During the months of October/November and again in the soul suck that is January/February, I get a lot of questions about Seasonal Affective Disorder. I don't know why I have never written anything comprehensive about my experience with SAD. (How sad, really!). So here I sit in front of my sun lamp with an FAQ list just for you, or anyone who gives a toot.
So, how were you, like, diagnosed with SAD? I saw a psychologist during my senior year of high school when a lot of ish was going down for me. I continued to meet with this therapist on breaks in college. On one such break, she said that she had noticed a pattern of when I would slip into a depression. She noted it was always around the time that the days got shorter, and then it would seem to lift around the time that daylight savings ended. Yeah, was a super sleuth. She suggested that I get a sun lamp and just see what happens. She herself used one in the winter whenever she got home from work to motivate her to do her notes.
So I bought one on the intranets for $200. This was 1999 when I was a sophomore in college. I had a single room so I could sit in front of the lamp whenever I wanted. I didn't really know what I was doing but I noticed almost immediately that sitting in front of the lamp every day for 15-30 minutes right as the sun was setting helped me to feel more energized and positive. I noticed that I was more focused after light treatments, and that I didn't eat three solid meals of ice cream and cereal. Woohoo! Where did you buy your sun lamp?
I purchased it from The Sun Box Co. in Gaithersburg MD. It is about 14" and sits on my desk. The model that I use is what they call the Sunlight Jr. I have never had to replace the bulbs--they have lasted ten eleven years!
How did you learn how to use it?
I had the opportunity to participate in a study through Brigham & Women's Hospital when I was in Boston. When I moved to Boston, I struggled the most with SAD since I had always lived on the other side of Eastern Standard Time Zone. Boston is obviously at the far end of the time zone, so the sun was setting in the winter as early as 3:30 p.m. Chances were often good for me that I would not even see the sun, working in a vacuum of an office building. So I joined this study hoping that I could learn something. The lead psychiatrist on the study said that I should attempt to sit in front of the sunlamp every morning and every afternoon for 30 minutes, with the lamp 6-8" away from my face. I think there are benefits to just sitting in front of the lamp for even a smaller window of time, but this was the "prescription" and I would not dispute it.
What about meds?
I'm obviously not a prescriber, but I have experienced many winters when I was unmedicated and plenty of winters where I was taking an anti-depressant. Relative to the sun lamp, I would say that it is still worth it to use light treatments to help treat winter depression. It's cancer free sunshine. Or you could just move to Bali.