It’s 2:30 pm on a Saturday in December, and I’m squinting out the windows, trying to find the Chugach mountains that are usually visible from my backyard. They’re hidden behind a wall of ice fog that has engulfed the entire city of Anchorage and has hidden the sun from view. Which honestly doesn’t matter, because the sun is so far down on the southern horizon that it appears to be setting for the entire 5.5 hours that it is up. This is December in Alaska, the worst month of the year up here.
When I moved to Alaska from Philadelphia, I was constantly asking people, “Is it really that cold up here in the winter?” and, “Is the snow terrible?”. Everyone would answer the same way: no, it’s not really that much colder than some places in the midwest, and no, we really haven’t been getting much snow these last few years. And then they would pause, look off into the distance, and say, “But the darkness…” while sighing deeply. I would smile, secure in the fact that the winters weren’t that bad. What I didn’t realize is that the darkness of winter at the 61st latitude was worse than any cold or snow I could imagine. I had no idea what true darkness meant until my first December in Alaska.
I go to work in darkness. I leave work in darkness. When I go outside for my lunch break around 11:00, I can see the sun rising on the southern horizon as long as there aren’t clouds covering the sky (which they are, more often than not). My days are spent in a windowless office, and I don’t even mind because the thought of watching the sun start to set at 3:00 pm is depressing. I spend my days hoping for more snow because it makes it brighter outside when it’s dark, but the past few weeks have been so warm that the snow is melting and all we get is rain. It’s currently icy everywhere, making it tough to get outside and do the things that I love.
I didn’t realize what darkness could do to a person. Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real. I first begin noticing it in October when my mood turns from adventurous and happy to grumpy and reclusive. By December my SAD is full blown, and most days you can find me laying on a sofa after work, my body aching and my mind thinking sad thoughts. The holidays are hard enough when you’re away from your family – but they’re even worse when your body is screaming for Vitamin D.
So what helps me get through December and the rest of the dark winters in Alaska?
- A daily dose of 5,000 IUs of Vitamin D, which I take year round
- A Happy Light on my desk at work that I use for one hour each day
- Regularly scheduled exercise. I’m currently doing Pilates and spin class.
- Regularly scheduled adventures. If it’s good outdoors I’ll hike or fatbike, but if not I’ll go to the climbing gym. I need to get my adrenaline going!
- Time outside when the sun is up. Lunch break dog walks are perfect.
- Mini vacations. I try to book a few cabins throughout the winter to give myself a small trip to look forward to every once in a while.
- Trying new things. I signed up for cross country ski lessons (which just got cancelled due to lack of good snow) so that I can get better at something that will help me enjoy the winter outside.
This December might be warm, icy, and blah, but I’m doing everything I can to survive it. I’m looking forward to the winter solstice so that we can stop losing 4 minutes of sunlight each day and finally start gaining it back!
What’s your least favorite thing about the winter? Which would you rather deal with in the winter: cold, snow, or darkness?