As autumn begins to shorten our daylight hours, Aleksandr Voinov talks about his experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder and how he learned to adjust his inner body clock.
I’m not by nature a graceful riser (note my best attempt at British understatement). I vividly remember to get out of bed during the last year or so of school, I got my hands on an alarm clock that could play cassettes—remember those things?—which was a huge improvement for me compared to BEEEP-BEEEP-BEEEP-BEEEEEEEEEEP.
Not that what I put into it was much kinder to the ears—the song I played to beat myself out of bed was Judas Priest’s Painkiller, which starts with a thirty-second drum solo that sounds like orbital bombardment when it goes off right next to your head at full volume. But nothing else worked.
Thankfully then the student years rolled around and I didn’t need to get up in the dark for those. The schedule could be made (*ahem*) to fit with my night-owl proclivities. Plus, I worked several jobs until about midnight, so my schedule shifted to its “natural” rhythm—I’d get to bed at 1:30 a.m. and eventually rise at 8 a.m. or maybe 9 a.m., which was doable.
But fate caught up with me when I entered the workforce, and with that came a You-work-when-the boss/company-tells-you-to approach to my schedule. How rude!
Already a night owl, things had a way of getting really difficult in autumn. I was expected to “rise and shine” at ungodly hours like 7 a.m., even when the skies and everything (life, breakfast, etc) was simply grey. We don’t have that much fog in London anymore—which was apparently smoke from coal fires and more a Victorian thing—but when the skies decide to be grey, they can easily remain grey for six months or more, with only a slight drizzle breaking the monotony. In fact, the weather can be so dull you could be tempted to take the Aztec approach and sacrifice a few people to the sun to ensure s/he’s strong enough to return. (Kidding. I’m not that kind of pagan.)
I kind of self-diagnosed myself with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), though frankly those six-month grey spells would drive anybody, even the happiest of people, to distraction. Plus, I have that double whammy of November being the month when my ex attempted suicide and my mother died—thankfully in different years—which added to the malaise.
Then I heard about light alarm clocks. At that point they were really expensive, and I was working a minimum-wage job in a data farm, but I came into some kind of windfall (might have been an Amazon gift card for my birthday) and I bought one of those—I went with Philips, which is very good with all LED-based technology—curious and hopeful and pretty much at the end of my tether.
Now they’ll take that alarm clock from my cold dead hands.
What a change. I can set the light to slowly fade in over thirty minutes, which helps me to slowly and gently emerge from whatever sleep phase I’m currently in. No more getting jarred out of a deep sleep phase and then needing fifteen minutes or so to even remember which reality I belong to. If I’m in a light sleep phase, I wake up with the slightest rosy shimmer appearing on the alarm clock. Deep sleep—I’ll get through the thirty-minute cycle and then wake up to really insistent birdsong recordings.
And I can’t express how often that alarm clock has saved my bacon. Three years ago, I landed a very well-paid job that does, however, require me to wake up at 4:15 a.m. even in the teeth of November, so I’m in the office at 6:00 a.m. to do a job that’s pretty important for the standing of the company and that has to happen at that exact point in time. Also, various other departments and people depend on it, so there’s no way I can oversleep on that.
My partner is on a more humane schedule and doesn’t have to get up before 7:30 a.m. Most “early” mornings, he doesn’t even wake up—he’s more resistant to the bird song, I guess—and I wake up as if waking up at 3:45-4:15 a.m. were natural (hah!), which sets me up all right for the day. I even ended up buying my partner his own so he doesn’t tear me from my sleep when he has to catch an early flight or train. I still sometimes listen to Painkiller to wake me up, but that’s usually at the train station when I’m waiting for the first train of the day, perfectly on time and sharp.
Aleksandr Voinov’s latest release is Capture & Surrender, a re-issued novel in the Market Garden m/m hot romance series. For more information about Aleks and his writing, check out his website and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
Do you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder? Do you have any tips or tricks to help fellow sufferers? Let us know in the comments or join the #RiseAndShine discussion on our Social Media where you'll find yourself in very good (and supportive!) company.