the last shreds of dreaming, warm blanketry, and unconsciousness. I love sleep more than most things, like any good depressive.

I also suffer from a lifelong issue with mild to severe insomnia, depending on the time of year and where my sleep phase is at. My body, left to its own devices, will shift into a sleep phase on its own where I go to sleep around 3 (in the AM) and awaken around 11 (also in the AM) or later. This has been going on most of my life. Can I blame the fact that I was born at 4:20 (WEED) in the morning? I certainly hope so.

I’ve woken up an hour after work was supposed to have started at least once at every job I have ever had. Somehow I have never been fired in my life. I am chalking that one straight up to white privilege, because I’m not that fucking charming (especially not when I’m tired).

I struggle to keep on top of these shifting sleep issues – depression oversleep, depression insomnia, sleep phase oversleep, sleep phase insomnia, insomnia-insomnia. post-insomnia oversleep. Don’t even get me started on the host of others such as: allergies oversleep, post-surgical exhaustion oversleep; post-oversleep insomnia.

On a practical level, these sleep issues mean I spend a lot of time tinkering around with things like melatonin, like the lamp, like various sleep-inducing herbal teas, like napping (quasi-illicit lunch hour work naps being the most delectable of them all). I spend a lot of time up at night reading books or internet, waiting until the sleep muses deign to come settle their long petticoats over my eyeballs. I can only be off coffee if I am also relieved of all work duties for a while, because I won’t get nothing done man. And I’ll be a misery to encounter, for days.

I’ve always been sensitive to light, and to time. Shifting the clocks for daylight savings, or traveling to the west coast, throws me off for days, if not longer. People have given me crap about it, saying, “There’s no way you’re not adjusted by now” or “You’re making too big a deal of it”, but it doesn’t change the fact that I am affected.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of laying in bed in the middle of the night, staring at the ceiling, eventually listening to my family all go to bed and the house slowly get quiet, and still I was awake. Sometimes I’d wait till I heard the sounds of sleep and turn my light back on and start reading until I could barely keep my eyes open. Weekends, it wasn’t unusual to get up for breakfast and promptly go back to bed, even though my parents insisted it was “bad” for me to sleep in the day. Other times, left to my own devices, I would wake up with half the day gone. As a teenager, on days I wasn’t working or going to school, it was very common to wake up in the wintertime just in time to see the sun going down.

I’ve been told by doctors and books and articles that I need to practice good sleep hygiene – making myself go to bed at an early hour, dimming the lights, keeping away from screens and getting cosy. Sipping on herbs and letting myself drift off into peaceful slumber. I’ve done it all and then some, mostly the only thing that works is sticking to a routine and trying to get enough exercise to really tire me out. And of course, my trusty lamp.

So, I sit under my lamp in the morning, or at least, I try to. Sometimes I read or write and sip on a coffee. Sometimes I spend the full 20 minutes carefully applying makeup, just to keep myself from sleepily puttering around the house, muttering to Danz, “Where’s my sunglasses? Have you seen my gray sweater?” until it’s time to go to work. The brightness feels like the sun, minus the heat. It feels like those first bright days of summer when the sun announces itself with a powerful, unrelenting beam. I can imagine it’s like the light that wakes up dormant plants and animals underground in the springtime. It feels like life. It feels like being alive.

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