Thursday, April 2, 2009


I don’t remember being bothered by lack of sunlight until we moved to the San Francisco bay area with its cold, dark, wet winters. That is where I heard about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Every year my winter blues lasted longer and I felt worse.

In 1999, we took a trip to Hawaii in the winter for a week and I found that the sunlight and food charged me up enough to get through the rest of winter. Over the next ten years, I came to Hawaii for one to two weeks to make it through the Northern California winters. I found that the sunlight in Hawaii would last me about a month before I felt the overwhelming winter blues return.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal was the first to describe SAD and pioneered the use of light therapy. Recent research has shown that most people in the Northern US and Europe experience seasonal depression which makes it hard for them to wake up in the morning, hard to lose weight, and feel slowed down during the dark days of the winter. In the worse form of SAD, which affects an estimated 6% of the US population, it causes people a great deal of distress and difficulty in functioning in their lives and may require hospitalization. Another 14% of US adults have a lesser form of SAD, known as the winter blues, which makes them feel less cheerful, energetic, creative, and productive during the winter months compared to other times of the year. Bright light therapy, using a light box with full spectrum light, has proven to be an effective treatment. While in California I used a “light box” which helped tremendously. I heated a small room and flooded it with light and played Hawaiian music to shut out the cold gray world outside. Looking back at those endless days of winter, when I felt like my brain was dead and I was a zombie, I just tried to drink enough strong coffee to get the taxes done and survive until the sun emerged in the Spring.

I was lucky to have a lesser form of SAD, but each year it was more pronounced and lasted longer. Scientists at the University of Maryland have reported that airborne pollution is blocking sunlight causing a global dimming that has been increasing over the past 30 years. A 3 kilometer thick cloud of brown soot and other pollutants is currently hanging over Asia, darkening cities, killing thousands and damaging crops. Dr. Tracey Holloway, at the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at University of Wisconsin in Madison, published research indicating about 12% of the pollution in the Western United States comes from emissions in Asia and Europe; in the Eastern US, up to 10% of air pollution comes from those areas. This may account for my SAD getting increasingly worse over the 10 years I lived in Northern California.

The best part of the winter for me was my sojourn to Hawaii, where I stayed as long as I could by finding affordable rooms off the beaten path in communal B&Bs on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. I remember sitting at the airport in Hawaii, dreading my return to the sunless world of Northern California and wondering why I didn’t just move to Hawaii and what it would be like to spend an entire winter feeling energized and upbeat.

When the opportunity to move to Hawaii finally arrived, we picked Hilo because we found it to be the most affordable community on the Big Island, with the best access to fish, and an endless number of activities that we loved. I was initially concerned that the abundant Hilo rain might be an issue, but after two winters in Hilo and in spite of the rainy days, I have had absolutely no SAD. At this longitude, the only US state below the Tropic of Cancer, the sunlight comes right through the rain so my winter blues never arrived.

As Spring arrives in Hilo, Hawaii and the days get warmer and longer, it is hard to describe how wonderful it feels to greet the new season without feeling like I am coming out of a deep state of hibernation. The joy of living in Hawaii grows for me every day!


Unknown said...

It's taken me a year to save, my SAD has been killing me, literally. I'm leaving in a few days after taking my COVID test. Hilo is our spot. We're bringing our CBD and Kratom company. It's scary, I'll have no friends, but nothing...NOTHING is as bad as this. 200+ days of rain in this rain forest. We're in Washington State, in Hoquiam, WA. Only 4 months where we have sunlight. I've never encountered this. It makes me sick, literally. What you describe, that's happened to me for 3.5 years. It's made my wife profoundly ill, disabled actually. It's literally killing us both. The clouds hang about 300 ft above our heads most days, with only Grey skies, no blue skies or sun for months on end, rain without a break for a month (that's not an exageration). Watching her get sick, her skin, joints and bones ache, at the age of 32, seizures, dystonic storms, her life taken from her abrupty and at such an early age, has been traumatic for both of us. We've tried to shield the children, but they don't understand, they're just angry. Why is their mother always in bed? Where did their mommy go, and why is she always sleeping? Why is she always angry? (profound pain - to the point of suicide). It's the cold, it's the wet, it's always cold and wet, grey and dead. For a man, that means suddenly having everything in your lap, losing your lover, watching someone die. And having SAD all at the same time, but most of the year! Back in Oregon, in Corvallis, it just rained a bit. doctor is from there, the big man told us we didn't need more and more drugs, we just needed to move. Same cost of living, but warmer, nicer, more light. We took him seriously.

