As I sit here at my computer, I am surrounded by windows. It is snowing and I haven’t seen the sunshine in quite a while. Why is that an important fact? Because sunlight has a direct effect on mood. It is a fact that Vitamin D levels and Serotonin levels dip very low without enough sunshine. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD as it is sometimes called. When I was younger, and not diagnosed, I spent most of my winter months in a tanning bed. I know, I know, they are terrible for your skin. But it wasn’t my skin I was concerned about, it was the depression I was going through that drove me to tan. The artificial sunlight did wonders to lift my mood. Spending twenty minutes in the bed helped to me feel lighter in my mood. I didn’t know it at the time, but the UVA rays I absorbed were just what my bipolar brain needed to lift out of a depressive episode. My depressions were deep and debilitating but I found that if I could get in front of them, I could function better. This was important because I had four children to take care of, a house to run and a husband who was active duty Navy and rarely home. My mental state was paramount to me taking care of all of these things. I could not afford to be depressed. It’s funny that God led me to crave sunlight and I still have that craving. When I got my Bipolar diagnosis, my Doctor and Therapist told me how important getting out and into the sunshine was for my moods. I already knew this but now it was validated so into the tanning bed I went. Every year from February to June, I would tan. Almost every day. I felt good. The sunlight was so important to my brain health that I craved it, like I crave ice cream. We would go to Florida every summer and I was out in the sun from early morning to sunset every day. I was in the best mood, probably even a little manic at times. I thought I had found the greatest, easiest treatment ever. Tan in the Winter and stay out in the sun as much as possible in the Spring and Summer. Easy. Until this Fall. I had to go to the dermatologist for a unique mole I found. I thought it was nothing. Turns out, it was precancerous and had to be removed. The Doctor gave me a stern warning to stay out of the sun. This statement had me thinking that she was crazier than I was. Stay out of the sun…yeah right. Did she not understand that tanning was my lifeline in the Winter. I mean, we do live in Northeast Ohio where we get less sun in the Winter than Alaska. Can you say DREARY? So now, I was faced with a dilemma. Exposing myself to damaging rays leading to possible skin cancer or having a depressed brain leading to self-destructive behaviors. I had to weigh these two options heavily. Of course I do not want to get skin cancer, but I also want a healthy brain. So I chose not to tan this Winter and it has been a rough season. I miss the lightness that tanning brings to my mood, It gave me hope for a bright Spring and Summer. It allowed me to get through the darkest months of the Winter with little effort. I know I chose what was right for my skin but being depressed is difficult. It’s physical and mental pain. It leaves me unable to accomplish things I want to do. It covers me with a veil of sadness that I do not like and those around me do not understand. So I’ve decided to make a compromise. I will continue to tan, but I will wear sunscreen in the tanning bed. This seems like it makes sense to me. I will tan a little less but I will tan and when Spring and Summer arrive, I will be the first one outside to enjoy that beautiful orb. Can you say “happy brain”?