One of the most difficult things that I have had to adjust to moving to the northern plains is the amount of daylight we receive in the winter months. After having grown up in Minnesota in the 1970s, I remember getting on the bus to go to school in the dark. But the sun was usually peaking through the clouds; dawn was well on its way when we reached school. This must have been about eight o'clock in the morning or so. The situation in Western North Dakota is far different.
There are days in December and January that officially begin at nine AM. And you still are tired, wishing that the warm covers and nirvana of sleep were washing over you in transcendent bliss. Certainly, Alaskans must experience this to the nth degree. I have never been to Alaska, but those winters have got to be tough.
Add to this the never-ending-constant-godforsaken-wind that ensues day in and day out on the plains, and you have a depressing day indeed.
I have always had the contention that any day that the wind does not blow on the plains is a good day. It doesn't matter if it's 20 below outside. No wind? Good. Wind? Wind bad. Very bad.
It's not that humans cannot benefit from the wind. Even our President recently said that Americans must look at developing wind energy as "a part of the equation" for future energy needs. I guess shrubs do waver a little when the wind blows, too.
Add into the mix of very little to do in rural North Dakota and you have a syrupy concoction of wind, darkness and boredom to give you a good recipe for ennui and purposelessness.
Some believe that depression is actually a evolutionary survival skill for our northern European ancestors. The metabolic processes certainly are reduced when you sleep an extra two hours per day. But there had to be some Norwegian up late stirring away to produce Aquavit to exacerbate and amplify depression even more. Certainly, those who came to the plains took this poison with them to whittle away those cold evenings in some sod house on the prairie.
North Dakota has the coveted #1 rank in the nation for per capita alcoholics.
Whether or not the sun has a whole lot to do with this is controversial.
DSM-IV states there is certainly a "pattern" of "depressive episodes" that are consistent with winter circadian rhythms. But the fact of the matter is that, "despite the heuristic appeal of a circadian hypothesis for SAD, there are as yet no consistently replicated data to support abnormal circadian rhythms as an etiology for SAD or for the therapeutic effects of light."
In the meantime, it seems, the people of the Northern Plains will have to learn to live with the winter blues. We can curse the wind, scream at what's on TV, and pour another bottle of HEET in the tank. But we will still have to live with the winter's lack of sun and fun. What many say here, "it keeps the riff-raff out" might actually be true.
At least it makes us feel a little better about ourselves that we actually are tough enough to 'like' depression.
Keep thinking of June...and those eleven o'clock sunsets.