She was MOBILE! She walked, dude! She made love to me, walked the beaches, laughed, I HAD MY WIFE BACK! I leave in a few days, and I'm so happy I cry as I write this. I'm scared though. I've never tried so hard at anything in my life. Will the Island take me in, and keep me there? I want so hard to belong. I want us all to live, to thrive, I want us all to survive, and for us, that's what Hawaii is. As an Orphan, it's a dream I've had, it's home.

Anyway, thanks for sharing man, I appreciate it. You're not alone out there. S.A.D. is no joke. It gets so bad here, that I get static in my brain, I feel like a zombie, I become ill, literally sick. I become mentally ill. I've always had it, I grew up in Idaho and I moved to the Pac-West to endure the rainy Winters vs the Icy Winters because the icy was far worse, but this...this is far, far worse. Blindly moving to Hoquiam, was a death sentence. I thought a 6 bedroom house with a fenced in yard on highway 101 was too good to be true, and it was...that's because no one wants to live where it rains without a break for more than 200 days out of the year. My only friend is a reg. pharmacist. He said more than half of the people in the pharmacy, at walmart, are rxed anti-depressants. When we go to the bar, he points them out. It's so sick, it can be seen by the way they APPEAR. Basic psychology. The people here are suffering.

I'm so grateful and I'm so lucky. Dear god, help me.

Unknown said...

Sorry, I wasn't clear. I'm tired, I misspelled a lot of stuff. I'm educated but exhausted and taking shortcuts. The home was 50k. Outrageous, wouldn't you agree? My wife has Cervical Dystonia that seems to be spreading, into Hemispherical Dystonia. The climate is what is killing her. Short of moving to a desert that does not get cold, she wouldn't survive. Moving anywhere else could kill her, and Hawaii is our best bet. I feel like our lives hold in my hands on this. Everything is counting on this. It's a lot of pressure.

S.A.D. is different living here. Once I moved here, it grew to a different level. My SKIN became sick, almost like having withdrawal symptoms all the time. It felt like my skin wanted to crawl off my body. I felt like I was made of static and eventually I went mad. Last year I actually started to hear static in my brain and I would zone out. I started to think about killing myself, thinking to myself, all of the gun...all I my gun, and it's RIGHT THERE. One pull, one squeeze, in the R.V. out back, and it's over. Then the nerve pain started, then I couldn't get out of bed for weeks, the grass grew to 2.5 feet tall, the house went to crap, and I thought I might need to call CPS. I dropped the kids off at the grandparents...I prepared for the worst. Watching your wife fall apart and suffer like that, while going through 3 months of no sun, a month without a break out of the home because you can't leave, because the air burns your wifes skin, makes a guy go crazy. You can't touch her, you can't love her, you can't snuggle. Pain makes a person do some terrible things too. But when she's's different. She can even feel the climate shifting, before it arrives. Her joints can feel the shift in barometric pressure before it's apparent, like the elderly.

It's crazy man. Thank goodness the sun arrived. We bounced back 100% and we're stronger than ever. I've been at 100%...but then NOV came about 5 days ago and I can feel it sneaking in. It's sneaky like that. I'm so glad I'm getting out of here. Hoquiam is hell man, and I've heard the same about San Fran too!