Sleeping In Seattle: The Consequences Of SAD

I recently mentioned my somewhat reluctant decision to relocate from Seattle when the right opportunity presents itself (A job and nice one bedroom in Berkeley, North Oakland or Boulder anyone? Anyone?).

While my move was precipitated by a layoff in February, I’ve known for a year that a relocation was necessary, regardless of my affection for my adopted city – despite my beautiful, relatively affordable apartment just two blocks from Lake Union and my peaceful, tree-lined neighborhood full of pretty houses brimming with gardens and backyard chickens. Even though I can walk everywhere, crime is virtually nonexistent and my landlord rocks.

The real reason I’m leaving Seattle is because I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and arthritis (due to a bizarre infectious disease acquired in Ecuador three years ago). SAD is thought to result from a shift in the body’s circadian rhythms, due to changes in sunlight patterns (think of how certain mammals hibernate in winter). Shorter, darker days also increase the amount of melatonin, a hormone linked to the regulation of sleep and waking, released by the pineal gland. Perhaps my being a Southern California native is to blame (although I’m officially a resident of Colorado…it’s complicated, I know).
It took me a long time to commit to a move to the Pacific Northwest, despite my love of the region, because I was concerned about the climate. But, like many before me, I was seduced by a record-breaking Seattle summer three years ago when the temperature soared into the upper 80s and the sky remained a clear, vivid blue. The job prospects appeared promising and an incredible sublet fell into my lap. I was in Seattle for the weekend for work and a month later, I was living there. It was like I’d hijacked myself.

My friend Chris has lived in Seattle since 1994. We were hanging out during my visit when I announced I was going to move. “It’s not usually like this,” he cautioned. I was busy gaping at Mt. Rainier in the distance.

He didn’t lie. I’ve been waiting for the weather to be like that ever since. I was filled with anticipatory dread before my first winter, which is why I’d initially only committed to a sublet. It turned out to be the mildest winter Seattle had seen in years, causing me to mock the locals I’d met. “Just wait,” they told me ominously (for a different viewpoint, check out my Gadling colleague Pam Mandel’s ode to Seattle winters, here).

The last two winters – which have been harsh, even by Seattle standards – have kicked my ass. It’s not the “snow” we’ve gotten; I love snow. But Colorado averages 300 days of sunshine a year, and it has a tolerable, dry cold. Seattle cold seeps into the bones, and summer is a negligible term for most of that season. I actually didn’t realize I had post-infectious arthritis until two years ago, when the Fourth of July dawned wet and dismal, and my joints felt like they’d entered their golden years overnight.

Since then, I’ve experienced varying intensities of arthralgia in my hands and knees as well as low-level to serious fatigue. As a runner, this was problematic and my depression increased because I had turned from physically active, adventurous outdoor fanatic to couch potato. I often required daily naps, which wracked me with guilt.

Not until last summer, while visiting my former home of Boulder, Colorado, did I fully realize the impact Seattle was having on my physical and mental health. On my first morning, to quote a SAD-suffering friend, I felt like “someone had turned the world’s lights back on.” I marveled at the sunshine and warm air. I shocked myself by effortlessly doing a three-mile run – the first half uphill. Every day, I stayed outside until sunset. My arthritis had vanished. I felt like me, again: the spaz who can’t stand to be indoors when the sun is shining. I was productive and active and a much, much happier person. I had the same experience while in northern Chile in August.

I returned to Seattle and wham! I morphed into the worst of the seven dwarfs again: sleepy, grumpy and lazy. Work circumstances forced me to postpone a move, and it seemed like every day it was either pissing rain or the sky was low and leaden. I had difficulty concentrating on work, and was irritable and overemotional. Desperate, I sought the care of an excellent psychiatrist, who combined talk therapy with antidepressants.

While getting laid off sucked, it was also a strange relief. The one thing tying me to Seattle was gone. The thought of leaving is disappointing, but life is too short to live embedded in the couch. The economy is picking up in the Bay Area and I’ve had some very promising job leads.

It’s hard to admit that the color of the sky exerts such influence over your mood. However, I’m not alone; according to Mental Health America, three out of four SAD sufferers are women.

My advice: the sooner you admit it, the sooner you can get on with living. Whether you require phototherapy, antidepressants, extra Vitamin D, counseling, acupuncture, warm-weather vacations, or relocation, the bottom line is that SAD is very real and can have a devastating impact upon your quality of life as well as your personal and professional relationships and career. And, like a romance that’s not quite right, it’s not worth sticking it out. Me? I’ve decided that Seattle is ideal for the occasional weekend fling.

Signs you may be suffering from SAD (these symptoms are most likely to occur in winter, but some forms of SAD do occur during the summer)

  • Inability to concentrate or increase in irritability
  • Feelings of sadness, unhappiness, or restlessness
  • Fatigue and/or lethargy
  • Anxiety
  • Increase in appetite/weight gain
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increase in sleep and daytime sleepiness
  • Loss of interest in work and activities you once enjoyed

Where to get help:

Talk to your health care provider, who can refer you to a specialist. For additional information and support, check out the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA) website.

