Golden Lonely Afternoon

Sunlight is life-giving, soul-pumping MAGIC. You might not know it from my crazy-pale skin, but I love to stretch out on sunlit spots of carpet like a cat, feeling it soak into my skin. I feel about sunlight like Robin McKinley’s titular character does in her vampire book Sunshine, that light gives her (magical) power and happiness and strength. (I’d quote it here, but I can’t find the quote online, and my copies of all McKinley’s books are languishing sadly in boxes in a climate-controlled storage room thousands of miles away. Sigh.) Suffice to say: sunlight & me, we’re good buddies. 

Now: I am now living in a country where, in winter, twilight comes at 3pm and it’s full-on-dark by 4pm. (Actually, this is only November, so it will get a bit worse. Yippee.) Can you tell this experience is going to be one of those situations of which Calvin’s dad obnoxiously intones, “it builds character?” 

Until my early twenties, I loved nighttime. I loved the dark at night, the dark in the morning before the sun came up, the quiet and cozy secretiveness of it. I still like it, in its way, taken in small doses. But when the sun starts setting at a time my brain thinks unreasonably early (be it at 6pm in Texas or 3pm in Ukraine), now I get the Unreasonable Non-Functioning Sads of Bleh.Sometimes it’s a keen feeling of sad or loneliness, sometimes it’s an inability to focus on whatever I’m trying to do, it manifests in a variety of ways.

This is my visualization of the Anti-Creativity Gremlin who kills dreams and promotes Writer's Block, but he bears a distinct resemblance to the feeling of the Unreasonable Non-Functioning Sads of Bleh.

Sometimes even the afternoon’s light quality gets to me. It was perfectly described by none other than my charming-poet-hermit pal Emily Dickinson in A Certain Slant of Light: “There’s a certain slant of light, / On winter afternoons, / That oppresses, like the weight / Of cathedral tunes.” Preach it, Em.

As a kid, I called this feeling “Golden Lonely Afternoon” after the sharp, intense nearly-physical pain I felt in my chest at 4pm one fall day after second grade when my mom happened to pick me up a half-hour late. The playground (where we waited to be picked up) was empty save for me (well, I’m sure there was at least one teacher with me, but you know the foibles of kids and memory), and the shadows got long and weirdly blue-gray and I felt so suffocatingly ALONE and SAD that it’s my reference point for autumnal melancholia.

The past three winters running, the Unreasonable Non-Functioning Sads of Bleh have been so severe that I’ve been practically unable to do anything after 6pm other than lay on the couch and half-watch TV… unless I make myself get up (SO. HARD.) and turn on every light in the main areas of the house and any other room I might want to use that evening. Even rooms I’m not currently in. Sometimes even closets. The change is stark and immediate–suddenly I can pay bills online! Read books! Wash the dishes… well, maybe–even light isn’t a miracle, right? It’s not always a 100% cure (the windows are closed and the light isn’t true sunlight and sometimes my brain refuses to be fooled), but spending a few more cents in energy each day in the winter goes a long way toward my functionality and my general peace of mind.

I haven’t been professionally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I haven’t really bothered with it, because there are always Other Things on the List of Things to Be Done (true story, amirite?). The manifestation of these symptoms began a few years after puberty and have significantly strengthened each year, in particular in the past three years. I’m planning to shop around in Kharkov at some point for a lightbox or other LED solution to see if that helps, but in the meantime I’m making do with what I have.

Starr’s Light-Lover Strategies:

  1. Wake up at a reasonably early hour (at least 8am). This means I’m awake during prime sunlight hours.
  2. Open the curtains as soon as possible. (There are two wonderfully large windows in our hotel.)
  3. At least part of the day, turn away from the wall-facing desk and read or laptop-it directly facing the window.
  4. When twilight hits the downward slope of more than 50% “dark,” close the white inner curtains to block the darkness. I leave the outer slightly-darkish curtains open until Alex & I go to bed–even the rose color of the curtains is too dark when my brain is in “day” mode, and the solid white curtains reflect more lamp light around the room.
  5. Turn on all possible lights in the hotel room, including the bathroom, the door to which I leave open.

Thus far, it’s been working quite well. Granted, this is only the end of November, and there are long, dark, cold months ahead of me. But for the less-than-two-weeks (holy cow, it feels longer!) that I’ve been here, it’s already working better than I, the Champion of Worriers, anticipated. And that’s a good thing.

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2 thoughts on “Golden Lonely Afternoon

  1. Former Library Director says:

    I lived in Northern Wisconsin for a couple years. I moved there in December, and that first winter was tough. For other reasons, by the time the second winter came around, I had started tanning.

    It is amazing how much that helped. My tanning sessions were short (less than 10 minutes on the bed, after I had built up to it), and not real frequent 2 or 3 times a week. However, they helped incredibly with how I felt.

    I was not in love with the fact that I left for work in the dark (for 8 am start) and went home in the dark (5 pm), but my feelings were much better!

    Try it! (Or even get a “full spectrum lamp.”)

  2. Starr Hoffman says:

    That’s not a bad idea! Our apartment (which should be ready in January, if you believe the contractor… ha!) has a tanning salon on the first floor. I may have to try that.

    I planned on getting a lightbox once here (so I wouldn’t have to buy another power adaptor to use with a U.S. one, let alone pack them both), but honestly I’m not sure where to find one. Shopping here is a tad different, and I’m not quite sure if “light box” is something that translates literally into Russian or not… Guess I’ll just have to try and see.

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