No I do not sparkle.
June 7, 2012 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Summer SAD-- this constant light is killing me. Anyone have any ideas for getting through the next couple of months? Blizzard ahead-- you might want to put some chains on your tires before proceeding.

Short version: does anyone have any ideas, no matter how ridiculous they may seem, to help me convince my body that it is dark outside when it isn't?

Really, really long version: I have always had problems with summer. When I lived in the American midwest and on the east coast, the heat was horrible, of course. That hasn't been a problem for the past couple of years, though, in the Pacific Northwest and now the West Midlands in England. But the amount of daylight has gotten progressively worse as I creep steadily northward. And this year it is KILLING me.

I have a mild sun allergy, which I know how to deal with-- cover allll the skin, all the time. Easy enough, though I do end up with terrible hat-hair. But it seems it's not just direct sunlight that's the problem. I'm nocturnal as all hell, and there just isn't any nighttime anymore out here. When I first got here, in the winter, it was getting dark at 4 PM, and it was great. Now the sky is getting light by 2:45 AM, and it's only getting worse for a couple of weeks. An when it does get better it will be slow.

I've been googling, but all I get about "Summer SAD" or "Reverse SAD" is the occasional mention in an article about the standard, winter version, and the writers always seem to think that the summer version is only and always hypomania. Well, not here. What I am getting is a worsening of my standard depression. It's gotten to the point where I'm completely nonfunctional, and I absolutely have to do something about it.

So I'm brainstorming, and all my ideas are stupid so far, and I would love some help in coming up with more stupid ideas. If anyone has had this problem and has found things which helped, that would be great, but I am up for any suggestions which might help me trick myself into believing it is still sometimes dark outside. So far my ideas are to put cardboard in the windows of a sort of Retreat Room, and to make myself some sort of facemask with dark lenses for the eyes for when I have to go outside when it should, in my mind, be darker than it is. Like I said, stupid. But there's no darkbox equivalent to a lightbox.

Please help me get out of bed. I can't handle two or three more months like this. I know the solstice is soon, but I've been near the breaking point for weeks already, and, having broken, I'm going to need a little more darkness than I've had for a month already to recover.

I am already on medication for depression, though as soon as I am capable of figuring out the UK health care system sufficiently to do so I need to get to a psychiatrist and see if it needs adjusting. And please, no comments about how no one is really nocturnal and I must be deluding myself. I have heard them, and they are unconvincing.

Thank you.
posted by Because to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have trash bags taped over my bedroom windows because no combination of blinds/drapes/whatever has been sufficient for me. I don't even care if I look like a creepy weirdo (although I did recently realize that passing policemens might think it was a grow room). Anyway, it is pitch fucking black in my bedroom and it is utterly delightful to behold.

make myself some sort of facemask with dark lenses for the eyes for when I have to go outside

posted by elizardbits at 7:54 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Start with blackout curtains.
posted by Ery at 7:55 AM on June 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yes, blackout curtains.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:56 AM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: Is there any chance you could have low-level mono? I was averse to sunlight for a year or so and the day I nailed black sheets over my windows was the day I realized I needed to talk to a doctor. Mono. The only other symptom I had was mild fatigue, which I was attributing to a lot of work-related travel. In your case, you might be assuming some other symptoms are depression, but the sunlight issue might pull those into another diagnosis. Good luck.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:57 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thick heavy curtains on every single window.

I also tend to not turn the lights on in the house unless I absolutely can't see what I'm doing. I also have low brightness bulbs.

(Also, you're not the only one who suffers from Summer SAD. I'm miserable right now and keep telling myself that September is only a few months away. It doesn't help much. Not to mention the happy cheerful people who are all like: Summertime yay! It's like, to hell with your summertime)
posted by royalsong at 7:57 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have the other SAD and a light to go with it. I had issues one summer in Alaska, so I have a micro-understanding of what you're going though.

Blackout Curtains, and a pitch black bedroom are a must.

