A friend of mine has SAD. No, she isn’t sad, she has SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is like regular depression, only it tends to occur at the onset of winter. Shorter days and continual cloud cover can lead to the hypothalamus not working properly. This, in turn, affects the production of melatonin and serotonin, causing sleepiness and depression. People who suffer from SAD tend to improve in the spring, when the days are longer and brighter.
Me, I suffer from regular old depression. There are many reasons, but I don’t want to start unpacking that just now. Another day.
There are a number of things you can do if you have SAD. Antidepressants, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, other talking therapies, even the use of a light box can help. But there are also things you can do on your own if drugs and paying strangers to listen to your problems isn’t your thing.
- regular exercise
- a balanced diet
- manage your stress
- sit near windows
- try to make your home as light and airy as possible
- take walks outside
- try to get as much natural sunlight as possible
Even though my depression isn’t seasonal, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try the suggestions on the list.
Trying to get as much natural sunlight as possible was code for get Santana and go for a drive. And you know what? It worked. From the moment I decided to take a little trip, my mood improved. When you’re depressed, it helps to have something to look forward to. Planning where to go, how to get there, which lenses to bring, what to do for lunch are all cogs in the wheel.
Now, I’m not a weather geek, but I do look at the forecast every day. It had been raining off and on, mostly on, for days, and I knew there would be snow in the mountains. I wanted to stick to the lower elevations. The forecast for the day of the drive was rainy periods and gusty winds. It sounded reasonable.
The destination was Enderby, a small town of 3000 or so people, 80 km north of Kelowna. There was what looked like a secondary road from the even smaller community of Lumby. If we timed it right, we would arrive in Enderby right around lunchtime.
We started out on the highway to Vernon. Low lying clouds wound their way through the hills and a light rain was falling. As the highway rose in elevation, we found ourselves surrounded by fog. Well, Santana calls it fog. I prefer to think of it as driving with my head in the clouds. My biggest complaint about the highway between Kelowna and Vernon is that there are so few places to pull over. The views on this highway, especially between Oyama and Vernon, are spectacular, and even more so with the mountains rising from the mist. The autumn trees and jagged rock faces were made dramatic (Santana would say “ominous”) by the assorted consistency and color of cloud.
The drive from Vernon to Lumby was filled with conversation. Santana knows I’m struggling. We talked about depression, causes and solutions, about cancel culture and how social media has managed to create a whole new mental health crisis. I’m always impressed by his maturity and insight. I’m grateful to have these moments, to hear his thoughts.
Once in Lumby, it was an easy matter to find the road I wanted and within moments I knew this was exactly what I needed. The area was sparsely populated, with little traffic, and turned to gravel a short way in. All of which leads to slowing down.
Slowing down is the perfect way to find yourself living in the moment. There is a breathlessness that comes with finding yourself surrounded by natural beauty. There is a beauty that reveals itself in the everyday when you take the time to slow down and really see. The resulting euphoria is the exact opposite of depression.
We made many stops along the road. We stopped to look at donkeys, trees, high-flowing streams, and moss-covered shacks.
The rain was still falling lightly, and the shoulder of the road was covered in mud. I had foolishly worn flip-flops, again. (You’d think I’d learn.) Every footstep created a sucking sound until eventually my flip-flops, which were already held together by packing tape, gave up. Fortunately, I had a pair of water shoes in the back of the Rodeo.
We arrived in Enderby on schedule, just in time for lunch. When we’re having lunch in an unfamiliar town, I like to go somewhere locally owned and operated. The very funky Small Axe Roadhouse was perfect. If you go, try the pulled pork tacos.
After a brief stop at Belvidere Park, we headed home, taking the main highway to ensure Santana was back in time for work. As we were driving home, Santana asked me if I wanted to stop in Oyama, to take a few more pictures. (Oyama is a section of Lake Country, located on a narrow strip of land between Kalamalka Lake and Wood Lake.) I turned off the highway and parked next to the beach looking out across Wood Lake.
The sky above the far end of Wood Lake was dark. As we watched, lightning began to flash and the wind picked up, ripping leaves and branches from the willow tree we were next to. The storm came in suddenly and ferociously. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. Silently giving thanks for the impulse that led us to the lakeshore and off the highway, we waited it out. Just as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone.
We didn’t learn of the devastation until later.
In some places, that storm was the proverbial straw. Every major highway leading into the Lower Mainland was damaged by mudslides and washouts. Whole towns had to be evacuated. Almost a thousand farms were flooded, and countless livestock destroyed. Even the mighty railway fell. People were stranded. Lives were lost.
The summer’s heat dome and ensuing wildfires rendered the land unstable, unable to absorb the atmospheric river that fell on it. And it’s not over yet. There is more rain forecast for areas of the North Coast in the next few days.
I was consumed by guilt. Imagine. Going out and enjoying myself while my province was crumbling to pieces. My heart was breaking, and I didn’t know to stop the pain.
But Santana knows. He and I lived in Calgary during the flood of 2013. He remembers, as do I, how great a toll was taken. It took years for some neighborhoods to recover. There’s a smell—river mud and death. Years after the flood, I’d catch a whiff of that smell, and it was like a punch in the gut. The sadness was overwhelming.
He was too young to do anything about it then. Not anymore. As soon as he’s able, he’s planning to go to Princeton to aid in the clean-up. And I know where my next drive is going to take me.