In yesterday’s post, Easing Seasonal Depression: Part One, I told you about two kinds of light therapy that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (aka, seasonal depression). Did you know that light therapy can also help with anxiety, PMS, and sleep disorders?

Why I Love the Valkee 2

At work, using the Valkee 2

At work, using the Valkee 2

Now that I’ve tried light therapy via both a traditional lamp and a headset with earbuds, I realize I am a devoted convert to the Valkee 2 headset for several reasons:

  • Portability. The headset is small, around the size of an iPod nano, and therefore it is easily transported–sometimes I place it in my back pocket while I’m wearing it. And while I’m using it, I’m not tethered to my desk.
    Quickness. The Valkee 2 requires only 12 minutes of daily use, which is easy to fit into my busy days. After 12 minutes, the device shuts itself off automatically.
    Discretion. It is far more discreet than the traditional SAD lamp. When the earbuds are placed in my ears, nobody can tell light therapy is being used; anyone passing by thinks I’m listening to music. No more co-workers giggling about my Bat Signal. And no more sore eyes (like I would sometimes get with a SAD lamp).
    Charging Time. I’ve been using it for a month now, and I’ve had to charge it only one time. Charging is simple and fast, done via a USB cord plugged into my computer.
These little lights seem to do wonders for my mood.

These little lights seem to do wonders for my mood.

Because of all these attributes of the Valkee 2, I find it incredibly easy to use. It has become part of my morning routine. I typically use it when I get to work around 8:00 am, while I’m checking email. I place the earbuds into my ears, turn the device on (it has only one button), and forget all about it for 12 minutes until it beeps to indicate it’s shutting off. The Valkee 2 has a circle on the front, which lights up when you turn it on. As each minute passes, part of the circle grows dim, so you can tell how much time has elapsed of the 12-minute cycle. For example, when 6 minutes have passed, only half of the circle remains lit. When people stop by to talk to me while I’m using the Valkee 2, I don’t have to remove the earbuds, as they are not noise-reducing earbuds and no sound is emitted during use.

How Do I Feel?

When I showed the Valkee 2 to my physician the other day while I was having my sprained wrist examined, he asked me if I think it’s working. My snarky but truthful response was, “Well, I’m not here asking you for an antidepressant, am I?”

It’s been a month since I started using the Valkee 2, and I feel really good! As I’ve said before, January is typically the month when I feel seasonal depression the most. It’s been a brutal winter here on the East Coast, with so many cold, gray January and February days. But I haven’t felt down, like I usually do in the winter. Of course it’s hard to say whether that’s contributed to the Valkee 2 or other factors (I am also taking a 12-week mindfulness course and I’m giving yoga another shot), but I like to think at least part of it is. I’m considering the Valkee 2 a crucial part of my winter survival plan.

Valkee 2 Giveaway

At the time of this writing, the device, from Finland, retails for approximately US $269 (199 euros). Valkee has generously offered to give one James & Jax reader a Valkee 2 of your own. On Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14, one winner will be randomly selected to win a Valkee 2. You can enter this random drawing in several ways:

  1. Leave a comment below indicating what appeals to you about the Valkee 2. What makes you want to try it?
  2. Like Valkee on Facebook and leave a comment saying you’ve done this.
  3. Like James & Jax on Facebook and leave a comment saying you’ve done this.
  4. Tweet about this giveaway and comment here with the link to your tweet.

Each of the above is good for 1 entry, so you can enter a maximum of 4 times. Please be sure to leave a comment for each entry. The winner will be notified via email no later than 6:00 pm (ET) on February 14.

Disclosure: I received one Valkee 2 headset, courtesy of Valkee. All opinions expressed herein are a truthful representation of my experience using the Valkee 2 for one month. 

 

Back in November when I was bracing for the approaching winter (like I do every autumn), my therapist asked if I’d started to use my light therapy lamp yet. I had started in October, but only sporadically for a few reasons.

The Problem with Traditional Light Therapy

SAD lamp

My traditional “SAD lamp” (on the right)

First, I rarely sit still long enough to use it for the recommended length of time each morning (I believe it’s 30 minutes, at least to start). I’m a bit frantic in the mornings, packing lunches, checking Jackson’s school bag, and helping him dress and eat while getting myself ready before I race out the door to work. I don’t have the time–EVER–to stop what I’m doing and sit in front of my lamp. I’ve tried using it while I apply my makeup, but I’m sure you can guess how that turns out (I’ll spare you the terrifying clown photo).

Second, and this is directly related to the first reason, I keep my lamp on my desk at work. The only time I sit still for 30-minute increments is at my desk, so it seemed like the perfect place to sit in front of my lamp. However, the lamp is too bulky and fragile to lug home on the weekends, so I don’t use it on Saturdays and Sundays at all. Also, there are some mornings when sitting directly in front of the lamp isn’t feasible. Maybe I have to work on the computer, or maybe I have a meeting. Most importantly, it’s kind of embarrassing to use the lamp at work. I’ve had several co-workers stop by, curious about the light beam being projected from my cubicle to the ceiling. They’ve started calling it the Bat Signal.

