The sun brings life to our planet.
Plants, algae, and some bacteria take in oxygen and carbon dioxide from the soil and the air. They capture energy from the sunlight to make oxygen and chemical energy stored in glucose. The carbon dioxide is offset as chemical energy.
It’s fascinating how the sun can spur this cycle; how a ray of light can give the gift of renewed existence day after day.
With our continued observation of humans like flowers within a garden, it’s scientifically undeniable how good sunlight is for us.
Sunlight is most known for helping us produce Vitamin D.
More and more research shows that Vitamin D plays an essential role in regulating mood and reducing the risk of depression.
Now, I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon.
The Pacific Northwest is notorious for its lack of sunlight for many months. Locked away in a grey cabinet, citizens of these cities often succumb to what is known as SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.
During the bulk of the fall, winter, and spring, due to a lack of sunlight, depression rates are far more likely to soar. It’s especially prevalent in the Pacific Northwest and other colder, rainier regions as inclement weather stretches far into June.
What happens when SAD hits?
Symptoms include: Feeling sad or down every day; losing interest in activities; having low energy; sleeping too much; overeating; difficulty concentrating; feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty; lastly, some even begin to lose the will to live.
Take away the sun from a rose, and it will wilt.
It is critical for those with mental health challenges to consider what environment sets us up for success – including our physical environment. There is often a reluctance to relocate, and that is understandable and valid.
It is not an easy scenario to weigh.
Are you willing to leave a life full of friends, family, and community to take a risk in a new environment for your well-being?
I asked all of the toughest questions before leaving Portland back in 2016.
I was scared. I was afraid that I would not be able to sustain myself if I left. I had built a strong support network in Portland; a treatment team, close friends who knew of my more troubling times, and a safety net I could trust in.
I had a city where I could snap my fingers and have a paying gig. I could walk the city in about 30 minutes and have friends all along the way. I had my family within 45 minutes of me driving.
Yet the wonderment of “what if”, what if I might feel better living somewhere with more sunlight, burned into my mind.
When we face consistent moments of turmoil, shouldn’t we deeply assess every fabric of our being and what it is tied to, including the ground we stand upon?
For what I had endured, I had to take a chance. My moods and emotions rode a roller coaster in Oregon.
I had moved to Los Angeles in 2016 with the help of my father. I hit a low point coming into the fall of 2016. Something needed to change, and we calculated a new approach for me. The latest variable being tested was whether or not a different climate would help.
The move was thought out to a granular level. What were some of the things on my checklist?
- Making sure I had at least one person in the city who knew me on a deeper level.
- Ensuring I would be within a couple of miles of health facilities.
- I identified a therapist in the area who I could work with.
- Discovered bike paths and routes, establishing a potential exercise flow.
- I secured a job before I moved down.
- I made plans with family and friends in case things did not well for temporary stays in Portland – a safety net.
- I found support groups I could join for mental health challenges if needed.
The move to Los Angeles was a giant leap. I uncovered more inner strength than I thought I had. My confidence began to improve exponentially. However, it wasn’t quite there.
I did find that the sunlight radically improved my mood but being surrounded by concrete and an endless swarm of uncontrollable variables generated noticeable anxieties. There were some days when I would wear earplugs while walking outside to turn the volume down.
When we are surveying the environment and considering making big changes, we ought to take the time to track our moods and energies throughout the day. Notice how you feel come the morning, afternoon, evening, and night – watch the wave. With our data in hand, we can think about the factors occurring at those times.
This helps us see the potential culprits – what were the variables that changed through your day?
By tracking my days and analyzing them bit by bit, I realized that my nearby surroundings were the greatest problem I was facing.
Over the first two and half years of living in Los Angeles, transient populations had surged right around my house. There would be police helicopters and shootings. You name it. Needles on the ground on my way walking in the door. Furthermore, I lived right by the 405 freeway. When inside, things were utterly silent, but outside, it was tinged with the chaos of cars flying by.
At this juncture, was returning to the Pacific Northwest the move? Here’s where it helps that I thought the initial move out to California to the extent that I did. I compared the overall benefits I had found mentally and physically against my time in Portland and the Pacific Northwest – though the concrete jungle had started to shake my trees, I still was better off from a well-being standpoint than I was in Portland.
What a process! If you’ve made it to this point, the lily pads of wellness if you will, I congratulate you.
So what would be the new variable I’d test?
One of my favorite things I would do when living off of Venice Boulevard was bike three miles to the beach. Ever since I was young, the Ocean had always brought me a sense of calm. No matter the madness around me, staring out across the horizon consumed by this liquid gravitational pulse, my ills were nullified.
Slightly south of LAX, Manhattan Beach sits as part of a collective of coastal cities known as the “South Bay.” A close family friend of mine had lived in the area for years, and spoke fondly of it to me every time we’d meet. She described the immeasurable benefits of living close to the Ocean, and would always tease that she felt it was the place for me.
Waves become a metronome, whimsical whims of misty fog accompanied by sultry yet thunderous booms of sound.
The ocean calls for you to be present, always. Especially when you are in it.
The Ocean is a “Blue Space”.
Residing near a Blue Space has been shown to increase physical activity levels, lower stress, and anxiety, and boost mood and physical well-being.
I found my home.
Mid 2019, I moved to Manhattan Beach, California. To this day, I’ve never lived anywhere quite like it.
It was the complete package, everything I had been looking for for my mental health. Though I currently am temporarily stationed in Seattle, I have every intention of moving back to the South Bay – a place I will likely call home for a very long time.
This wasn’t some overnight miracle; me discovering my optimal environment took almost three decades of trial and error.
For those with mental health challenges, taking the time to dig deep and ask all of the right questions about the physical environment you live in, and what it gives to you, is vital.
The Sun and the Ocean.
What does the horizon look like for you?
About the Author
Photo: Sumit Dhungel
A dance music producer, singer, and songwriter, Alex Wagner (known by his music project ASW), was called an emerging artist to watch by DJ Mag in September of 2021. Currently signed to Tommie Sunshine’s Brooklyn Fire Records, he has also had multiple releases on Atlantic Records, remixing artists such as Galantis.
As a crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line and certified peer counselor with the state of Washington, he has organized multiple mental health awareness events leveraging the power of music and the arts. He is launching his company Grooving for Good this year. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on Instagram at @asinglewave.