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June 2019
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2010-06 SAD

a column written by James for the Sligo Weekender

In the words of  Terry Jacks, recently we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.

When Bill Withers missed his partner, there aint no sunshine when shes gone  a sentiment close to that of that well-known tenor pot-boiler O Sole Mio.

Quanno fa notte eo sole se ne scenne, me vene quase na malincunia (When night comes and the sun has gone down, I almost feel melancholic&)&

O sole mio, sta nfronte a te (Its my sun, which is upon  your face). And for Gershwin, in Summertime, not only was the livin easy, but the fish are jumpin, the cottons high, Daddys rich, Mommys good-lookin, and you gonna rise up singin& its all good.

For the past few weeks, the sun has got its hat on  Hip-Hip-Hip-Hooray!, and more or less, without exception, our moods have improved, as we endeavoured to stay outdoors as much as possible. We rose early, exercised more, and perhaps even ate healthier. In a country renowned for its rain, and those all-too-familiar dreich conditions, it is as though the population is all of a sudden powered by solar energy.

As contented little children, we revelled in colouring in that recognizable large yellow ball, with its rays beaming down towards a clump of multi-coloured flowers, beating down on the stick man, whose spindly arms gestured rejoicingly upwards to the bright blue sky. Both man and sun would more often than not sport an over-the-top sunny smile.
Unfortunately my artistic talent remains relatively unchanged from my early stick-art period.
Its a proven fact that sunshine augments our Vitamiun D levels, which in turn increases our brains neuro-transmitters, which in turn boosts our all-round positivity. The sun also alleviates skin conditions such as psoriasis. In addition, sunshine increases our serotonin levels which stimulates happiness!

I can fully empathise with the 20% of the Irish population who suffer from varying levels of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). And with all the new(ish) 20th / 21st Century illnesses and disorders, SAD has actually been written about for centuries, especially in writings from the Nordic countries, where in countries such as Finland, SAD levels are notably higher. Seasonal Affective Disorder can, for some, be very debilitating. It generally occurs between the months of September and April, but can become particularly heightened in the months of December, January and February. It is often, incorrectly, called Winter Blues or Winter Depression. These terms are frequently dismissed by the experts as there are in fact SAD sufferers who react badly to other seasons too.

SAD sufferers usually boast fairly normal mental health throughout the year, but when those evenings become shorter, and the darker clouds are more prevalent, and we spend more time indoors, symptoms of depression can move stealthily in, taking over the psyche. When the seasons change to Autumn, then Winter, severe mood swings can take over, energy levels can plummet leading to a real feeling of lethargy. We want to sleep more, perhaps in addition taking comfort in over-eating, and SAD can even affect our libido.

Aside from medication and perhaps psychotherapy, because the lack of light produces melatonin which is sleep-inducing, light therapy can alleviate SAD symptoms. If we are disciples of Darwin, and we learn about hibernating animals as an extreme reaction to the change in seasons, perhaps SAD can be seen as a sort of human variant of hibernation?

And so, like many of my fellow Irish citizens, while not a serious SAD sufferer, I think I do have very mild SAD symptoms. The hazy shade of Winter Simon and Garfunkel sing about can get me down a bit for sure. And while of course I tend to wear a lot of black, because of the nature of my performing career, I nonetheless, at times find black quite a threatening colour. Crows, famously, are seen as sinister and ominous figures, whereas the more colourful birds could never be accused of being ominous.

When I notice a date in our diary for the Winter months which will whisk us away to Oman, Singapore, Australia, California, Florida or somewhere equally sunny, I immediately perk up. Similarly, when we recently had those surprising weeks of early Summer, I lowered my cottage sash-windows, and sang at the top of my voice  Here comes the sun  and its alright!. Well perhaps internally at least&