Things I do include getting to bed early, and watching TV in a dark room. This helps me adjust to night-fall better. (Lots of folks recommend NOT watching TV, but its the only activity I can think of to do that doesn't require light.)

Also, wear sunglasses during the day, and in strong light when you can. Darken your house.

Husbunny loves to have all the lights blazing away in the hall, bathroom etc. Once I've hit my sleepytime though, he has to stumble around in the dark.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:00 AM on June 7, 2012

When I lived in Helsinki, Finland, the midnight sun made me angsty from the lack of decent sleep. The solution that everyone applies is blackout curtains or venetian blinds for a reasonably normal light during the summer.
posted by infini at 8:04 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also also! Whatever blinds you have, use the twisty thing on the side to slant the slats upwards instead of downwards - unless you are ridiculously tall or standing very close to the windows, you will never have a stray glare directly in your eyes again.
posted by elizardbits at 8:06 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

nthing the blackout curtains. Also if regular sunglasses don't work, how about the ones designed for when you go skiing?

I would also ask your doctor about the antidepressants - I might well be wrong but I understood they made people MORE sensitive to light.
posted by EatMyHat at 8:11 AM on June 7, 2012

To Hell with SummerTime. :P

Yes, sunglasses, also medium tint glasses for indoor time if you are spectacled. If you can dim your work area some, do so - I have light diffusers on my window at work as I'm not allowed to black them out. I prefer to not work with overhead lights on in the summer but that again is not allowed.

My sunglasses are not just dark, but thick framed and wide lensed with wide arms to further block the sun. I order online from a US source so I can only get them "so dark" but if you are willing to pay out of pocket, a traditional lens craft shop can "double dip" your glasses to make them even darker than "usual".

In addition to blacking out windows for your "night", think about a sleep mask and ear protection. I swear on summer nights the nighttime can seem louder on nights when I cannot sleep. I don't use ear protection but I do put on a fan for white noise or sleep with behind the ear earphones on (attached to soothing sleepy time music).

I don't know about any antidepressant and sun indication, but it can't hurt to speak to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure.
posted by tilde at 8:12 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can't or don't want to do blackout curtains, try sleeping with a pillow on your head. My boyfriend taught me this to keep out city noises at night, and now I can't fall asleep without a pillow under my head and one on top (or at least a dark pillowcase, if no extra pillows are too be had). The idea of a sleep mask kind of creeps me out, getting murdered in my sleep fears and all that, but the pillow is light, fluffy, and blocks out a lot of sunlight. Plus the longer you do it, the less frequently your pillow ends up on the floor mid toss-and-turn. I haven't had a dusty pillow in years!
posted by jabes at 8:13 AM on June 7, 2012

Keep an eye on new releases of f.lux; they're saying a future release will let you control the time settings so you can tell your computers it's "sunset" much earlier than your computer's time zone (or you could use f.lux now and change your computer time zone to something in the mid-Southern hemisphere).

I sympathize. I hated the midnight sun when I lived in Sweden, and right now even in southern California it feels like I am being persecuted at 5am and I can't wait for the days to start getting perceptibly shorter. Blackout curtains are my best suggestion.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:13 AM on June 7, 2012

oh god enter WHY

ALSO - I got rid of the fluorescent lights above my desk and only have one dim lamp in my office, and it is so much nicer than the rest of the office.

AND - "My sunglasses are not just dark, but thick framed and wide lensed with wide arms to further block the sun." - YES! Those old blu-blocker sunglasses from the goofy 90s commercials would be perfect.
posted by elizardbits at 8:15 AM on June 7, 2012

I have the same problem as you with regards to summertime and sleep quality. I hate it :-/

To keep room dark:
-nthing blackout blinds.
-Don't draw the curtains to your bedroom during the day; keep it a dark, quiet, cool little haven. That means you can start the winding down/getting ready for bed process while it's still light outside.
-Don't go out again once you've started the winding-down process.
-Sleep mask. Mine often slips around in the night, but I've gotten used enough to that to re-adjust it without fully waking up.

