Friday, December 02, 2005


Yesterday I felt a sense of relief that November was finally done and over with. A sudden flash of insight put things into perspective: The name should be changed to 'Yes'-vember... No-vember is just too negative sounding.

If there is a month of the year I particularly dread, it is this one. If life is one great big three-dimensional jig saw puzzle that we will never finish in time, November is that time of year when you sit there scanning for the right piece, staring at pieces that look like they should fit but don't make sense; you try to place a piece and realize you already have tried that piece in the same spot five times, and it never fit before, so why would it now.

My seasonal affective disorder is not especially emotional, although I do feel slightly crankier than at other times, and I hang out in front of a light box each morning.. I don't feel depressed exactly.. I perk up easily and can be led into having a good discussion. No.. this is a bit more.. hmm, cognitive. It's a sense of having a mental fog bank in the mind; the edges aren't as sharp and it's harder to keep a chain of thought linked through to a logical end. It's hard to think creatively. It's hard to find one's own familiar inner motivation. Thought becomes restricted to one thing at a time, whatever is in front of one's face, and whatever presents itself to one's face feels too much.. well, in one's face. Truly it is hard to see perspective; just as in fog objects loom due to way decreased focal length, in this state, life events loom suddenly without being able to access the usual anticipation/preparation time. And just as with fog, when you look behind at your chain of thought some of it seems to have disappeared, requiring extra effort and mental squinting to make out its shape. There's no other time of year that demands such trust that one will survive intact, than this time that feels so composty, entropic. Life becomes less an effortless pleasure and more a slog. Routine becomes both cage and comfort. It's restlessness coupled with torpor, lassitude coupled with longing.

The jigsaw puzzle analogy works in another way: Often you sit there staring at pieces and nothing works, you leave it, do something else for awhile. You come back, several hours later or maybe the next day, and inside ten minutes you've spotted and placed (effortlessly) twenty pieces. I think that must be an example of the power of gamma organization of the visual cortex. Same with this edgeless time of the year; distraction works wonders. A bit of brisk walking rights the world for awhile. Doing actual jigsaw puzzles helps too.

I find jigsaw puzzles the best therapy for this time of year. I did three to get through November, and noticed the rise and fall of my self-esteem as if it were a yo-yo whose string was attached to the successful outcome of putting pieces together into a neat rectangle with a coherent image. Thousand-piece puzzles seem to be about right. Highly recommended for winter blahs.

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