Sunday, September 24, 2006

Are You SAD?

As cooler weather comes to Michigan and cloudy days with rain are the order of the day my thoughts turn to those friends of mine who suffer as the light leaves the sky. We live close to Ontario where, due to a confluence of factors including water, irregular landmasses, and jet stream the days are even darker than they are in Michigan. Mental health professionals have known for some time that the further north you go the more seasonal depression you will find.

Seasonal Affective Disorder was first described in the 1840's but it wasn't until the 1980's that it was officially recognized as a distinctive form of depression. It is, as its name suggests, a depression that hits during the darker, colder, winter months. The worst months for SAD sufferers are January and February and there is much more of it in Canada and the northern tier States than there is south of Tennessee. The best guess is that it is caused by internal clocks not adjusting to the change of seasons; think "jet lag" with no relief for months.

Treatment starts with light therapy. It is important that anyone with SAD have a lot of light in the rooms where they work or spend most of their days. The light needs to be full spectrum light (lamps and bulbs available online or in most large department stores), NOT standard or flourescent. An hour's walk in bright winter sunlight is as effective as two hours of artificial light. If you cannot control the light in your workplace, make sure you have a good "light bath" for thirty minutes every day as a minimum when you get home. Lights are a cheap and effective way to ameliorate the symptoms of SAD.

Some antidepressants are also effective. It usually only takes a low dose if the individual is also using light therapy. An over the counter remedy is melatonin, especially when combined with B6. Don't go nuts -- standard doses are safe; higher ones can cause headaches the morning after. Ginseng and a multivitamin each day is a good idea, too.

Interesting, isn't it, that Jesus spoke of his work as light in the darkness? The Book of John uses that motif throughout. Zechariah spoke of the joy of God as light that would appear at twilight -- right when you think that darkness is coming, God brings light.

Keep depressing things away from you during this time. This isn't the time for dark books, dark music, or annoying relatives. This is a wonderful time for reading devotional literature, spending time in fellowship with Christians, walking, and serving others.

Suffering from SAD? You are not alone. Find a support group starting with the best support group of all -- the church.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Who Should We Blame?

Republicans and Democrats are going nuts attacking each other over who is to blame for 9/11. Of course, it should be self-evident that bin Laden and Islamofascists are to blame, but they don't bring that up very often. They wonder who failed to see it coming. When ABC made a movie about it for TV, the sides were quickly formed again with one side wanting the movie to be stronger and the other wanting it canceled completely.


Re: that ABC movie about 9/11, to hear Bill Clinton lecturing a reporter that we need to make sure we are always telling the truth about historical matters... is truly stunning. What does he see when he looks in the mirror?

I believe that understanding your past and your nation's past is a very valuable thing... but blame isn't. Blame allows us to channel our anger -- our energy for change -- into useless cubby-holes. People love to throw blame at parents, life, government, God.... anyone but themselves. That absolves them of the need to change present behavior or attone for past behavior.

There is only a certain amount of energy available to any of us. Why spend any of it blaming? Having a lousy childhood is no excuse for being a lousy adult. We have choices. We can choose something different.

Some churches blame "our fallen world" for the prevalence of sin... but Jesus proved you could live here without sin so where is the point of blaming some pre-existing loaded dice for the play you're making today?

Don't get angry at the traffic if you're driving in it. You're part of it -- so any blame tossed out the window will blow back on you. Don't get angry at sex and cursing on TV if you're watching it. Again -- if you didn't watch, they wouldn't keep putting it on.

Live your life without the need to affix blame for whatever went wrong. Practice saying it after me: it is what it is, but God is still God, and God is still good.

Ahhhh..... that feels better.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Wellsprings of Despair

Pop Quiz: what command did Jesus give more often than any other? It was this: "Fear not." We are told time and time again that fear is not to be our default response for "perfect love casts out fear."

So why are we so afraid? Much of it has to do with television. Don't stop reading, yet! I have TVs, enjoy them, and one is one right now. It is a 20/20 program about the honor killing of a young Sikh girl by her uncle for the crime of not marrying a man 40 years old than her when that man was handpicked by her tribe.

Did you know about honor killing? It might be important to gain a basic understanding of what it is and how it has entered our society via Mideastern and Eastern religions. But how much do you really need to know about it?

How much did you need to know about the wacky weirdo that claimed he loved, then killed, Jon Benet Ramsey? Regardless of whether or not you were interested in him, Captain Highpants was on every newscast, in every newspaper, and discussed in every radio newsbreak for two weeks.

Did you really need to know about Ernesto? It was a rain storm. That's it. Yet, we had weather people standing on beaches decrying the approaching 30mph winds. Well, 15mph but sometimes they gusted up to 30!!!! And rain! It was going to rain, too! Some. I have lived through six hurricanes and I enjoyed them at about a root-canal level, but this was silly.

Here's a flashback for you: when I was kid, evening news ran twenty or twenty five minutes with a five to fifteen minute local news segment attached. That was it. No talk radio, no 24/7 news, no more than one or two newsmagazines floating around if you looked for them (but they were mainly photos -- remember "Look" and "Life"?). You were told some of what was going on around the world, but there wasn't time to mine stories for the worst possible spin, for ways to frighten you, or for ways to get you outraged.

News is out there, but only the bad stuff is interesting enough to broadcast because happy stuff won't keep us watching. American soldiers have distributed nearly a million dollars of clothes and food -- this year alone -- that was sent to them by their hometowns and families. They clothed Iraqis, gave them school supplies, fixed their homes and plumbing, etc. but that doesn't make the news. What makes the news are things like bombs, fear, pessimism, hurt, anger... that is what we have to see and talk about ad nauseum. That is why Cindy Sheehan is on our TVs but the parents of those Marines who died with him are not. They are at peace with their sons' service and Cindy is not. Anger and unrest leads... especially if it bleeds.

When it isn't fear-mongering, TV wants you to be uneasy about your life, your appearance, your weight, health, and financial future. It, along with billboards, Sunday circulars, and radio ads, tell you that people won't like you if your hair isn't right, if your breath isn't great, if your clothes aren't right, and if you don't know what bands are cool and what ones aren't. You are never allowed to rest, never allowed to be at peace. Many ads for pharmaceuticals don't even tell you what the medicine does. They just tell you to "ask your doctor if *** is right for you!" (oh, if only those interminable ads for ED meds were as discreet)

Here is something to think about. If fear, unrest, and discontent is a part of your life, monitor what you watch and what you listen to and make adjustments as necessary. Skip reading the ads in the paper. Mute the commercials on TV. Move away from talk radio and substitute music of your choice, online sermons from edifying speakers, or simple silence. Cancel your newsmagazines if they are bothering you, keeping you at "Alert" about issues here, there and everywhere. (I can see my email now, so let me answer them before they come in: stay informed about current events and vote your faith and conscience... but do so in moderation and take breaks from being so entangled in the affairs of this world).

And when it all gets too much to bear, start a "fast" from media, take time out, and serve someone. Make them cookies or fudge, mow their lawn, help them care for an elderly parent, sit and read for someone... you get the idea.

The media has become a set of wellsprings of despair. Like anything else that can be good for you in small doses and deadly in large ones, monitor your intake carefully and react quickly when you find your joy slipping away and your fear increasing.

"Be still and know that I am God...." "The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him..."