To improve sleep quality:
-If you can, keep the windows open (while keeping the curtains drawn) to keep air circulating. A fan will help to keep you cool and by generating white noise.
-Cold showers before bed.

But the key thing, for me, has been getting a routine down. I have a bedtime routine which has been key, I think, to my getting enough sleep despite the fact that my flat gets REALLY hot during the day, the sun rises WAY too early, and all sorts of other summer-related irritants. (The biggest being my neighbours who love to host barbeques accompanied by LOUD techno music uptil 1am on many summer nights).
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:22 AM on June 7, 2012

Mod note: I am having a difficult time understanding why an unrelated rant about the sorts of people who you hate is at all relevant in an answer to an AskMe question about sunlight unless you are trying to give your beloved mod a migraine. Just answer the question and save the rantiness for your journal please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:27 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow. I didn't even think we were having summer in the UK.

You've got a lot of good advice about how to darken the room, but not much about how to get out of bed.

At the risk of stating the obvious, if your depression medication isn't working - and you have extreme photosensitivity and depression - you should be speaking to your GP as a matter of urgency if it is that bad. There are several conditions such as lupus with correlating photosensitivity and depression and it would be useful if you got tested for those otherwise the not particularly productive solution is to just take your meds and live in dark rooms - good for the photosensitivity but not so good for the depression.

Apart from that, I would suggest a change of tack. You can darken rooms and wear sunglasses but this will make the contrast with the rest of the world even more extreme. I would consider having some areas that are less dark so you can acclimatise otherwise you will exacerbate your existing sensitivities. You will need to work on the acclimatisation and create a structure that takes you from dark to tolerable levels of light over the right time.

In terms of going out - also work timing things so you do so when the sun is going down and weaker - it will make life easier.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:44 AM on June 7, 2012

Response by poster: Huh, I should have come back earlier and caught the rant.

Thank you guys for your suggestions so far. I had forgotten about earplugs, but that's a really good idea. I love the birds, it's great that they sing, but the idea of them doing so a little less audibly is nice at the moment.

I suppose I should have explained in my weirdly-phrased "facemask" thing that the reason normal sunglasses won't help is the light creeping in at full strength around the edges. I have to cover those to convince myself it's actually dim out.

I'm actually on lamictal, which is an anti-epileptic also used for the maintenance of bipolar disorder, and as an antidepressant off-label. I don't think it enhances photosensitivity, but even if it does, I can't really go off it-- it's the only thing that's ever worked. But that's an interesting point, and I will look into it.

cocoagirl: Mono might be a thing, actually. It isn't the full explanation for this thing, as it's been going on all my life (oh my, the weird things my heart used to do before I figured out that I needed to keep myself covered up in the summer back in the 90's!). But it could be worsening it, and it could explain some other things.

MuffinMan: yeah, I'm still figuring out the health care system over here, but you're definitely right. I do need to get some blood tests done, but the person who does that stuff at my GP's office has been out for some time with a broken wrist, so I haven't been able to yet. I'm also not planning to black out the whole apartment, just a room I can go hide in when I am up when it's *supposed* to be night. (And you're quite right about the temperature. If it's going to be so bright, I would at least like to be able to take off my fingerless gloves!)

Going to give those blackout curtains a look now. (I want to do cardboard or trash bags, but I don't think my landlords would approve.) Thank you all so much! And thank you as well to the other people who have this problem, just for telling me that you also do-- I feel like kind of a weirdo about this. It's nice to hear from other weirdos. ;)
posted by Because at 8:53 AM on June 7, 2012

You also mentioned hat head - can you swap out some of your hats for (admittedly dorky) golf visors instead? You do sacrifice some head protection, but the potential for ruffly head breezes kind of makes up for it. Plus, no hat head/sweaty hair.
posted by elizardbits at 8:54 AM on June 7, 2012

but the person who does that stuff at my GP's office has been out for some time with a broken wrist

If your GP has ordered blood tests you should be able to just request a bag from the receptionist and take it to the hospital - I often do that instead of waiting for an appointment (which can be 2-3 weeks at my GP's office).
posted by missmagenta at 9:09 AM on June 7, 2012

Seconding missmagenta, you can also go to Boots (I see that we're both in the West Midlands -- there's one in Solihull that does them and another in Birmingham) and get the blood tests done.

