Let the Sun Shine In: Seasonal Affective Disorder and Ministry | The Community
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Let the Sun Shine In: Seasonal Affective Disorder and Ministry

In Newfoundland and Labrador this past weekend, amid the revelry of St. Patrick’s Day, there was the reminder of Sheila’s Brush, the late winter weather we annually receive around the ides of March. This year was no different, as leading to the seventeenth we had plus temperatures, dry roads, clear skies, and above all, sun. There was an air of excitement with people that I encountered. Persons were enjoying spring weather, engaging in lively conversation, and had a genuine attitude of hopefulness and joy. In this province, any day is beautiful when the sun shines, regardless of temperature, wind speed, or wave height. The morning of St. Patrick’s Day all had changed. I awoke early to see a fresh coating of snow, and all the land covered in the guise of winter. These next days we are expecting a further fifteen centimetres of snow; already I see some people responding in negative ways to this weather fluctuation,  as some people seem overly distressed by the deteriorating conditions.

Each year that I have lived in Newfoundland I have been acutely aware of seasonal changes, and with this the change in some persons’ patterns of interaction.  The days get darker, some neighbours become unreachable. Ministry in parish life becomes harder to maintain as individuals drop off the radar, are unavailable for activities, and avoid encounters with community. At first I was deeply troubled by this, thinking that all others should have the same perspective as I have. My perspective being, if I can keep going, keep interacting, continue to face and interrelate with the world in darkness and light, so should all others. I was then reminded that I may be fine in this aspect of life, but not necessarily in all others.

I am an amateur cyclist – my idea of an ideal bike ride starts at 30km and onward. I like a good hill to challenge me, and I don’t mind changing weather conditions. Most often I cycle alone, as there are few in my circle of friends who share this passion. In the ocean, however, in fact, in all water, I am at a disadvantage.  I swim when I have to, and for me it is always a bit of a struggle and requires deep concentration. I dislike swimming, and at times I feel as though my body will not be able to support the challenge before me.  I face sensations of drowning, and when swimming long distances I often consider the inner struggle that I have to overcome just to get to my destination. Perhaps seasonal affective disorder is in this magnitude. Persons may feel the weight of weather, darkness, and lack of mobility during winter, and feel as if there is no way to continue.

Even the most basic of web searches provides much information, which is a necessity if we are called to be an understanding, caring community of believers. Literature defines Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a type of depression that seems to be related to the amount of daylight to which people are exposed. For many people it tends to be worse in the fall or winter, comparable to an extreme form of the “winter blahs.” Some people, however, experience symptoms in the late spring or early summer. Seasonal Affective Disorder is suggested to be present with between 3 and 15% of the Canadian population. (http://bodyandhealth.canada.com)

Living in this province has its challenges, and in ministry one of the challenges faced is incorporating those who are shaped by seasonal affective disorder. I cannot diminish the requests of an individual to be involved in a ministry project just in the fair seasons; I must incorporate them into the church family, and rejoice in their presence and commitment. In the foul seasons, I must be caring in their absence from the body, I must be prayerful, interact in the ways they permit me, and above all emulate love. They cannot be excluded from the life and ministry of the church just because their situation is not understood. So often in my interactions in Christian community I see many dismissed because they may not be ‘up for the job,’ or because they ‘lack consistency and reliability.’

I recognize that in the church we are trying our best to respond to the call of God to serve and proclaim God’s love in a broken world. I believe in Christian community we fail to do so when we diminish or dismiss parts of the body because of illness, absence, or struggle. We strive for success not recognizing that God calls us into a diverse community that has its own struggles. We yearn for perfection and many times mistakenly dismiss the SAD when we are called to come alongside all and partner with them in a common baptismal ministry.

David Burrows

About David Burrows

David Burrows is a priest of the church, currently serving in parish ministry within the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, a place he has called home for the past ten years. He consistently engages dialogue and action with the wider community through creative outreach projects. Cycling, kayaking, and driving fast cars are distractions in his life.
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