Of course even with all those limitations, if something helps to relieve my seasonal depression symptoms, I’ll deal with the downside and just do it–when I can, anyway.

The Valkee 2: A New, More Convenient Light Therapy

The Valkee 2, which is the size of an iPod (approximately)

The Valkee 2, which is the size of an iPod (approximately)

So back to that November day in my therapist’s office… She asked if I’d heard about a Finnish product called the Valkee Bright Light Headset, which is essentially light therapy via earbuds. Intrigued but skeptical, I said I had not but I would look into this.

I found the company’s website and I started to read up on what seemed to me like a completely crazy idea–how could projecting light beams into my ear canals help my seasonal depression?! Because of my day job as an editor of several health care publications, I often read peer-reviewed studies and am familiar with and respect the peer review process. I appreciated that the company seems to have gone to great lengths to provide links to so many such studies, indicating promising results about “transcranial brain-targeted bright light treatment“–talk about a mouthful, right? I clicked through and read some of the abstracts to these studies, published in some very reputable journals.

My curiosity mounted. So what would any blogger do at this point? Find them on Twitter & mention them, of course! With astonishing speed, the company replied to my tweet, inviting me to contact them about perhaps receiving a Valkee of my own. It felt like Christmas to this girl who has suffered from seasonal depression for years!

Not only was I impressed with the idea of a new, portable, convenient way to use light therapy, but I also was impressed by the company’s responsiveness on social media. What’s even better is that the Valkee CEO himself responded to my emails, often within minutes. We talked about the product, and I grew more and more excited to try it myself.

In part two, I’ll tell you how it’s going, now that I’ve been using the Valkee 2 for exactly one month, and tell you how you can win one! 

 

My winter lifeI disagree with T.S. Eliot; January is the cruellest month. Taking down the holiday decorations is itself depressing. Add in 31 short days and long, dark nights, ice and gray, and for me it’s a recipe for disaster. I find it difficult to get outside in nature during January, whether due to the weather (I live in the Northeast) or my own lack of motivation (I experience seasonal affective disorder). With no vacation days usually taken in January because I’m still catching up on days of missed work in December, there isn’t much to look forward to. Well, besides February, with its 28 days and promise of the approaching end of winter, not to mention Valentine’s Day chocolates. February is brutal but short. I can handle February because it turns into March.

In March, I start to come back to life. Little things like a bud on a tree give me hope and remind me nothing is permanent, not even the cold and darkness of winter, which feels so permanent in January.

But that effing month of January nearly destroys me most years.

BUT! During last night’s therapy session, I realized this January may be different, and I feel hopeful now. I’ve made goals, not quite resolutions. And one thing I learned during my postpartum depression is that goals can reignite your passion, and that changes your life for the better. Always.

So what am I up to in January?

The Building Balance Skills Group

I signed up for a 12-week mindfulness group (class?), hosted by my therapist. The group setting makes me feel a little vulnerable. But I’m convinced that a little vulnerability will be good for me. The group is called “The Building Balance Skills Group” and it’s described in this way:

A 12 Week Group for Women Designed to Help Restore and Maintain the Balance in Your Life

Balance. Who couldn’t use more of that? The group will also cover distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness–all skills I’ve learned in therapy already, but skills I need to keep in the front of my brain for regular use because of how much they’ve helped me already.

Warrior Mom Leadership Team

In early January, you’ll find me at Postpartum Progress as part of the Warrior Mom Leadership Team. Katherine Stone has described us as:

a group of survivors and bloggers who have been dedicated over the years to raising awareness of postpartum depression and all other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders

So flattering. So scary! Again with the vulnerability! I’m sensing a theme for my January, possibly for my 2014. I’ve been writing notes for about a month now in preparation for my week of blogging at Postpartum Progress. I plan to write about my experience as a full-time working mother with postpartum anxiety. The implications of publicly discussing how I handled my career while struggling with a mood disorder scare the hell out of me, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Yoga

And the third experience I’m opening myself up to in January is another attempt at yoga. It’s been several years since I tried it (and hated it). Yoga has been this thing I’ve always wanted to love but never could, despite trying it again every few years. I could probably write a list of 100 reasons why I need yoga in my life. And then I could write 50 reasons why I don’t like it. Maybe I will do that in a future post! But a yoga place opened up a block from my house right after I was reconsidering yoga, and then I got an email about a Living Social deal that I think is the Universe’s way of screaming at me, “Jaime, just take the freaking yoga classes!”

So I’m going to commit to the 5 classes (for $27!!) and see what happens. If I hate it again, I’m letting myself off the hook. But I think this time I’m going to really give it my all and try to allow myself to be vulnerable (physically and emotionally) in order to become stronger.