Depending on the test it takes 1 week - 4 weeks, so the sooner the better.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:13 AM on June 7, 2012

Use some real curtains on top of the blackout screens, so that the little sunlight that inevitably filters through around the edges gets dimmed as well. That helps me sleep.

Possibly you should try and find resources in Scotland. The summer blues is a real thing in the north (I'm in Sweden...) and I guess that doctors further up have more experience with it.
posted by Namlit at 9:41 AM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: Aluminum foil is cheap and easy to put up.

Two layers of dark fleece with cafe clips is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to make blackout curtains. No hemming, no sewing. My recollection is that a yard of fleece per curtain (so, two yards per window) is what we've got hanging in our rooms. And the ladies at the fabric store will cut it for you, do all you have to do is clip the clips to the top.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:42 AM on June 7, 2012

Part of my sleep routine is to use a white noise generator to put myself down and keep it on until it's time to wake up. Over the years I've internalized that the noise means sleepy-time and turning it off means "time to get up". Bonus: it masks snoring spouses and chirpy birds.
posted by immlass at 9:48 AM on June 7, 2012

Seriously, go goggle:

Sports goggle Dark 1


all weather sport goggles

Look for a serious wrap-around design. Available in prescription lens, as well.
posted by tilde at 9:58 AM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: If you're renting or are a bit intimidated by having to work out blackout curtains, you can get a very good substitute with pieces of black cardboard blutacked over the windows. Make sure they're stuck to the frames not the glass, and then you don't get any pesky light coming around the edges.

Also, if you're not doing that in your bedroom, I have a black scarf I wrap around my head at night at the moment and it helps a lot. It probably looks a little odd, but since my boyfriend sleeps with a pillow over his face for similar reasons, we look odd together.

In the past when I've been sick of sunlight, I've found that curtains closed and sitting at my desk with just a desklamp on makes it feel like a dark evening because the light from the lamp makes me notice the light fighting through the curtains less.

I find it funny that I'm able to think of so many little things I do to keep out the light when my first thought on reading your question was 'Oh no, I LOVE the summer'.

Welcome to the West Midlands, I'm new around here too.
posted by kadia_a at 10:18 AM on June 7, 2012

Ive hadthis problem since I was a toddler. I woumd cry if we had to go to a summer time parade or event.
Heres what I do: stay inside.

And, well, Sunglasses. A/C in the car. Find close parking spaces.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:32 AM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: I feel for you, as I also have a sun allergy (PMLE, hooray) in addition to freckly-white skin that is prone to cancer. It's really really no fun and I long for brisk, cold winter days. My husband likely suffers from very mild SAD, and it's amazing we've made it this many years without huge fights over the weather. He loves the heat and the sun, I feel unsafe and panicky all summer. He gets glum when it's rainy or snowy while I am practically celebrating. Summer feels *awful* in NYC, because we have a mosquito problem, and there's little greenery to air out the heat, and the trash bakes on the sidewalk, and everything stink to high heaven.

ANYWAYS. I wear a light colored, light weight long sleeve shirts from May to September to protect my skin. Most of my summer clothes are linen, linen-woven cotton, cotton, basically anything breathable and semi-sheer. I wear SPF 60+ on all parts of my body, with a special sunscreen for my face that doesn't make me sweat or feel greasy. Hats make me hot too, and I also hate hat hair, so I wear my hair up.

Then I go places where it's cool and shady: libraries, cafes, bars, shaded public gardens. I find places near water and sit there with a book. I browse a lot of bookstores and pharmacies (these are my mecca for when I'm perishing in the direct sun, because they're reliably close by in NYC and I can spend 20-30 minutes enjoying the air conditioned premises without arousing the slightest suspicion).

