Always On the Sunny Side

DEAR SEAN:

My life is coming apart, I’m depressed and I’ve been this way since this dumb pandemic started. I want to be happy, for my son who is 4 and needs me, but I can’t pull myself out of it, I just don’t know. I just had to tell someone and you seem like a nice person.

Sincerely,
NURSING-STUDENT-IN-SAN-DIEGO

DEAR SAN DIEGO:

Right now, the sun is blazing, the air is crisp. I’m listening to the Carter family sing “Keep On the Sunny Side,” circa 1926, on a Zenith turntable. My aunt sent me these old records.

I don’t know if you like old songs on scratchy vinyl, but this is a good tune.

“Keep on the sunny side,
“Always on the sunny side,
“Keep on the sunny side of life…”

It just so happens that there is a lot of science to back up this sunshine business.

Earlier this summer my Aunt Eulah mailed me several Carter family records and a book when she heard I’d been mildly depressed. I was in the dumps because of something going on in my life which I will, for the purposes of privacy, refer to as an Unprecedented Global Pandemic Involving Every Single Human Being Alive.

My aunt’s old Carter family records were great. The book, not so much.

The book is a glorified science textbook. And I am not a science guy. Actually—and I mean no disrespect to Aunt Eulah—this book was about as fun to read as getting electrocuted by a kitchen appliance.

The book was all about the human brain. One of its main points was that being depressed is not caused by one specific event in life, nor by one specific system in the brain. Depression is caused by a traffic jam of things happening at once.

I don’t want to bore you, but imagine your brain is a map showing each U.S. airport. Now imagine that this map is covered in multicolored air-traffic routes across North America, arcing between airports.

The airports represent the command centers of your brain. Pittsburgh is your logic center. And over here is Atlanta, that’s your emotional center. Over there is New Jersey, that’s where the International Misery Center is located.

When there’s a breakdown at one airport, the whole map falls apart. If planes don’t make it to Pittsburgh on schedule, flights that are supposed to leave for Dallas will get screwed up. And before long, everyone winds up stuck in New Jersey.

What I’m getting at is that nothing stands alone. Not in your brain, and not in life. Everything in the universe is connected by one big domino-like chain. A butterfly flaps his wings in Seattle and sets off a tornado in New York.

The little things you do matter to your mental health. The letter you wrote to me matters. Your stress level matters. The amount of light shining through your windows.

It all matters. I can almost guarantee you that your life is not coming apart, it just needs a few tweaks. I’m not going to preach at you about seeking professional help. You’re a big girl, and you probably already know this.

But I will tell you that I know depression intimately. I grew up under its coal black cloud after my father’s suicide. Depression is what killed him. And then it spread to me.

I still remember the day after my father’s death. My aunt took me for a walk in the woods. We sat on a log. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Promise me you’ll get help if you ever feel depressed.”

I promised. And I’ve kept my promise. Throughout my life, I have needed lots of help. And I’m not embarrassed to admit it.

This pandemic has been a nightmare, nobody can blame you for being in the dumps. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of every three people in America is currently depressed.

Think about this next time you see a big group of people smiling at a wedding reception.

But getting back to sunlight. The interesting thing is, within my aunt’s boring, sterile, godawful, hard-to-read, 12-inch-thick, scientific book, I actually learned something. Neurologists are big on sunshine when it comes to depression.

I don’t want to bore you again, but it turns out that sunlight is incredible stuff. I know it sounds hokey, but apparently it’s true.

Only a few minutes of sun can help your neural pathways produce a flood of feel-good chemicals in the brain. Ultraviolet light on your skin allows your body to pump more vitamin D, which promotes serotonin production, which promotes singing along with James Brown on the radio. Or in some cases Three Dog Night.

Even the blueness of the sky can help your body feel better, stimulating photoreceptors in your brain that control your circadian rhythms and help you sleep like a champ.

Is sunlight the magic bullet? No. Still, this past summer, simply to please my aunt, I placed a lawn chair in my backyard and sat in open sunlight each day whether I felt like it or not.

Every few days, my aunt would email, asking, “Is the sun helping?”

God bless those who are blind enough to love us.

