The many and various ways I pass the time now has a new addition. Usually it involves drinking coffee whilst sitting at a computer keeping in touch with chums, or sipping wine sitting on our tiny terrace catching the sun, and wondering what else I can do to avoid any cleaning or tidying or putting away of stuff and things that aren't even MINE. And now I am going to type this blog. Provided that doesn't become a chore as well, in which case...

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Alarm Bells

I am going to have to sort out my sleep patterns a bit better, or we'll starve.

I have a pork belly joint in the fridge but I haven't got going on cooking it yet because I am waking up too late (just shy of noon) at the moment, and it takes a minimum of nine hours to reach the required level of sticky unctuousness.  My recent late starts are because I have Seasonally Affective Disorder, which came, I believe, from the Viking antecedents, along with an ability to sing Wagner and make every anecdote a saga.  I have a very Northern European hippocampus.  Get YOU, Goldenlady!  Actually it might have nothing whatesoever to do with a hippocampus but it's the only bit of the brain I can name off-hand apart from cerebral cortex, and I am pretty sure it's not that.  It's another more primative bit that is deeply in tune with the seasons. That much I do know.

Some people can watch seasons come and go without really seeing them.  They may adjust their wardrobe to suit the temperature, but their whole being doesn't change shape and form just because there is an equinox (particularly) or a solstice (less so) in the offing.  Mine does.  My sleep changes and my diet with it. Come September, instead of waking refreshed at 6.30am and hitting the ground running as I have done all summer I will open one reluctant eye and find it is ten o' clock or as near as dammit.  By October the late rising has affected the time I can get properly off to sleep.  It could be as late as 2.00am.  4.00am is not unknown. So of course the waking time gets pushed even further back.  Today it was 11.50am, but at least it was morning.

Dietary changes come with it.  I get a late night carb craving that can even wake me up, and send me staggering for the fridge semi-comatose.  The urge is so strong I am up and walking before I am fully awake.  Sometimes my resting low blood pressure goes with me, so that I swoon woozily in front of the open fridge door and have to lie down on the chilly kitchen floor so I don't black out.

I do try to keep some semblance of control over this small hours' feasting so I have trained myself to eat nothing fatty, just three Weetabix with skimmed milk, and maybe a piece of fruit, and I fight to ensure my unconscious mind is content with that.  Sometimes I eat it just before getting into bed in the hope my unconscious mind won't then wake the rest of me up.  The Husband calls this snack supper my Threetabix.  The Dog watches me keenly throughout and is allowed the last spoonful, but I don't know what he calls it.

You can imagine how disruptive to full social and employment functioning this degree of SAD can be.  When I worked full-time teaching I had to drag myself from the arms of morpheus at 6.30am to ablute, dress, pack the car, drive to school a little ways up the M1.  Often, even on a cold day, I'd have the car window open all the way to keep me awake.  When the SAD trough was at its deepest I'd get as far as ablute and dress and then collapse.  I'd find the idea of walking downstairs and leaving the house so traumatising I'd slump into a sitting position on the top step and sob.  I could usually be mopped up and re-engerised by hug and a swift kindly pep talk from The Husband (then The Boyfriend).  But sometimes this didn't work and I'd have to take a day off sick. This was especially likely in November or February.  These months could be so dire when I was working that the sound of their names still unnerves me.  They have a feel and connotation that no other months have.  Flat, grey, dark, brooding. Why not December and January, then?  Well, December is our festival of light, which helps, and in January everyone is spent up and fed up so I don't stand out much.

What treatment have I tried?  Two main ones. An SSRI (which means I these days feel the physical effects but not the pervasive low mood) and resigning from full-time work.  Which employer wants or needs a staff member who can't get out of bed before noon and isn't a super-model?  Yeah, quite.  I wouldn't hire me.  I once had a light box which I shared with The Daughter (who's inherited the condition) when she lived with us after graduating, but her needs were greater than mine as she has an entire working life ahead of her, so she took it with her.  I adapted my working life to fit the condition, and became a private tutor for a number of years.  My working hours were between 3.00pm and 9.00pm.  Job's a good 'un.

There are some suggestions that SAD is an evolved adaptation, not a disorder at all.  In my view modern  9-5 working practices  (7.30- 6.30 if one factors in a long commute) in electrically-lit workplaces have made this "in-tune with available light" natural state an abnormality rather than biological common sense

Compare what we do with what other sentient beings do;

In many species, activity is diminished during the winter months in response to the reduction in available food and the difficulties of surviving in cold weather. Hibernation is an extreme example, but even species that do not hibernate often exhibit changes in behavior during the winter. It has been argued that SAD is an evolved adaptation in humans that is a variant or remnant of a hibernation response in some remote ancestor.[23] Presumably, food was scarce during most of human prehistory, and a tendency toward low mood during the winter months would have been adaptive by reducing the need for calorie intake. The preponderance of women with SAD suggests that the response may also somehow regulate reproduction.[23] If these interpretations are correct, SAD would not be a dysfunction or disorder, but rather a normal and expected response to seasonal changes.

From Wikipedia article on SAD. Click here for the rest

I thought I'd found a way of adapting to the adaptive process and still rake in some cash, then cancer hit in 2006; being breast cancer it can't ever, as yet, be considered cured, but in remission.  One just prays it's a long, lifelong even, remission.  So Goldenoldenlady took the figurative Gold Clock and retired. She can now be at one with nature and sleep six hours a night in summer and twice that in winter if she needs to, with the full and unresenting blessing of The Husband whose alarm goes off at 5.45am all year round, to enable him to trot off to earn Our Daily Crust. God love that man, I always shall.

But with belly pork needing a good nine hours' cooking time at plate-warming temperature (and dinner usually served at or before 7.00pm) I'll have to set the alarm for 8.00am tomorrow to prep it and get it going, even if I do it in my PJs with my eyes shut.  Then I may slide back betweern the covers once it's safely in the oven (you wage slaves might be clenching your teeth here, but - remember - you have to have SAD and have had cancer to qualify for my type of early retirement, and I am money poor as a result of it) to snooze away another couple of hours with The Dog curled up beside me.

Oh, I forgot to mention The Dog is a West Highland Terrier, a breed which emerged in the far North of Scotland, so of course he has it too... and contrast;

 A Spring Morning

An Autumn Morning


  1. Obviously can't address the whole issue of SAD. But I reckon you could prepare your pork belly in the evening and set it to cook overnight. Cool it when you wake, and gently reheat in the evening in time for dinner.

  2. I cooked it over two days - four hours one afternoon, three hours the next. It was deLICious.