Reading your question, I wonder if your insistence on hanging out in the dark is really healthy. After all, you seem to hate the heat and the sun, but you can still be in the world during summer without trapping yourself in a black room. If I languish inside all day, even if it's cool and dark, I will get depressed. I hate feeling trapped inside. You might be having the same issue, and will need to force yourself to dress in a lightweight shirt and go. the hell. outside. Even if it's just to a cafe down the street, or a cool and quiet bookstore. Seriously, go outside, even if it feels like you're jumping from the frying pan into the fire. If you spend your whole life running from summer (and trust me, I wish I could outrun this godawful season) you will likely be miserable for 3-5 months out of the year.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:29 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Welcome to the West Midlands, I'm new around here too.

Welcome, both of you! We should have a meetup somewhere with good beer and zero daylight.

Because, do you go to the theatre much at all? When I leave a matinee or summer evening show, I often find myself surprised that it's still light out. Being in the auditorium fools my brain into thinking it's night.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:38 AM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: Hey, I can't offer much new advice. What everyone else has said pretty much covers anything I've done/tried. I just wanted to offer some solidarity. As a fellow hater of summer/sunlight I've always felt like an oddball (not the least because of people's reactions when you tell them you prefer the winter). I've been getting progressively sadder since late April - but the cloudiness here in London helps a bit. Something I sometimes try is to do something specifically associated with dark times of the year - drinking hot chocolate, wearing a thick sweater. It fools me for a little while.
posted by Partario at 11:46 AM on June 7, 2012

Sleeping tablets.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:52 AM on June 7, 2012

I am also currently in northern Europe and I have an east-facing bedroom window, which means that I am currently sleeping with my black fleece pullover tossed over my head. I tried a pillow for a while, but even that was too heavy for me. I figured out the fleece-over-the-head trick two nights ago, and I slept in all of the way until 9 am! It was fantastic.

Also, in terms of getting away from the summer, I've been wandering around a lot in old stone buildings with walls that are probably a foot or two thick: churches, libraries, opera houses, etc. Any time you go into one of those old buildings, there's this wonderful dimming of the outside world, because it's so cool and calm in there. It's not exactly twilight in some of them, but it's not exactly daylight in them either. If you're in England, there's got to be a fair amount of old buildings around, and some of them are probably public buildings. You can't exactly spend your whole day hanging out in a church, but maybe you could find a lovely old dusty library like mine, and find some dim corner to sit in all afternoon once in a while.
posted by colfax at 11:59 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hail, my sun-hating comrades.

My Retreat Room (aka The Lair) is kitted out as follows:

Thick dark wool covering all windows. This helps dampen sound, as well as keep the sun's evil rays at bay.

Fans positioned to blow a gentle, soothing breeze over my face and feet. The white noise helps block out the sound of all the insufferably chipper summer-time people who descend on my beach town.

Dark bedding, super soft sheets. I have an extra sheet that I use to drap over my face for extra-darkness.

Foam earplugs.

During the long summer days, when I just can't take another lick of sunshine and shiny-happiness, I entomb myself. Crawl into bed, put in the earplugs, go into total darkness. It's my sensory deprivation tank. About 30 minutes of complete silence and darkness and stillness, and I can face the daylight again.

I send you a comforting pat on the arm from disgusting sunny southern California. Autumn can't come soon enough.
posted by quivering_fantods at 12:04 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For sunglasses, I would look for fit-over sunglasses designed to wear over glasses they have plastic all around the eyes and wide sides.
posted by Gor-ella at 12:11 PM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: I have never in my life had occasion to make such an odd suggestion to anyone, but: church. Not the belief system, just the building. Maybe you could spend part of the overlong, too bright afternoons or evenings hanging out in a church. Churches tend to be dim and closed-off feeling, as if they are not a part of the everyday sunny world. Some of them are dark, dank and dismal -- perfect! And it's generally possible and considered OK to just go sit there by yourself and do something quiet, for no apparent reason. If you like music, you could find out when the choir or organist practices, and go then. And it's quite likely that anyone who questions your presence will turn out to be a very nice person.

