Non-SAD

I am a little too prone to use black humor to distance myself from the depressing effects of the long, cold darkness of winter, which sometimes leaves people worrying about me unnecessarily. So I thought I’d mention that despite a bit of anxiety over the inevitable turn of the seasons, my mood is currently pretty great.

Beyond just feeling good right now, I’m hopeful. Over the past decade I’ve been handling winters better and better.

The biggest factor, I think, is that I no longer have a job to lose, so I no longer get into the spiral where seasonal depression makes me less productive, making me anxious about losing my job, making me more depressed, making me even less productivity. Sadly, advising others to take advantage of this strategy is not very useful (although I do and will continue to support and advocate for either a citizen wage or a guaranteed job).

Putting early retirement aside as impractical for most people, I thought I’d briefly summarize my other current practices—mostly ordinary coping strategies—both as a reference for myself any time I start to feel my brain chemicals coming on, and perhaps as a resource for other people. Here’s what’s working for me:

  • Taking delight in things. In particular, I take delight in the opportunity to wear seasonally appropriate woollies. I also like to spend time in the Conservatory, go to art galleries or museums, listen to live music, and generally go on artist’s dates.
  • Getting plenty of exercise. Last winter I managed to get out for a run almost every week. As fall approaches I’m getting back to my lifting. (Here’s a great resource on the current science on using exercise to treat and prevent depression.)
  • Spending time in nature. I do that all summer, and it may be part of the reason that my mood is generally great in the summer. But I can do it in the winter too. (I don’t seem to have a post on this topic. I’ll be sure to write one this winter. In the meantime you can find various mentions by clicking on the vitamin N tag over on the sidebar.)
  • Light therapy. I’ve used my HappyLight™ for years, and it does seem to help. Getting outdoors anytime in the first couple of hours after dawn is probably even better—another thing I find easy to do in the summer that would probably help just as much in the winter.
  • Taking Vitamin D through the winter. The evidence for any benefit is scant, but even if it only helps through the placebo effect, it is at least a safe, cheap placebo. (There’s good evidence that people with high levels of vitamin D are healthier, but very little evidence that supplementing vitamin D makes people healthier. It could easily be purely associational—maybe more time spent outdoors both boosts vitamin D levels and makes people healthier and happier.)
  • Anything that boosts neurogenesis. That’s most of the things listed above, but lots of other things too, such as engaging in creative work. Also on the list are calorie restriction and adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.

I have a few new possibilities up my sleeve:

  • There’s recent evidence that sauna bathing is dramatically effective at treating depression, probably through many mechanisms including the activation of heat-shock proteins. (One thing on my to-do list is finding a local fitness center or spa with a sauna and investigating the cost of a three or four month membership.)
  • Related to heat exposure is cold exposure, which activates many of the same protective proteins that heat exposure does. Cold exposure, of course, is trivially easy to achieve in the winter—just wear a coat or jacket one notch less warm than would be most comfortable.
  • Obviously sleep is very important, and with my Oura ring I’m tracking my own sleep carefully. This has already been helpful, and I’m hoping to be able to do more to improve my sleep (and thereby my mood) in the winter as well.

That’s what I’ve got at the moment, but I’m always on the lookout for things to alleviate seasonal depression.

My photos are mostly CC-BY

I wasn’t huge fan of the Creative Commons until shortly after I started writing for Wise Bread.

For illustrating Wise Bread posts I liked to take my own photos, but for some things I wanted an image that I couldn’t easily take myself. For those things I used Flickr’s powerful search facility and deep pool of licensed photos.

Because I was using photos for a commercial purpose (to illustrate articles posted to a personal finance site that was heavily monetized so they could pay their writers), I avoided photos that were not licensed for commercial use. And because I and the site were retaining rights to the posts, I avoided photos with a “share alike” license.

I quickly came to love the fact that there was this vast library of images generously donated by their creators, and quickly felt that I owed it to them, and the world in general, to share my images on the same terms.

After the new owners of Flickr broke everything that was great about the site, I started hosting my photos myself at images.philipbrewer.net, using an open-source tool called Lychee. And shortly after I started using it, Lychee added the facility to mark photos as creative commons licensed.

Nearly all of my photos are licensed CC-BY, which allows anyone to use, remix, and share those photos, provided they provide attribution to me. (Ideally mention my name and link back to my blog, to my images site, or to the photo itself—whatever makes most sense for your use of the image.)

Licensed CC-BY.

I mention all this primarily to let people know that those photos are available for use, because finding creative commons licensed images is no longer so easy as just searching at Flickr. Creative Commons has a search facility, but it doesn’t point at the wider web, just at certain “partner platforms.”

Licensed CC-BY.

Still, if you see one of my photos and want to use it, know that it’s probably licensed with a CC-BY license. (The main exception is photos of family members, which I don’t license. Properly speaking all the license does is grant a license to the copyright for that photo. Any model release needs to be negotiated separately with whoever appears in the photo. But I figure that’s a nuance that many image users just skip over, so to avoid issues with people using photos of me or my family inappropriately, I just don’t license them.)

This photo does NOT have a creative commons license.

If a photo is not licensed (and it’s not of me or a family member), that’s probably just an oversight on my part. Let me know and I can almost certainly fix the licensing almost immediately.

Licensed CC-BY.

I would be delighted if people would start using my photos on my images site the way they used to use my photos of Flickr.

Field Notes unboxing

I got the first order of my Field Notes subscription, so I thought I’d do a quick unboxing post. The first thing I noticed was that I had the box upside down.

With that problem fixed, I was greeted with the Field Notes motto, a sentiment that has appealed to me since I first met it:

From that reinforcing message I moved on to the contents:

I had promised to share the notebooks with Jackie, and she immediately wanted the packet with Rocky Mountains, Great Smokey Mountains, and Yellowstone. I claimed the packet with Joshua Tree, the destination of the best camping trip I took during the months I lived in Los Angeles.

The next step is to get over the hesitation I always have to start using a nice notebook. Part of the reason I got the subscription is that I’ve been actually using my notebooks lately, which gives me some confidence that I actually will. But another part is that I’m hoping having a nine notebooks (plus three more boxes coming over the course of the year) will make starting any one notebook seem a little less fraught.