Winter Doldrums and Health for Writers

It was snowing, today, in the high desert of New Mexico. The snow melted, leaving thick mucky mud in every direction. I had no desire whatsoever to brave the cold and wet outdoor world. I wanted to drink tea and coffee and hot toddies in my living room. I suppose winter does this to the soul; at least, I hope it’s simply winter and its doldrums.

Going outside is healthy, you see. The great outdoors offer many benefits to the writer, both mental and physical. Many years ago, I owned an old paperback version of Agatha Christie’s autobiography. The book has since disappeared, but I remember snatches of her delightful story, some of which, of course, were about her writing life. When Dame Agatha got stuck, she would venture out into the streets of London and walk and talk. Yes, she would talk through the dialogue–to herself–until she had figured out the sticky bits. While I’m sure passersby thought she was a dotty lady out for a stroll, what really matters is the literature that she was able to finesse in the outside world.

Writers, I believe, suffer from staring at their own walls too long. They are a narcissistic lot and, therefore, have a great need to take their problems, their frustrations, and their plots outdoors in order to to see that the world is a bigger place than their offices. Others exist on this martian planet we call earth: jack rabbits hip-hop through the brush, and swallows dart from the eaves, and, occasionally, people also traverse the rugged terrain of cities and deserts and mountains and meadows. Writers are not alone in the world, and the enormous sky above them should be enough to make them feel small and insignificant, right along with their trifling stories.

So, the outside world is good for working out problems of all sorts, textual and psychological. Physically, fresh air has its obvious benefits. Oxygen is good for us. We need it to breathe. We often forget, however, about the health benefits of sunshine. Yes, I know, it’s winter in the northern hemisphere! And I know doctors will foolishly tell us that the sun is bad for us! I will, despite any protests, wax poetic about the sun. I love the sun. I love to feel its rays burning my skin, and to feel the light entering my retinas and brightening my mind. It seems to stimulate serotonin, which makes me happy. It also seems to stimulate the pituitary gland. Undoubtedly, the sun’s shortwave rays do stimulate the production of vitamin D in skin, which is actually a hormone and not a vitamin. Vitamin D is called the happy vitamin for a reason. It kills the doldrums, caused by winter or life.

Obviously, I’m not qualified to give medical advice, but I will tell you what I do and don’t do in regard to the sun. I never wear sunscreen unless I’m going to be on a boat all day. Sunscreen is toxic and prevents the production of vitamin D. I always go outside during the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. During these middle daylight hours, full spectrum light is available. If the sun is further down on the horizon, its long wave rays will reach the earth, but it’s actually the shortwave rays that stimulate the production of vitamin D.

Now, I know that if I bare my skin at the height of noon in the middle of December, I’ll probably be out of luck, even living in a sunny place like New Mexico. Those of you who live even farther north run a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency than I do. Leaving the house is still important for the aforementioned reasons and, in the summer, vitamin D from sunlight can be added as part of the health-giving properties of the outside world. It’s my opinion that writers need to go for daily walks. They literally need to do this for their own well-being.

p.s. I take vitamin D3 supplements in the winter, plus a good quality cod liver oil. I try to make sure I’m getting around 4,000 international units a day. No, that isn’t a typo. I definitely didn’t meant to write 400. As recommended by some doctors, I simply multiply 35 times my body weight of 129 lbs, which is app. 4000–that’s how many international units of vitamin D I need to stay healthy and happy.

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