And just think how magnificently dramatic you'll look, hidden under your dark glasses and enormous, droopy hat, sitting by yourself in the church, writing in your journal. You could write down the amazing stories that you imagine that people would be imagining about you. It can be great fun to be inexplicable.
posted by Corvid at 12:17 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's a multi-part solution:
1. large sheets of cardboard, that fit the whole height and width of the window. (If you can only get smaller pieces, overlap them by at least six inches or so.)
2. thick black felt covering the entire sheet of cardboard, including folded around the edges so there's no chance of light-leakage.
3. optional: duct tape aroune the edges, including where any separate cardboard pieces overlap.

This was what we did at Thule AB, Greenland, during summers --- and there, the daylight is three solid months long, and midnight is just as bright as noon. (Some people liked tinfoil instead of the felt, but the thickness of the felt helps fill in any tiny gaps.)
posted by easily confused at 12:32 PM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: oh, and if you're worried about presenting a blank, black felt square to the world --- and making the cops or your neighbors think 'grow house' or similar, for instance --- then just stick up a sheet of curtain-looking material flat against the glass before you back it with your blackout measures.
posted by easily confused at 12:47 PM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: Could your GP run some bloodwork on you? I'm thinking there's a good chance you might be gradually getting lower and lower on vitamin D, since you cover yourself so thoroughly even though you live in the North. And even if you're not officially deficient yet, somewhat lower levels can already have a profound effect on your mental well being.

In my own case, it was very much the way you described (getting worse in the spring and early summer due to the depletion during the winter), and I didn't suspect vitamin D to be the culprit because hey, we were getting more and more sun all the time! Only the exposure wasn't nearly enough for me to get what I needed. The effect of supplementing was nothing less than dramatic.

BTW, in Helsinki, I used to have thick, deep blue denim curtains. Blocked all the light and I liked the look, too.
posted by sively at 12:31 AM on June 8, 2012

If you tack up your normal curtains so that they're close to the glass (inside the window frame) then you can cover over the whole window (outside the frame, level with the wall) with fleece/cardboard/trash bags and it won't be nearly as obvious from the outside. Then cover over the inside with posters, so you don't have to look at your window coverings.

Go to your Target-equivalent and try on every pair of wrap sunglasses (the sporty looking kind). Eventually you will find a pair that makes a sucking noise when you try to detach them from your face, and they will block all of the light (even around the edges).

A lot of large public buildings feel very dim during the day. Even if they have windows, the windows are just so far away... I'm thinking about the center area of our regional library and also (oddly) the indoor pool.

Maybe you could take a class? (There must be something like community college/continuing education over there.) University classrooms generally have no windows.
posted by anaelith at 5:46 AM on June 8, 2012

Response by poster: sively: I take supplementary vitamin D for exactly that reason: bloodwork showed I was deficient last year. When I started getting my levels up, it was definitely noticeable! And I wouldn't have guessed that that was the problem. I also have an appointment to get some bloodwork done next week, so that should let me know whether that is still a problem, or if something else is.

Corvid: ha! You're right! I seldom go into churches, though I think cathedrals are really beautiful, but, thinking of it, I remember that effect. I should see if there are any nice ones around.

zoomorphic: I do stay in too much, certainly. But this is more about me trying to pretend to lengthen the nights rather than just never leaving the house at all. If I can pretend it's full dark by 10PM, when I am usually home anyway, I just feel that it will help my psychological state immensely. And I am so very, very much going to try that face-sunscreen you linked. My search for a non-greasy face sunscreen is neverending.

kadia_a: Desklamp! That's a *marvelous* idea! That would *so* trick my mind!

Thank you guys. So very much.
posted by Because at 7:03 AM on June 8, 2012

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