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.

Non-minimalist boots

Jackie and I went for a nice walk yesterday, through the prairie and woods next to Winfield Village. We walked about four miles altogether.

Toward the end of the walk I paused to retie a boot, and found that my back was really tight. Bending down caused pain in my sacroiliac joints.

It was odd because it was a familiar sensation, but an old familiar sensation. I used to feel that pretty often on a long walk, but I hadn’t felt it lately. Without really thinking about it, I had attributed the change to general improvements in fitness and flexibility. But here after a fairly short walk that old pain was back again.

I was briefly puzzled, but realized right away what had happened: Because the walk was going to be wet and muddy, I’d worn my old heavily lugged goretex hiking boots.

These used to be my main boots; they’re the ones I wore on my 33-mile Kal-Haven Trail hike. I’ve kept them because I haven’t found a satisfactory pair of waterproof minimal boots, and I’ve worn them right along over the three or four years I’ve been transitioning to minimalist footwear, whenever I needed waterproofness or a heavily lugged sole. But they have the big downsides of non-minimalists shoes: Their thicker heel jacks up my posture, and their rigid sole keeps my feet from adapting to the terrain.

It might not be just the footwear. The trail was muddy enough that every step was a bit of an adventure—my foot would sink into the ground, but it would sink a different amount each step, making it hard to establish and maintain a consistent gait. I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t play into making my back feel a bit wonky after a couple of miles.

But clearly it’s time to retire these old boots and find some waterproof minimalist boots with sufficiently lugged soles to handle some short, steep hills on a muddy trail.

If you’ve got any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them. Comment below, or send me email! (Email address on my contact page.)

Red bridge detention area

Jackie and I went for a hike at Lake of the Woods yesterday. One thing I particularly wanted to do was get a new photo of the red bridge in the Japanese garden area, and use it to illustrate an Esperanto-language haiku.

We parked outside the Museum of the Grand Prairie, and walked around back, through the botanical garden, to where the Japanese garden was, only to find that it is currently being renovated. The red bridge is there, but seems to be under detention for some reason:

Red Bridge Detention Area

And it wasn’t the only thing in detention. There was another big detention area seemingly devoted to landscaping elements of various sorts. I didn’t get pictures of all of them, but among them were these rocks:

Landscaping rock detention are

We escaped the detention area without being detained ourselves and walked a ways along the bike path, only to come upon the red bridge’s big brother:

I’m suspecting plans underway to mount a prison break, but you didn’t hear it from me.

At about this point Jackie checked out the map for the Lake of the Woods, which suggested that, aside from the bike path (which is paved), there aren’t very many paths on that side of the forest preserve. And reminded me that she particularly wanted to walk on some non-paved paths that day.

So we turned around, spent a few minutes walking on the (unpaved) path in the Rayburn-Purnell Woods, then crossed the road to walk in the Buffalo Trace Prairie. It has lots of (unpaved) paths, with signage suggesting ways to arrange your walk to add up to a variety of distances, up to 5 miles. We just hiked the main loop around the perimeter of the prairie, to cover 2.6 miles.

One the trail we met a cute li’l pupper who was momentarily standoffish, but when we and the owner paused to converse for a minute, the dog decided we must be okay, and trotted up for pets from me and then from Jackie.

The image at the top is of a circle of standing stones at the edge of the botanical garden. While admitting that I did not check, I do not think they are sun-aligned.

Learning to burn

The guy who has been leading the stewardship effort for the patch of prairie right next to Winfield Village is looking to transition some of the effort to someone who lives here, and I have expressed a willingness to take on some of the stewardship tasks.

This would primarily consist of working to remove non-prairie species, together with using the prairie for education, and advocating for the prairie when other people imagine some other use for the land. But one essential step with maintaining prairie land is occasional burning. I could probably manage the rest of it, but I’m certainly not qualified to do a prairie burn.

To start to remedy that, yesterday I participated in a burn at a small patch of prairie land near Urbana, managed by a guy from Pheasants Forever. I had told him of my interest in learning to manage a burn, so he talked me through what he did as he did it, explaining the thought-process behind where he started and what he burned, and also introduced me to the equipment involved.

The patch of prairie we burned was 1.5 acres, and took a little over an hour to burn.

I neglected to get a picture of myself taken while I was dressed in my Nomex coveralls, but above see a nice picture from the burn itself, and below for an older picture of our own little patch of prairie.