Stepping Into the Light

I have several posts that are waiting for me to find the time and patience to type out. For some reason, I thought I would be writing all the time once the baby was born. I’d just be sitting around smiling at my newborn and have a fresh, energized mind and two free hands to write all I want, right? Ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha … ha. As I write this, I do have two free hands even though there is an adorable baby latched to my breast (I figured out how to prop her up so that I can type with both of my hands!), but my mind is far from fresh or energized. So … this post may end up a little funky … if I even manage to finish it.

Anyway. I write now on a topic I hadn’t planned to, but that’s been knocking around in my head lately: the effect of sunlight on (my) health and wellness.

Obviously, I’m not a brilliant luminary shedding light on a glowing new topic (I told you my brain is on the frazzled side), as scientists have been studying the effect of light on humans for a long time.  I just found this article– from the year I was born- on how sunlight may affect, not just mood, but fertility as well. My suspicion has long been that my infertility is due to a complex amalgam of issues related to imbalances in my immune system and hormones (not just the “sex” hormones, but ones typically not associated with fertility), but I had never considered that sunlight may play a role in my infertility.

Part of the reason we moved out of Alaska was to see if increased exposure to sunlight would help my (recently acknowledged, self-diagnosed) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Let me tell you:

Moving to the equator may have been the single best decision I have made in my entire life. Seriously.

Since coming to live in Ecuador, I’m beginning to believe that exposure to sunlight has had an even greater influence on my well-being, and life in general, than I could have ever imagined.

For starters, it’s late November and I’m not sluggishly and irritably crawling out of bed just to day-dream of sleeping all day. In fact, yesterday I took a walk outdoors at 7 am. Of my own volition. In a good mood. What, what, what?! All the more impressive since I’m up half the night with a 2-month-old.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d cope this well with the lack of sleep that accompanies caring for an infant.  I’m convinced that if I had stayed home in Alaska, yesterday morning would have seen me either asleep, trying to sleep, desperately sleepy, or ridiculously grouchy. Here in Ecuador, I feel better on less sleep. I wake up more easily than I ever have, and I feel more rested than I ever have.

I also believe that increased exposure to sunlight has alleviated my tendency to be, to put it bluntly, a bitch.  I’m simply not as moody and irritable. My patience is more generous and I’m not (as) snippy. This is a beautiful change, not just for the people around me, but for me too. My irritability has been a source of immense personal guilt over the years. I don’t want to be snippy and impatient. I’ve always known that’s not who I really am, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to fix the problem. Here at the equator, I have felt that my patience runs deeper and my moods are much more even. It feels really, really, really good. Really good. The irritability and guilt ran cyclical with deeper feelings of darkness that were hard (or impossible) for me to climb out of. That leads me to the topic of the “D” word: depression.

It is clear to me now, that every winter since puberty I have slid into a mild depression. I never recognized it as being seasonal, and I also didn’t acknowledge that I was actually depressed. There was always something on which to blame my sadness, extreme lethargy, inadequacy, or apathy:  puberty itself and hormones, unmet expectations, stress at work, grief, etc. Only recently did I recognize the pattern. These life experiences weren’t causing my unfavorable symptoms, it was depression that was keeping me from coping with life’s ups and downs in a healthy way and leading to undesirable responses. I have suffered for years, and my family (especially my husband) has suffered along with me.

I believe that even the grief of my infertility and pregnancy losses was more intense and more disruptive because of SAD. I coped with my summer-time miscarriages much better than those in the winter. In the few months with prolonged sunlight, I felt more hopeful and motivated. I reached my lowest low of incapacitating grief during the mid-winter darkness. I was non-functioning. I was so low, that I reached out for professional help. And for the first time in my life, I took a prescription medication for mental health. What I wonder now: would I have reacted so deeply, would I have struggled so painfully, had I received more exposure to natural sunlight?

I also believe that sunlight somehow affects immune function. Whether it’s related to a role of hormone regulation, or something else, I have no idea. This article seems to point to the same hypothesis, without specifically stating so. There is evidence that exposure to sunlight affects immune-related disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, lupus, and thyroiditis. One of my fertility doctors diagnosed me with an immunological abnormality, to which he attributed my recurrent miscarriages. Could increased exposure to sunlight be a possible treatment for some cases of infertility??? That old article from my birth year states that there is at least some evidence that this may be true.

As to the potential effect on other areas of my life, I recently made the link between job dissatisfaction and SAD. As I recall, the apathy and daily battle to get out of bed for work were mostly during winter months. I think I would have appreciated and enjoyed my jobs more if I could see the light of day. Furthermore, I have frequently felt inadequate because I feel that I easily become inordinately stressed out about work. I have felt broken, weak, and a failure. The stress at work that I just couldn’t handle? I don’t think it was really that I was incompetent, but that my body was incapable of a healthy stress response and so I would just shut down. I would go home and go straight to bed, or even stay home from work in order to sleep.

I don’t know that I’ve articulated my case very well, but I’m going to wrap this post up anyway. I haven’t written this piece in one sitting, but I would like to publish it on the same day I started to write it so that I don’t run the risk of “the post that was never completed.”

One thing is for sure: I can never go back to how things were. My hypothesis may be completely incorrect and the antidote is something other than (or in addition to) sunlight.  But if I ever spend time in a geographical region with prolonged darkness, I will be taking precautions to safeguard my wellness and ensure  that I get adequate sunlight every day.

I wonder how many of my friends and family, how many of the folks reading this, would flourish- or at least feel like a better version of themselves- if, on a daily basis, they could step out into the light.

 

Photo credit: © 2018, Rodney Wehr. Cuenca, Ecuador

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