[Photo credits:girl, Flickr user Meredith_Farmer; clouds, Flickr user CoreBurn;sun, Flickr user Warm ‘n Fuzzy]

SXSW 2012 rain: expect it through the entire festival

The sound and sight of pounding rain in Austin, Texas, has been rare since I moved to Austin in late 2010. Most Austinites I know welcome gray skies with open arms — relishing in the greener landscape that the rain brings. But a sizable chunk of Austin’s economy revolves around SXSW, an annual interactive, film, and music event that seems to grow exponentially each year. With the growth of the festival comes the expansion of festival events. Film screenings, tech panels, concerts, and other related activities spill onto the streets, overtake parking lots, and set up shop in other, seemingly unlikely, outdoor areas. A few days ago, event planners began rushing to prepare for SXSW 2012 rain. All over Austin, SXSW producers are currently racing to adequately care for expensive gear crucial to upcoming events related to each of the three industries represented at the festival. Meanwhile, attendees are already pinching through the streets with umbrellas in hand and galoshes on foot. This will be the scenery for the hundreds of thousands of people traveling from across the globe to Austin for SXSW. If I may offer a silver lining to travelers: while in Austin, feel free to refill your water glass at bars, coffee shops, and restaurants — the “every ounce counts” signs will invariably bare less meaning by the end of the festival.

Photo of the Day: raining in Tel Aviv

The rainy day colors and textures of Flickr user Better Nothing Than Almost’s photo caught my eye today. Taken near Tel Aviv, Israel, the blurry drops of water that cling to the window create an impressionist-like effect on the image. I love the hushed color palette, darkening skies and bursts of warm light. It feels eerie yet warm at the same time.

Taken any great travel photos of your own? Why not add them to the Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Photo of the day – St. Peter’s and a puddle

When taking travel photos, we spend a lot of time looking for the right background. Whether it’s capturing a candid portrait or framing the perfect landscape, it’s not always easy to convey a beautiful scene in a photograph. Flickr user John Overmeyer used a humble puddle of rain to elevate this night shot of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Of course, flawless composition, lighting, and luck didn’t hurt, but it all comes together for a beautifully romantic shot that makes the puddle look like a grand river.

Show off your perfect travel shots by adding them to the Gadling Flickr pool. We may choose yours for a future Photo of the Day.

On my feet: shoes & boots I’m wearing this fall

Fall is a sad time for feet. After months of fresh air, getting shown off in flip flops and enjoying their day(s) in the spotlight sun, it’s now time to cover them up for cold and inclement weather. Inspired by our very own Pam Mandel’s post on her favorite boots for the season, I thought I’d pass along some tips of my own by sharing with you what I’m wearing on my feet this fall. When it comes to footwear, style and fit are subjective, but I feel pretty comfortable recommending these shoes to you because they’ve kept me and my feet very happy.Teva Mush Frio Lace Canvas

I wore the Teva Mush Frio Lace Canvas shoes (pictured above) during my time in Quito this summer. While it was May, it always feels like autumn in Quito (it was in the 40s and 50s most days). The Frio is based on Teva’s popular Mush flip flop, which also happens to be my favorite sandal of all time. Like its sandal sibling, the Mush Frio is incredibly light and fantastically comfortable while remaining supportive. I’ve spent hours doing urban walking in the Mush Frio and experienced none of the back and foot pain that I typically feel after a day of sightseeing. They pack down easily and weigh next to nothing, making them perfect for travel, too. They’re not waterproof, which is a bummer, but they are quite possibly the most comfortable closed toe shoe I have ever worn.

The Teva Mush Frio Lace Canvas shoes are $50 and can be found on Teva’s website or at outdoor retailers.

Keen Targhee II Mid

When you think of Keen, you probably picture the classic Targhee in your head. It’s the look that Keen is known for, with the rubberized bumper toe that Pam mentioned in her post. She’s not a fan of that style, but on that we differ (sorry, Pam!). I opted for the Targhee Mid II because I wanted a proper boot rather than a low top shoe. It’s been great for fall hikes, as well as walks with my dogs and helping my grandmother with yard work. It’s a practical hiking boot that can double as a work boot. They’re waterproof, which is perfect for fall, though they are not lined, so they won’t suffice as winter boots. That said, the deep and aggressive tread make trudging through mud a breeze and they’ve been incredibly comfortable no matter how I’ve used them.

The Keen Targhee Mid II boots are $130 on Keen’s website and can also be found at most outdoor retailers.

Tretorn Stråla

For rainy days in Ney York City when I need boots that keep my feet dry but also look good dressed up a bit, I love my Tretorn Stråla ankle boots. I don’t enjoy rain boots that go up to my knees. That’s why I love the Stråla’s low profile and the fact that I can continuously aim for puddles while I walk (just as fun as when I was a kid) and keep my feet dry. They’re not lined, so they will be retiring to the closet once the temperatures dip closer to freezing, but for now, they’re perfect for nights out on the town when the weather is wet but the event is more formal.

The Tretorn Stråla ankle boots are available for $65 on Tretorn’s website, as well as department stores and sites such as Zappos (where you can often find them on sale for under $50).

Blundstone 261

Lastly, when I’m dressing up, I still like to wear shoes that are durable and, more importantly, comfortable. I’ve had Blundstone boots before (they’re the Australian boots that aren’t Uggs). They’ve finally started selling low top shoes, so I jumped into a pair of the 261 suede shoes the minute I saw them. They’re fashionable, sure, but because they’re made by Blundstone they’re also designed to be supportive and comfortable no matter how many hours you stay on your feet. Blundstone is known for the slip on boots and these shoes maintain the same design. A pull tab in the heel makes them easy to get on and the elastic sides allow them to stretch as you move your feet. This flexibility makes them infinitely more comfortable than most dress shoes and means that they’re perfect for wearing all day and into the evening.

The Blundstone 261 suede shoes are $120 at REI and other retailers.

If you’re going to put your feet away this fall, you might as still make them feel special.