Sleeping In Seattle: The Consequences Of SAD

depressionI 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).
seasonal affective disorderIt 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.sun

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]

Home Moving Tips

Sun-loving world travelers seek endless summer

Call it a refusal to grow up, an inability to tolerate winter weather, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but some travelers will do anything to prolong their summer vacation.

A recent CNN article profiles a handful of travelers and entrepreneurs who have planned their lives around seeking sun rather than snow. Appropriately enough, folks like this are sometimes referred to as “summer chasers.”

If the pursuit of sunshine appeals to you, the article offers the following tips:

Plan ahead
Couple Jared Heyman and Lauren Goldstein saved their money to fulfill a longtime goal: to travel the world for a year, visiting every continent without a set itinerary. Their one requirement: to only visit places with warm climates. Says Heyman, “To us, summer means freedom. Since we’re taking a year to travel…without work or other responsibilities, summer seemed like the most appropriate season to chase. Our strategy is to always be wherever it’s summertime, even if that means switching continents and hemispheres when necessary.”

The couple is currently in Italy, but following stops in Greece and Croatia, they will head to the Southern Hemisphere, visiting Cape Town, South Africa, Mauritius and Zanzibar. Then on to South America for the holidays, followed by Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives (hopefully they won’t decide to get married there), and the Seychelles.

Find a job that lets you live in endless summer
If you don’t have the savings to quit your job so you can travel, why not find a career that keeps you in a warm climate, or on the beach?

Michael Turner Winning of British Columbia is a private chef on a Florida yacht. The job enables him to travel and experience summer nearly full-time. He works 11 months a year in balmy climes like Maui and West Palm Beach.

Take your professional aspirations where the sun shines
Thanks to technology, working remotely is easier than ever, even from a private island or multiple countries.

Twenty-two-year-old (!) Colin Pladmonton of Washington state co-founded Spreadsong, a company that develops mobile applications. His occupation is enabling him to travel the world indefinitely, staying in hostels and affordable rented bungalows in temperate parts of Argentina, as well as Montevideo, Uruguay, and Panama.

Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest


Unexpectedly, I ended up in Seattle.

My bags were packed for a nice New York City summer weekend (shorts, t-shirts, flip flops) but instead I took off for Seattle. Wrong clothes, wrong place, though last-minute travel still carries a thrill of spontaneity, even when you’re flying cross-country for a funeral.

Everybody has at least one friend in Seattle. It’s that kind of city where you’re bound to find that personal connection. And yet I never realized so many people lived out there–enough to fill up every cubicle on every floor of every earthquake-proof skyscraper. Back on the East Coast we like to think we invented all of America’s big cities, but no . . .

I come from the other Washington–DC–where it gets unbearably hot and sticky in the summer; where men sweat through three-piece suits and women wear impractical shoes; where any day you might pick up the Post and know somebody who’s in it and everyday there’s some kind of vigilant protest brewing on the Mall.

West coast Washington is a little less uptight but a whole lot damper. The stereotype about Seattle’s drizzled, overcast skies held true for me and in spite of summer, the day’s “high” was a shoulder-shaking 52 degrees. Dark, unorganized clouds greeted me in the morning and I started to understand the whole coffee thing–how this one city had unleashed Starbucks on the rest of us like a misunderstood gift of the heart.

The day after the funeral, another friend I was crashing with whipped out a yellow legal pad and began making a list of things to see and do in Seattle. Mostly, he suggested I do a lot eating. We made plans to meet up for lunch at a popular Russian café; my friend slipped me the address as we walked downtown. I had no map and no idea how I would find him.“Just remember,” he panted, “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest.” He ran all the words together as one and it didn’t make any sense at all.

“Huh?”

“It’s a way to remember the streets: Jesus is for Jefferson/James. Christ–Cherry and Columbia. Made–Marion/Madison . . . and so on, you’ll see. It’s easy–just follow the streets in that order. Be at Cherry and Third at one o’clock.”

Jesus! Christ! Made! Seattle! Under! Protest!” he shouted out each word as he spun around the corner and marched uphill. Every street in Seattle goes up or down.

I didn’t expect to find him again, ever. Normally, I take pride in my sense of direction. I never get lost in new cities and if I do, I just pretend that I’m exploring. But Seattle was a little confusing for me–no matter how many American cities claim to be laid out in a grid pattern, they all have their idiosyncratic exceptions to the rules, like Germanic languages. In the other Washington, we take pride in our many exceptions to the rules–in naming streets and in running the country.

