Alaska: Out of the Darkness Into the Light

Written by Breaking Trail in N. America

This is a guest post by Rachel, who lived in Alaska growing up and has recently found the joy of travel and new light in discovering the world.

With spring around the corner, winter is starting to feel long and drawn out. As the sun edges back more each day, the thought of summer nights with friends makes the dark winter just endured seem more than worth it. But what we may not realize is winter can be the most transformative time for us. For myself, I realized winter is a time for me to mentally grow as a person through finding physical activity to stay motivated. Spring is a time to reflect back on the past few months and see how we have changed through the winter.  Growing up in the interior of Alaska not only taught me to appreciate sunlight and warmth, but also the dark cold nights spent indoors bonding with friends and family are important. Winter is a great time to slow down and think about life. The key to doing this successfully and warding off seasonal depression is staying active to keep our minds sharp through the darkness. Before winter solstice in Fairbanks Alaska the sun will stay up for about 3 hours midday. Imagine being in school, where when going to school its dark and when leaving school the sun has already emerged and set for the day. The lack of sun and vitamin D will really start to take a toll both mentally and physically. It is one of the effects of depression. Reflecting back now I realize that as I grew up, the way I dealt with this changed both for the good and bad. This is my own journey of navigating winter blues throughout my life, and how beating seasonal depression has changed my outlook on my own strength as a person. ! As a child I never really noticed how the darkness affected my mood. I do not think it ever really did. I was always playing with my friends and having fun no matter what the weather was. We would play dress up, and imagine we were somewhere else, where the sun was always shining. I was very active without even noticing or trying.

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When I turned nine years old I joined a downhill ski racing team. No matter what the weather was, I would still have to get out and train every weekend. If it was twenty below we would meet at a local gym and train indoors. I had an amazing group of friends and enjoyed every second of skiing and working out with them. Staying active in dark and cold was the only thing that would keep me mentally strong enough to withstand the winter, although I think I was still a bit too young to really notice how much this helped me through the darkness. When I turned sixteen, partying with my friends starting to become more important to me, and slowly the fun physical activities of skiing started to dip away from me, just as the sun drops in the winter.

After high school I stopped ski racing, and in turn my level of physical activity declined and so did my mental health. My lack of motivation seemed to disappear with the sun as winter progressed. As christmas break approached my first year of college, school became harder and harder to stay motivated in. I would sleep through classes, and turn in homework late. Through christmas break I would sleep all day and stay up all night, missing the sun completely. I had never felt in such a dark place both metaphorically and literally. Without the beautiful sun, and no activities to keep myself busy, my mind started to get lost in the darkness. I began to feel sorry for myself, not realizing that I was the only person who could fix my depression. I felt as if I was not good enough to get out of the house and do something positive. I never felt motivated to get back on my skis. The process of getting to the hill was enough to keep me away. I pulled away from my friends and the only thing that had ever brought me happiness in the winter. I lost sight of what was important, and would focus only the negative. But then almost as fast as the sun went away it would start to surface. It guided me back to motivation and strength, and in turn my own happiness. I would go for walks, and start to enjoy the warm spring days, although for some reason I ignored the fact that I still was not skiing.

By the time college started back up for the spring semester, the sun would be up for more than four hours. Being back at school always seemed to make things better. I was forced from my cabin with the mental challenge of class and homework keeping me moving towards spring. I could focus again, both on school and my physical health. Starting the spring semester always meant spring break was approaching, which I always spent skiing in Colorado. Through college that was the only time I would go skiing which brought me more delight than I even knew. I had forgotten the elation that skiing would bring me as a child, and did not pay attention to how much joy it brought me. Getting through the darkness every year made me stronger and more aware paying attention to my needs. I started to realize again the importance of skiing in my life, and how it helps me survive the gloom of winter.

After College, I spent a few years working odd jobs and trying to find my path. I think my years spent in College dealing with the winter blues made me aware of how I need to take care of myself in winter. The key is to find what truly makes you happy, and continue to do it no matter what. For me, skiing and any sort of physical activity allowed my mind to stay strong, and not fall into the blackness with winter. I would join different work out classes such as spinning and yoga to help keep my sanity. I had also found my way back to my skis. My last year spent in Alaska I went to Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood many weekends, no matter the darkness or cold. Being on my skis up in the mountains allowed me to see the sun, even if it was only for a couple hours. I no longer allowed the lack of sun control my mood, but rather made my mood control the darkness.

 After that winter I packed up and moved to Colorado, where I could be on my skis everyday. I am now able to move my body and in turn, keep my mind sharp. I am constantly moving towards the spring, and enjoying every moment of it. The winter darkness in Colorado is no where near as severe as in Alaska, but I still carry with me the knowledge I gained from surviving the darkness and finding my light. There is always something great to be done and seen though the cold of winter. Spring is a great time to see how we have changed through the winter. Its is a time to take what we learned and set new goals for ourselves. There is always something positive to be learned through the darkest time in life, sometimes it just takes the sun coming back to be able to see how we have grown.

editDSC_1628With the sun rising earlier every morning, get out and enjoy the light. Finding what makes you happy, whether it is to be on skis as many days as possible, or just to enjoy a walk down a snow covered path; winter can be the most enlightening period of the year. This spring see how you have changed and grown over the past few months, and take that growth into summer. And of course, get out and enjoy the sun.

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Breaking Trail

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