I took a year off from my life in Southern California to take classes at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I moved from a cute little place blocks from the ocean to a college dorm. I moved from an exciting city of 500,000 people to a county of 85,000 people. The excitement here is going to Wal-Mart. I also left a career that defined me to be an anonymous student.
From late November to mid the end of January, Alaska was -40 degree BELOW zero! It’s so cold that it hurts. Breaking the outside air is like inhaling glass shards. Touching an outside doorknob hurts. The cold makes your nose run, freeze and later dry out. In that extreme weather, you stop caring what you look like, you just want to be warm. It is an accomplishment not to freeze and just to shower that day.
The loss of light causes seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I noticed a marked improvement when I replaced all of my lighting with daylight florescent bulbs. It cost under $20. Now the days get longer until there is 23 hours of daylight in the summer.
The UAF health clinic distributes antidepressants. I did not feel that was the option for me. Medication works for many people, but not for me. If you need an antidepressant, work with your physician to chose the best one for you. There is nothing wrong with taking an antidepressant and this is not a judgment, just saying I do not have a healthy reaction to them.
Alaska is more than 2,000 miles from my home and life. It was such a culture shock that along with the change in light and weather it was too much for me to cope with on my own. Also the isolation brings up issues that I had thought were resolved. So I see a therapist twice a week. Since then, my life has transformed and I feel so much better. I emerged a stronger and more confident person.
I can’t tell you how many times, I cried and wanted to come home. But exercise, lights and counseling helped me survive the winter.
If you want someone to talk to and feel you can’t afford it, try contacting local universities. Often the psychology PhD program will have a clinic with sessions costing only about $5. My therapist has a master’s degree and is compassionate and dedicated to helping me. I have never been more secure in myself as a person or felt more healthy emotionally.
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