I found Pike Place Market all by myself–not so hard. I just followed the street until I could see the sea, or “the Sound” rather. The sun was thinking about maybe coming out–there was a bit of backlight that made the sky look less grey and bit more like a faded watercolor. I began to wander through the stimulus of the market, comforted by the colors or neon signs and bright vegetables. I bought English tea packed in happy little tea tins–the kind you keep even after the tea is gone. I sampled Rainier cherries and dried apples from Wenatchee. I waited alongside a pack of tourists for the handsome bearded fishmongers to fling some twelve-pound salmon through the air, shifting back and forth on my two feet and hugging myself from the cold.

When I was a teenager, Seattle was so cool–it was this whole abstract fashion concept from a faraway foreign city. Now suddenly, having finally made it to Seattle, all those grunge styles sported by midwestern mall mannequins in the 90s made perfect sense. Here I stood, in July, shivering in a T-shirt-longing for facial hair or at least a thick flannel over long underwear or a groovy knit beanie on my head.

Seattle was still cool, I realized. All the people looked so damn cool, all dressed and ready for battle. The guy selling cherries had giant black plastic horns pushed through holes in his ears and his hair cut like a vicious pixie. The bikers and skaters wore helmets with dancing flames on the sides. The girl scooping organic ice cream for tourists had a pair of matching red devil faces tattooed into her inner elbows, two evil grins flashing poisonous fangs back at me through the frosted glass. Such a pretty girl, I thought. Why devils?

And then I remembered: “Jesus Christ made Seattle under protest.” The premise was ridiculous–“What does that even mean?” I wondered. God loves everyone. I mean, He did hate a few cities in the Old Testament, too, as I recall, but I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover and Seattle is not listed once, anywhere. Also, there are actual things that Jesus Christ did protest in real life, like common hypocrisy and the gaudy merchandising outside the temple in Jerusalem.

A city built against God’s best wishes, belligerent to the core–a kind of unholy city whose streets spelled out this almost anti-Christian agenda. I wondered as I wandered back into the square-cut grid of downtown, trying to navigate myself through the streets: Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine. Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest. I kept walking south, ticking backwards through my friend’s mnemonic device: Pike–Protest . . . Under . . . Seattle . . . Made . . . checking each street sign until finally I came to “C”, Christ–Columbia–Another block and there it was, Cherry Street, and there was my friend and a window filled with hot piroshky.
That same afternoon I napped on a bench near the waterfront and when I woke up, there was sunshine-not warmth, but light, yes. Seattle is like so many northern places–one may moan about the lousy weather, but if and when the sun does shine, it’s simply glorious. Suddenly there were pretty pine trees everywhere, quiet silver waves slapping the shores of the Puget Sound, and snowy pyramid mountains in the background. If God ever did protest Seattle, it’s only because the city occupies some pretty divine real estate.

Not that God could actually have anything against Seattle. Some of His best friends live in Seattle, I thought, just like me. My friend’s funeral was still fresh in my mind, as were the lyrics of Nirvana’s song “Francis Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle“–the song whose chorus moans, “I miss the comfort of being sad.” It’s a backhanded slogan for the city that gave us grunge and caffeine addictions but also a common feeling among all travelers.

As I travel here, there, and everywhere in the world, I still wonder: Are sad places just sad on their own or do we make them sad by arriving with our own carry-on sadness? Do we ever let the destination just be the destination or do we turn to our own ideas about what it should be, based on a lifetime of prejudice and teenage notions?

My own teenage notion was to go visit Kurt Cobain’s house on Lake Washington–the one the rock star died in. It’s become a sort of insider’s drive-by tourist attraction that overlooks beautiful Lake Washington. “It’s a nice drive,” my friend kept reassuring me, promising to take me. But then we never went: too little time, too many other things to do. After 36 hours in the Emerald City, I found myself waiting in line at Sea-Tac, boarding a red-eye home, neck pillow in hand.

Perhaps Seattle was better that way. Yeah, I liked Kurt Cobain like everybody else but I was still unsure about seeing that pretty place where the icon had died–I was still coping with the pretty city where my friend had lived. And that was enough.

[All photos by Andrew Evans]

What ever happened to the missing 22-year-old American teacher in Germany?

