Winter sun setting through trees.
Photo by Jonas Eriksson on Unsplash
Seasonal affective disorder and the gifts of Advent
I can’t explain how this works exactly. It only has the one light; there’s no way to turn on more and more of it as the Sundays of Advent pass.
But I want to mark this beacon of light with some sort of reverence this December, to bless it in this season of darkness.
I, like many people I know, live with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that worsens in the winter, when the daylight hours grow short and the sun sets at 4 p.m. where I live. I also live with regular depression the rest of the year, but sometime in late October, the change becomes apparent. Getting out of bed in the morning—always a struggle for me—becomes a near-Herculean undertaking, as I struggle through an undertow of sadness and apathy. I find myself caring less and less about my work responsibilities and neglecting my relationships—even though I find my work satisfying, and my relationships are precious to me. I’m tired all the time, and I have trouble remembering that being happy is actually different from being asleep.
In this state, Advent and Christmas are both exactly what I need, and also feel almost unattainable.
Hope? Sure, I guess that’s a thing.
Peace? Ah, you mean sleeping.
The Christ-child, born into a hurting world.
Well. I need it, to be sure. But the thought hurts.
I don’t know if I can explain why this is. Because the world is harsh and cold, and beloved things can be here one day and gone the next? Because depression makes you feel unworthy of love, and the recognition of the love you have wars with the voices in your head? Because love, in spite of everything you feel, is stronger and vaster than the Earth’s tilted axis and the fleeting sunlight, and it rips at the fabric of your depression, trying to destroy the listless world you’ve been living in?
All of that. And sometimes none of it. And sometimes something else. I don’t know.
What I know is this:
The coming of Jesus into the world felt like that. Like something unbelievably beautiful, sharp-edged in its unexpected glory, yet at the same time tender, breaking down all understandings of what was possible. The preciousness of a newborn child is so beautiful it hurts. The knowledge that the child is God, who loves you more than universes full of tilted planets and infinities of the vastness of space—well. That cuts deep.
And so, each morning, I turn on my sun lamp, with a blessing and a prayer. Thank you for love and beauty, even when it hurts. May hope reach me through the covers over my head. May peace find me as I toss and turn. May joy catch me unawares, startling a laugh. And may love flow out from me and back to me, keeping my heart painfully open to the world.
Bekah Maren Anderson is director of Pastoral Care, The Julian Way.