The Winter Blues: Cursing the Darkness
"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." - Eleanor Roosevelt.
Is it, though?
Like a Rainbow in the Dark...
I'm a vampire hurling along the pavement through the vast, black, all-too-serene midwestern night in my portable casket. It's a few minutes shy of 6:00 pm on an evening in late November, and I'm almost home. My visibility is restricted to the modest limitations of my headlights, and Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark" violently (and appropriately) screams at me from the speakers of my 2003 Buick Century as I pass a fellow nocturnal speeder.
I won't lay down to sleep for another five hours or so, but my body and my environment tell my brain that it's time to close my eyes. I turn off the heat, roll down the window, and apply more pressure to the accelerator, but I can't outrun the interminable, "sable-vested night." The sun never shines, and there's nothing I can do to fight off my winter doldrums but wait out the darkness. As the length of days dwindles, and we trudge toward the winter solstice at a glacial pace, my despair is only exceeded by my apathy. Darkness: I curse thee!!!
When in Trondheim...
During the summer of 2009, I took an extended vacation to Norway with my family. We spent a good deal of our time in the northernmost regions of the country, situated within the arctic circle across a thin strip of sea from Russia. Because of our northern proximity, the sun never once completely set while we were there. To say that this upset my circadian rhythm would be an understatement, but it didn't cause me any sort of anxiety or despair. On the contrary, I frequently took advantage of the ceaseless sunlight. I regularly ate eggs and bacon for dinner, enthusiastically went hiking after midnight, and once had a beer at a tavern at 9:00 in the morning. Norwegians are adaptable, and I followed suit.
When my body had enough of the sun and needed rest, I simply closed the fortress-like curtains with which every hotel room in Norway is equipped, and dozed off like a newborn. It was a sunny summer midnight in the arctic circle, but my room was an absolute vacuum of light. I soon discovered that counterfeit darkness is far preferable to artificial illumination.
Darkness Becomes Me
I'm not advocating perpetual sunlight, but I'm fairly certain that it trumps its opposite. Yesterday, it was still dark when I walked out to my car for my daily commute. Once at work, I sat in front of my computer in a fluorescently lit office for eight hours only to reemerge in darkness at the end of the day. I experienced approximately 30 minutes of authentic light exposure during my day. As a human being relying on instincts that have developed over thousands of years, five consecutive days with roughly 2.5 hours of luminosity dramatically alters my mood and perception. Boredom and lethargy breed further boredom and further lethargy.
My hatred of 5 o'clock sunsets isn't a new development. I've always despised the shorter days that occur during the winter months. Even as a child, I can vaguely remember a rise in anxious feelings as the temperature began to drop and leaves changed color. These events are the opening salvos in an extended war for my sanity. Fall is a beautiful time in Michigan, but, since its a harbinger for typically brutal winters, it's difficult to see the forest for the trees (but it's not really all that difficult since the trees have all been stripped naked).
Most of you are probably saying, "So what? Get over it, and stop whining you self-indulgent slob. We're not vampires; we're people, and, regardless of your silly little pity party, the seasons aren't going to change on your account. Stop obsessing over your mood and do something about it!"
If you're one of those people, I applaud you. For me, this is exactly the right attitude to confront the short days and long months of winter. I'm only as sedentary as I choose to be. Taking ownership of my life and increasing my recreational autonomy is not only a prescription for a more tolerable winter, but for an increased quality of life overall.
Beauty, Basketball, and Bowling
The truth is, I don't hate winter, just the absence of light. I love the picturesque beauty of the snowy landscape, the festive cheer of the holidays, and the chance to watch my beloved Pistons display their mediocrity several times a week on television. My entire extended family takes a traditional trek north every January for a ski trip, and snowmobiling in Michigan is pretty hard to beat.
Not only that, but winter presents an opportunity for reflection, introspection, and bowling. I'm thinking of joining a league for the first time in my life as a means of assaulting winter's aggressive assault on my psyche. I'm a horrible bowler, but it will give me something to look forward to, and it might be a fun way of getting out of the house.
Despite the fact that my circadian rhythm is being severely disrupted and my melatonin levels are dropping sharply, there's no excuse for me to set up a hermitage in western Michigan. I can't simply throw in the towel for an entire season every year just because I've got an unconfirmed case of the "Winter Blues." The days are getting shorter, but my life isn't getting any longer, so it's important to squeeze as much joy out of my existence as possible. As Tyler Durden aptly instructed me in Fight Club, "This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time." On second thought, maybe I should take the frozen months to design the blueprints for an anarchist revolution? First order of business: repeal Daylight Savings Time and designate Oslo the global capital!