Reading that Laura Dekker has been found safe and sound in St. Maartin made me think of Devon Hollahan, the American teacher living in Prague who disappeared after a Portugal and the Man concert in Frankfurt, Germany. When his friend’s back was turned, Hollahan went missing.

I wrote about Hollahan in a post about the worst nightmares of parents whose children travel overseas. I’ve been busy these last few weeks, so I forgot about him until I read about Dekker.

Hollahan’s story is not so splashy as Laura Dekker’s. It might be because his family seems like most of us. They appear to be normal, regular people whose lives tend to flow through the days like anyone else’s unless something bad happens on a slow news day. On a slow news day, normal people’s stories can make the international news. Hollahan’s bad news story was a fleeting blip on the media radar. A day or two after he was reported missing, he didn’t show up again in a big news way.

Amanda Knox’s story has had more press time than Hollahan’s. She is the other person of note in my parent’s worst nightmare post. But, when a person is found guilty of murdering her roommate which results in a 27 year jail sentence in Italy, it’s no surprise that we’d hear more about Knox–at least until Tiger Woods’s story eclipsed everyone’s bad news.

What about Hollahan, though? That’s who I want to know about–the guy who could be any one of us. After a search, I found this bit of news in The Huffington Post. Hollahan has not been found, but possibly the shoe found floating in The Main River in Frankfurt belongs to him.

It is thought that Hollahan was drunk and fell into the river. As a sad, devastating part of this tale, it’s possible that he was seen alive at 4 a.m. lying on a sidewalk. Unfortunately, whoever was on the sidewalk, got up and ran away when someone said that an ambulance was coming.

Hollahan’s body has not been found. His parents are still in their nightmare, and I wonder if Hollahan’s body is found, will there be a news story about it? My thoughts go out to his family.

Five things to do when things go bad

I opened the front door to my apartment yesterday evening to find an early, unwelcome, and unpleasant Christmas present waiting for me inside: my power had been turned off. Apparently, the Hawaiian Electric Company finds it completely acceptable to turn off your service when you are a new tenant in the building — and gives you NO warning, by email or otherwise, as to when or why it is happening.

What made this matter worse is that my friend came over to cook steak on my electric stove. We were hoping to drink a bottle of Merlot, and watch “Superbad” on DVD. Instead, we both showered by candlelight, ate out at a mediocre Vietnamese pho restaurant, went to Walmart to stock up on more candles, and are calling it a night.

There are, however, some awfully good lessons to be learned from such an experience as this. If you’re one of the many travelers stuck at an airport in the northern U.S., an unhappy backpacker in the middle of nowhere, or a peeved resident living in a city serviced by an incompetent and unresponsive electricity company, then please resist the urge to cry about it. Here are a few things you could try to get your life back on track when things go bad.

  1. Be creative: If you’re not having fun in your current situation, find a way to make it fun. As long as there’s gas in it, your car can be one of the most enjoyable tools for happiness. Turn up the heat in your Chevy, take a road never traveled, and slowly find your way back home. If you don’t have a car, use your feet. You’ll be surprised how much you never noticed about even the most familiar of surroundings.
  2. Reach out to a loved one: So, you’re all alone in some backward country that you thought you’d love, but it turns out you hate it. Think positively: things will not be this bad forever. Take out a piece of paper and write a letter to a loved one, using your pen as an outlet for frustration, anger, sadness, and expression. Or, if you can get to a phone, give that person a call and tell him/her how much s/he’s missed.
  3. Strike up a conversation with a stranger: I love making new friends in the most random places. The conversation starter here would be your current, shared, miserable experience/existence. My best friend met her husband while waiting for flight in Albequerque. It’s amazing how much a light conversation can ease your inner tension. If nothing else, your little debate can pass the time.
  4. Indulge in your favorite food: Forget that Weight Watchers diet. Take out that stash of Baskin-Robinns Peanut Butter ‘n Chocolate ice cream (sorry for the food plug here, it’s my one weakness) and go to town. At least your belly will thank you.
  5. Get some zzz’s: Sleep is one of the best cures for whatever crisis you might be in. Shrug off your problem for a few hours with a little shuteye.

I hate the sight of frustrated tears, and I particularly detest angry protests by customers upon innocent flight attendants (though, I must confess, I too have instigated such arguments). The best thing you can do in rough times is grin in bear it. Things always get better in time.