Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's all so SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder - SAD. It's something you are acutely aware of in Estonia, especially this time of year - but I suspect elsewhere in North Europe as well. A mortal combination of apathy, melancholy and irritability, it is brought on by a deficiency of sunlight. This year it has been compounded by an unusually warm November and December. A little bit of frost - enough to cause a few high-profile car crashes - and then nothing, weeks upon weeks of overcast, +8C weather.

For Nordic people, SAD is usually neutralized to a large extent by snowfall, but we've not had any. All we have is rain, and muck, and even Campustown feels dirty; Tallinn resembles an anthill in a toilet bowl. Useful sunlight (defined by the ability to read a newspaper on the street comfortably) is scarce: Daylight Savings Time has made a valiant attempt to at least make people leave for work when it's not dark, but the impermiable cloud cover negates the effect. Proper cold would bring about clear skies at least, if not snowfall. But the forecasts are not pretty.

I sit by my office window all day, overlooking a building site and the intercity bus terminal. The grey-brown mud, the naked trees, the dirty cars all serve to create a down mood. The constant drizzle and the wind mean that people have to wear their winter coats; you are either uncomfortably hot, or uncomfortably wet.

Mutton, ever the cheerful and cheeky Brit, has succumbed to SAD with the rest of us. He's confused by his girlfriend's lack of excitement at a trip he's been looking forward to; and I suspect she's at least partly affected by SAD as well. The syndrome is characterized by an all-encompassing feeling of bleh.

The capital, with its defining aspect of ambition and greed, regales in commercialism, but that doesn't quite do it for Tartu. The street decorations are beautiful this year, but they look wrong without snow; and although the calm, intellectual and family-oriented South Estonian town should find solace in approaching holidays, the general mood isn't uplifted. It is especially hard on the students - not only in Tartu, but elsewhere too - as they are finishing up their semester and preparing for exams. It does make sense, the way the colleges are doing it - no distinct Christmas break, big tests just after the New Year, and most of January off - but it does make people tired and annoyed before the holidays. Makes them SAD.

The point of having Christmas when it's being had, going back to the pagan celebrations that it took over, was to offer something to which you could look forward. Break up the monotony, the rut of the farmer and fisherman who are done for the year and now spend most of their time indoors mending equipment. The entirety of January and February, and most likely March, before we see the Sun again is just too daunting. Hey, in 1918 the locals were so sick and SAD by the end of February that they actually gained independence. Very well-placed holiday, that.

This will be my second holiday season since graduating, but I'm not doing any better than an exhausted college student. Yes, I'm an atheist and a cynic, but I genuinely enjoy the idea of Christmas, the myth of it. The distinct sensation that I'll probably end up alone, on the days when I most need someone to hold and be near, is the most SAD thing of them all.

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