To be honest, I didn’t notice anything dramatic. But it does feel good to be outside. In fact, that’s where I am sitting now, writing to you. Thinking of you. Praying for you. And listening to the Carter family sing.

“Storm and cloud, will all pass away,
“The sun again will shine bright and clear,
“Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side…”

Which reminds me, send me your address. I have some records I want to send you.

21 comments

  1. Tammy S. - October 2, 2020 9:43 am

    ☀️❤️ To the sweet nursing student in San Diego, you are in my thoughts, and prayers! You’re not only an amazing Mom, but you’re gonna be an amazing nurse. And one day, sooner than you think, you will have a patient who is depressed, because of their circumstances, and you will be able to look them square in the eye and tell them, confidently, “You will be ok, this is a moment in time and you will make it through this.” And you’ll know, because you’ve been there. I’m telling you, because I’ve been there, “You will be ok, you are stronger than you think and that dark cloud, it will lift.” On the heaviest days it’s amazing what a walk and chat with a 4yo will do for you. Or if cloudy or rainy out, to put some music on and dance with your little one in your living room. And just as fun, if it’s not lightening and just a light rain, find a good puddle and stomp together in it. Your 4yos giggles will do wonders. And keep your blinds open, even on cloudy days. The suns rays get through, even when we cannot see it, it’s still shining. Please know, you are not alone, and we are cheering you on. Your strength was shining in your letter to Sean! Keep shining.

    As a practical note, check with resources through your nursing department. They may have an advisor who can direct you to a good counselor who might not break the bank. A nice long chat with a counselor does really help. I have seen really great counselors over the years, at difficult periods, and it has helped during the dark cloudy moments.

    Finally, look back to 5 years ago, and how far you have come and all you have overcome and know 5 years from now, your life will look different and much lies ahead for an amazing Mom and future nurse!!! The loudest voice in the crowd of people cheering you on, 5 years from now, will be your 9 yo son!! And he thinks you are the absolute BEST!
    ☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️

    Reply
  2. Charlie Mathers - October 2, 2020 10:18 am

    For several years now, every day that the sun shines, the dog and I sit in the sun for 15 minutes. Shirt off, pants too if I can get away with it. 15 minutes. If I forget, the dog reminds me.

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  3. Elizabeth - October 2, 2020 10:39 am

    Wow, that seems to be all I ever comment. This helps so much! Thank you!

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  4. Leslie - October 2, 2020 10:44 am

    When you sit in the sun Or just feel it through your car window (and Sean’s right, it’s soul food for the mood), Try to clear your mind, put your troublesome thoughts aside, and just “Be”. It’s actually not as easy as it sounds, but in time it will come.

    Also, again Sean is right, consider talking to someone. My doctor is basically on speed dial, but I’ve been lucky to have seen the light in recent years. It’s amazing what opening up to someone trained to hear can do for your mood, your emotions, and your soul. There may be tears, and that’s ok. Therapy is also soul food.

    Praying for you too San Diego, from someone who has been there, travels there, and knows the darkness.

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  5. Heidi - October 2, 2020 11:15 am

    These months have been a tough one. It’s depressing to not be around other people. See their faces. Then anxiety kicks in when you ARE around other people cuz of this awful virus. I try to keep busy and then go outside and keep busy out there. The beach would definitely help if I had one!😉
    San Diego, I know this probably isn’t helping much but you aren’t alone in this. You are amazing for being a mom & a future nurse! This is going to pass and your son will just remember how good it was to be with you. You are his world. Best wishes & Blessings to you & him!

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  6. Marilyn - October 2, 2020 11:45 am

    Sean’s advice is good, so maybe going outside and taking your 4 year old for a walk daily would be a good start for lifting the “funk”. But if that doesn’t work enough, please seek help. There is nothing to be embarrassed/ashamed about. May you find peace and comfort, San Diego. I’m rooting for you!

