It’s fitting that I found this challenge today as I am the proud new owner of a HappyLight.
A HappyLight, for those of you who are in the dark, is a “compact energy lamp” designed to bring Natural Spectrum daylight into your home or office. I suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and I was first introduced to light therapy in graduate school when my therapist insisted I try it out. As I remember it, “trying it out” meant staying late at school (my commute was over an hour each way, at the time) and hiking a mile from the graduate student parking lot up snowy hills to the therapist’s office, where I sat by myself in front of a big industrial light for half an hour in a dreary room and then trudged back to my car to make the long drive home, which now took place in the dark. I was depressed for more reasons than winter, and the effort required to do all this was too much. I remember thinking, after a couple of sessions, that light therapy didn’t work for me. I wasn’t capable of evaluating anything beyond that at the time.
This past winter, my new therapist pressed me to try again, suggesting I pop into Walgreens and pick up a version of the HappyLight. She had seen them there and told me if I wasn’t going to get back on my anti-depressants, this was one proven method that could help. It sounded about right. I nodded and wiped my tears and promised I would do it. Only, where was a Walgreens? I tried CVS, asking whether they stocked them or knew who did. No luck. Later I tried Target, then Walmart, and then finally tracked down a Walgreens. They were all out. The woman suggested I call around to medical supplies stores and recommended a couple that were within half an hour’s drive. I swear, she could have asked me to climb Everest or poop a watermelon; it felt like just as much effort was required at the time. Today, I finally bought a HappyLight. Ultimately, it took one web search and an online check of the inventory at the BB and Beyond store in my old neighborhood. I was there today dropping off donations to the local Savers, and so I picked one on. Easy, right?
Except that it has taken me six months to get here. Nonetheless, I am here. The thing about seasonal depression is, you have to sort of plan for it, which is hard to do because when it’s away from you, the last thing you want to do is call it back again, even if you’re just preparing to keep it at bay.
Today was the first day I thought seriously about going back to work, which happens soon. I had a workshop, which brought me back to the school environment and mental work mode, and that called up the old familiar anxiety, worry, and general sense of foreboding of going back to work. I actually don’t mind the initial phase of the school year; it’s really the long winter, coinciding with the toughest part of the academic year, that gets to me. It’s also the sudden shock of the negative feelings that catch me off guard; they sneak up and tap me on the shoulder as if to say, hello old friend, and I want to fall on my knees and weep. I think my ongoing anxiety and hyper-sensitivity is a way of trying to keep all that at arm’s length.
Yesterday, I finished reading Anne Enright’s Making Babies, a witty and smart account of becoming a mother. Toward the end of the book, all of a sudden she starts narrating about her past suicide attempts and history with depression. It all happened so fast–she was talking about prams and nappies one second (did I mention she’s Irish?), and then…pills and death wishes. All I could think was “Why are we here? How did we get here?” in a sort of rushed panic of emotion. The thing is, as I was reading it, I got it. Entirely. How motherhood has pulled her out of that, in part, how she is still in awe that she slid out of it (but also, could she not slide back? Unwritten but not un-implied).
I could relate to the suddenness of the transition, is what I’m saying, and also to how she talks about making the transition back to the light:
on the plus side–a family, a marriage, this deliberate happiness. I sit in my garden and am profoundly grateful. And I never underestimate how hard people work at being ordinary. (203)
Over the last few months, I have done a lot of work on finding happiness and being mindful, at developing what Enright calls “a habit of gratitude.” I have worked on creating “deliberate” and intentional happiness and practicing habits that will lead me to it. I have looked for strategies to find calm and peace. While not always successful, I have gotten closer. I am tuning into my breathing more frequently, setting goals for exercise and healthy food (and following through), remaining calm during potentially stressful exchanges with my partner and child, and making time for relaxation and rejuvenation. I am beating myself up less for taking time and space when I need it, and I am working on comparing myself only to myself–the various selves I’ve been in the past, the best version of myself, the new self, the old self, the self that’s enough for today, the self that accepts herself, the self that lets it go and lets it be. In a world where we constantly strive to be better or the best, I’m working on allowing myself to be “ordinary” so that I can start to let go of some of the threads of worry and sadness, bit by tiny bit.
I’ve made a lot of headway on examining things like what I want, what I’m grateful for, and what each day has offered that is welcoming and hopeful. Perhaps the best statement of progress for me is that I’m not as worried about getting “there” anymore. I like this moment, and I want to enjoy it while I can. So I will soak it up, so to speak, like a ray of sunlight, and maybe, just maybe, it’ll help me shine a little brighter come winter.