28 November 2007

Dancing in the dark


Being a nightshift worker, this time of year is a weird old one for me, as it means I rarely see any daylight at all during the working week.

Bedtime is about 8am, just as the light - or what passes for light in the last week of November - is starting to struggle into view. If I get up at my target time of 3.30pm, then the light is easing slowly away again.

Now, there's no whining monologue about Seasonal Affective Disorder on the way. I don't have it. Night or day, matters not to me. I live my life. I'd like to not feel quite so tired, but I've lived with that for more than a decade now. I hear these people who complain that they have this syndrome and I want to sympathise, but it isn't anything I can say I experience.

Years ago, a disc jockey colleague managed to persuade the radio station where we worked to install "natural light" in the studios; this brand of therapeutic electric lighting which came on not via a switch, but through movement in the room which activated its sensors, in the same way that nocturnal security lights are triggered. The light was supposed to be a reconstructed version of the type of light we get from the daytime skies, thereby not prompting the depressed sensations of this S.A.D. stuff. My colleague said it worked and he felt chirpier during his programmes.

The problem it did present came when you were physically inactive during your show. If you wanted to chain cups of tea, had a fag habit which required a beeline for the exit every half hour or just a weak bladder, then fine. But if none of these applied, then any great length of time sitting on the studio stool pressing buttons and talking (which, beyond the pre-show preparation, is what disc jockeys do, especially those who work off-peak) would prompt the lights to think the studios were empty and, suddenly, they'd go out. If you were speaking on air at the time this would obviously prove both a distraction and a problem; wild arm-waving above your head wasn't enough to allow the lights back on, you had to do an impromptu rendition of the Can Can around the studios for five seconds before you could see again.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can also hit during the summer, apparently; in this version, folk are prone to cloudy moods if there is too much daylight. This I find harder to believe as darkness is a preventative natural phenomenon; you can do everything and achieve more in daylight, even if there is a lack of actual sunshine, than you can at night. Night-time is for relaxation, sleeping and cosying up to loved ones, all of which should make one's disposition, er, lighten. This could now get confusing.

If you live in the frozen north, you've really a problem if you have this reverse version of S.A.D. as the darkest it gets, at roughly 11.30pm, is equivalent to the midday sun in western Europe. The only way to achieve darkness there is to put the entire contents of your wardrobe over your head. And how could you achieve "natural darkness" in the same way that my DJ chum achieved his "natural light"? It's all very well the lights going out when you move around and activating when you stayed still, but ultimately darkness stops you doing stuff.

If you have S.A.D. then you have my support, if not quite my sympathy. Ultimately, I'm suspicious of it - not because I don't believe it exists, but because it has a ludicrously convenient acronym. If I had an ailment which I labelled Melancholic Introverted Syndrome Every Rolling Year Gained Under Torpid Situations, you'd call me a lazy get and tell me to go to work.

1 comment:

Graham Kibble-White said...

I worked a night shift for about a month back in the early '90s. Easily the most depressing job I've ever had. I'd get home at about 9am, go to bed, get up in the afternoon and simply wait until I had to go to work again. Awful. The worst moment was when my flatmates would go to bed, and I'd be there, alone, watching Colin Bennet on ITV.