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  7. Beryl - October 2, 2020 11:55 am

    San Diego, it’s true, you are not alone. And nursing school and raising a 4yo, all during a global pandemic, is challenging. This pandemic is an opportunity for ALL of humanity to raise up and help each other. I’m guessing you chose the vocation of nursing to be of service. This is your opportunity to shine. When I feel blue, I help someone. I do something that will create a smile, a chuckle, even tears of gratitude. It looks altruistic on the outside but it’s completely self-serving. Not in a “look how nice I am” way. I choose my helpfulness in a purposeful way. This gets me outside of myself. Breathe in the ocean air, run on the beach with your son, talk to others about their experiences, and bring an umbrella because the sun you create will blind the blues right out of you and them.

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  8. MR - October 2, 2020 1:10 pm

    Sean is right, dear nursing student in San Diego. Go sit in the sun and surrender all your cares and burdens to the Son. I’m whispering a prayer that the Light will shine in your live today.

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  9. Jan - October 2, 2020 1:42 pm

    To say times are difficult is a whopper of understatement. Please know that you are not alone in these feelings. As others have said, do not hesitate to seek help. We all need help along the way… Prayers for you and your son. Nurses are awesome and we need more of them!

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  10. Jenny Young - October 2, 2020 2:38 pm

    I need to pull out my mother’s Carter records.

    My husband makes me sit outside the sun everyday too.

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  11. Carol Folsom - October 2, 2020 3:05 pm

    You, San Diego, are not alone. Please reach out. I have struggled with this demon all my life. Medications have helped me tremendously. I consider them a gift from God. Do whatever you need to do, for the sake of your child, for the sake of yourself. Blessings.

    Reply
  12. Dianne - October 2, 2020 3:23 pm

    Sunlight/sunshine does make a big difference. We get Vitamin D from spending just 15 minutes a day in sunlight, and when our Vit. D levels drop, we can have some depression, as well as other medical issues. Just seeing the sun when I wake up in the morning makes my day go much better.

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  13. Evelyn Mann-Wilder - October 2, 2020 3:34 pm

    Well said! I might add to go online and find a support group to participate in too.

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  14. JaneElder - October 2, 2020 3:44 pm

    Good advice. I have what I call garden variety depression. My cure? Look at my grand son’s goofy picture. Text a friend a funny joke. Or like you…sit out in the sun. Not cured but able to cope. Depression is real..and it’s different for every individual. The main thing is to get up and move….out of the chair…turn off the TV…put down the phone. Praying for everyone who is under this black cloud.

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  15. Christina - October 2, 2020 4:01 pm

    The heaviness is real. Got so many people around me going through all kinds of losses and pain. It feels hard to breathe at times, but I’m reminded that with each breath, we are still here. So glad we are in this together. And yes, every small step matters.

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  16. Linda Moon - October 2, 2020 4:40 pm

    I’m not your “kin”, but maybe I’m somewhat of a kindred spirit because I like old songs on scratchy vinyl. You matter to me, Sean. I’m blind enough to love a writer/singer/nice person, and I won’t ever correct my vision that lets me see him as he is. There are lots of kin like him that I love, too. I’ll be walking in the sunshine and thinking about them right after I punctuate the end of this sentence!

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  17. Jackie McClung - October 2, 2020 6:12 pm

    For me the only thing better than being outside in the Sun is to have my rod and reel with a stream or lake in front of me. That takes care of any sad times I experience.

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  18. Ann - October 2, 2020 8:56 pm

    True…not preachy…first hand experiences and always with a smile full of heart!…you are amazing!

    Reply
  19. Theresa Overcast - October 3, 2020 6:00 pm

    Once again I’m so glad my dear cousin told me about you. My life is very happy (just turned 65) but there was a time when I was much younger that I did want to give up and actually tried. The year my first granddaughter was born, my boyfriend committed suicide. It was very very rough going but I can finally says some 20 years later that I am so blessed and truly happy. I guess what I’d like to say is, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and if you can “hang in there like a hair in a biscuit” times do get better…or maybe you can be like me and find Jesus🙏👍❤️

    Reply
  20. Karen - October 4, 2020 1:56 am

    You are such a blessing to do many. God bless you, Sean!

    Reply
  21. Karen Erwin-Brown - October 4, 2020 7:00 am

    Just returned from your sunny state. Sun, blue sky and waves. Amazing.

    Reply

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