Engraved on the chunk of Formica pinned to her blue smock was the word “Delphine.” She was one of a dozen clerks handling the Saturday crush in a grocery store with aisles wide enough to accommodate forklifts. Delphine was not smiling the industrial smile that company finks and mystery shoppers have forced upon the workers.

She slapped the bacon down like she was squishing scorpions. She hammer-threw five pounds of spuds against the backboard, scooted the catsup with enough force to score against a Canadian goalie, smacked that bottle with the maple syrup, bowled a strike on the orange juice with a back-handed grapefruit, then helicoptered a dozen eggs into the pile.

“That’ll be 17 dollars and 35 cents.”

I don’t want to become a grocery clerk when I grow up. Even a union clerk doesn’t draw enough of a wage to compensate for standing in a laser-infested stall, handling raw chicken, greeting cards and grouchy patrons for eight hours a day. But Delphine was cranky beyond the realm of occupational peeve, so while I was smoothing the creases out of a 20-dollar bill, I stomped on thin ice and asked her how she was doing.

“Not worth a nun’s fanny. I have SAD.”

I said I was sorry to hear that and asked why she was sad.

“I did not say I am sad, Ding Dong, I said I have SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, get it? That’s $17.35, forty, fifty, eighteen, and two’s twenty. Have a nice day.” Delphine and I weren’t good enough pals for me to ask if this disorder got any more severe, so I just retrieved my bag of mangled food, and began looking for my pickup in the icy parking lot.

When I reached my writer’s sanctuary, I fired up the magic box and began to study Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is thought to be caused by the lack of sunlight in mid to polar latitudes during winter months. The operating phrase is “Latitude is Attitude,” meaning that in North America the farther north one lives during the period between September and March, the more likely one is to go bat guano haywire. Somehow, those who were born and live above the 65th parallel like the Inuit and Sammi don’t seem to be affected.

The typical symptoms of SAD include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets, and weight gain. Symptoms begin in fall, peak in winter and usually resolve in spring. Some individuals experience great bursts of energy and creativity in spring or early summer. Folks who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD-type symptoms at any time of year. Some people with SAD experience periods of mania. If the symptoms are mild, no treatment may be necessary. If they are problematic, then a mood stabilizer such as lithium might be considered. There is a smaller group of individuals who suffer from summer depression.

About 70 percent of those with SAD are women. The most common age of onset is in one’s 30s, but some cases of childhood SAD have been reported. For every individual with full-blown SAD, there are many more with milder “winter blues.”

Let us leave aside the possibility that we are being fed another slice of scientific cowpie. If we do need to suck down a couple of shots of Jack Daniels with our French fries, can’t finish a sentence without someone butting in, or have trouble getting from the couch to the toilet without knocking over a lamp, does this mean that we are sick, and if it does, what can we do about it?

Phototherapy is the cure. We need light. The smarty pants folks on the web recommend 10,000 lux for two hours a day. One lux is the amount of light that one candle sheds on a square meter. The average room is lit to the tune of about 500 lux. The medical device to generate all this healing light is a box containing eight to ten 100 watt incandescent bulbs if you can still find them.

Some individuals who use a 10,000-lux box may only need 30 minutes of daily light treatment. However, the amount needed varies widely from individual to individual. The treatment is most often done in the morning. Some folks may get insomnia when they use the light in the evening. Initially, researchers felt that one needed full spectrum light. Now, studies suggest that even fluorescent lights will work.

It works best if one maintains the same distance each time from his/her/its face to the light source. The treatment should be repeated daily for twenty days and as needed after that. The light should strike one’s eyes, but don’t look directly into the light source. It takes up to three weeks for light therapy to show effects.

And there has been recent research using light therapy for PMS, obesity and non-seasonal depression. When I checked the mirror this morning it looked like Delphine and I both need to stare into the light.

———

J.D. Smith is a columnist for the East Oregonian.

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