It’s going to be a very busy January. But I don’t mind busy. And this is a new kind of busy for me–all three of these things fall within the realm of self-care. After the fall and winter I’ve had so far, I could use a month or two of what is for me “extreme self-care.” No guilt. :)

What’s in store for you in the new year?

 

 

photo by: Lida Rose

I wrote the post below on August 15 and then forgot to publish it. So here’s a glimpse into my brain a few weeks ago.

Under A Blood Red SkyYesterday was my 36th birthday, and it was pretty terrible all the way up until lunchtime, despite the best attempts by almost everyone around me to make it a good day. Lately, I’ve been feeling tremendous pressure of all kinds–the pressure to make good decisions about my son’s life, since he’s eligible to start pre-K at our local elementary school and to play soccer on a team, for example. The pressure to get all the things done, and on time–grocery shopping so we have dinners, bill paying, the usual errands and chores, and all during the 3 hours I have between getting done work and getting Jax to bed each night. The pressure to be a decent wife, even though I often don’t feel like catering to anyone else’s needs once Jackson’s have been met. The pressure to do my job–and do it well well–during some intense time constraints and while adhering to deadlines. And so much more.

It feels like it never ends.

And then birthdays, well they add a certain pressure, too, don’t you think? There’s external pressure, with all the “What are you doing to celebrate?” and balloons and gifts and attention. Then there is the internal pressure. For me, this manifests as an intense need to spend my “last day” at age [whatever] in a unique or fun way. I typically try to pamper myself on the day before my birthday because I feel compelled to end that year on a high note and usher in the new year in a certain way–typically with a day of reflection, with a little self-care (eg, good food, a bubble bath, some reading) thrown in. Kind of like that old belief about how you ring in the New Year is how you’ll be spending your year.

This year, all attempts to profoundly and peacefully end my 36th year and kick off my 37th year seemed to backfire.

My primary goal for this week was to spend the day before my birthday coming up with a list of goals for the new year. Given my insomnia and other yuckiness from the day, I barely held it together and did not accomplish this task I thought would be fun. Correction: I didn’t hold it together at all. I cried all morning. Even in front of my boss and other co-workers. I was a sad, sorry mess–on my birthday. Which felt like failure. It also felt like the opposite of what everyone wanted me to be. I told myself I was failing to make 36 look graceful and beautiful. The judgments in my own head were loud and hard to stifle.

No list was made. But I’ve got it started in my head. And that’s what matters more than the date on which it gets written down.

I hope this year is more peaceful than some of the previous years. I wish for a break from (my perception of?) so much pressure on me. Whether it exists or not, the feeling is there.

September will usher in so many changes and goals. I’m feeling a little nervous about it all, which is to be expected I’m told. September also brings with it the beginning of autumn, which in my mind is simply the precursor to the dreaded winter. Once Christmas is over, I find myself fighting the funk–missing the warm, sun-filled days so much that I feel like I’m suffocating sometimes. It’s important for me to write down that list of goals for the upcoming year now, to put into writing my intentions for the cold season ahead.

What do you hope to see and do before 2013 is over?

 

photo by: Ian Sane

I’m trying something new today, and I’m afraid. I lugged my SAD lamp (some call it a light therapy box) to work with me this morning, but I have yet to turn it on.

Here on the East Coast, it has been the rainiest summer we’ve had in many years, and it’s taking its toll on me. Who’d have thought one could suffer from seasonal affective disorder in the middle of the summer! Yet I find myself on edge often lately, snapping more easily, a little more negative than I’d like to be. All because I went from spending extraordinary amounts of time outdoors to practically no time at all in the sunshine the past few weeks. So this is what it has come to–forcing myself to find the time to turn the SAD lamp on, no excuses.

The most logical place to use it is at my desk at work. It’s the only time I sit still long enough to be affected by the lamp–the recommended exposure and what has worked for me is 30 minutes daily, although 15 minutes daily is OK after a few days at the longer exposure. Since I’m in a chair for 7.5 hours per day, it seems like a good idea, right? I can get some proofreading done while I “SADbathe.”

So why am I sitting here staring at the thing while it is turned off?

SAD lamp

Flip the switch, James!

I brought it in, cleaned out my desk drawer to provide a safe home for it when I’m not in the office, made a space for it on my desk, and plugged it in. I just can’t bring myself to turn it on. I’m self-conscious, embarrassed that I need a SAD lamp at all. I don’t want any attention (about it) directed my way, especially not by my peers in the office.

It’s unlike me to shy away from an opportunity to talk candidly about anxiety to anyone who asks–and, specifically, about the treatments for anxiety that work for me! And I know better than to put off self-care when I need it.

In a true walk-the-walk test, I guess I’d better flip the switch and get basking.