The sky was open to Space and the world was green. The sun shone on the grass as only it can in January. But despite the pleasant weather, my brain filled with pessimism. For many years, I had answered the question “Are you thinking of killing yourself” with “Not the fast way. The slow way.” What I meant was I propelled myself towards death by eating badly and refusing to exercise. Eventually I would suffer a major heart attack and that would be the end of it. But on that January day I texted my last will and testament to my wife, sat down on a log, and began to study the veins in my wrist.
I bucked the statistics by my choice of time. The media gets it wrong; the holidays and the winters that follow are not the time when hospitals see an increase in the number of suicides: it is May. Scientists have not hit upon why self-murder spikes at this time of year, but they have made some observations:
Doctors first observed in the 1820s that suicide rates spike during late spring. Researchers have since postulated and tested all sorts of explanations for the global phenomenon, making this one of the most studied questions in psychiatry. There’s still no consensus, but evidence suggests it has to do with so-called sociodemographic factors. During the winter, many people go into semihibernation: They work less, see fewer people, and are exposed to less frustration and conflict. That all changes in the spring, when increased interaction with others and the stress of work may trigger suicidal thoughts. The theory is based on a couple of observations. First, the spring suicide peak is more pronounced among people employed on farms or in factories who experience greater seasonal variation in the intensity of work and social interactions. In addition, developing countries with a higher proportion of agricultural workers see more seasonal change in the suicide rate than do developed countries. The magnitude of seasonal changes in the suicide rate is more than 10 times higher in Uruguay, for example, than in Belgium. Researchers have also detected a smoothing out of the seasonal variation in suicides in recent decades as more people move from farm to office. (There are smaller peaks in other parts of the year. Cubicle workers are more likely to commit suicide in the fall than in the spring, as are mothers who send their children off to school in September.)
I am not so sure of this theory or of some of the others. Some link the suicide rate to the weather. The amount of sunshine in the day, pollen counts, and air pollution have all been indicted. But one thing that I think affects me heavily by the time May rolls around hasn’t been investigated: Daylight Savings Time.
Why? Because Daylight Savings Time interferes with our inner clock. It makes us wake up an hour earlier than we are used to waking up. It hits us like a hammer in March and continues its drumming through the Spring. The ones who are worst affected are those who are most susceptible to bipolar disorder: night owls.
Owls aren’t early risers like larks. A Lark doesn’t feel the shift much if he has to wake up an hour earlier, but for an owl — who already has a hard time getting up early in the morning — the moving forward of the clock is catastrophic. Six o’clock is taken over by five a.m. A whole hour is stolen and it is not given back until the fall. I have met few people with bipolar disorder who like Daylight Savings Time. It’s proponents, in fact, are few. But big industry — especially retail — like it because people are more likely to leave the house to buy during daylight hours than during darkness. Oil companies like it because people do more driving and more driving requires more gasoline. Despite the health risks, we keep this destructive institution for the profit of a few.
I know that my sleep is sucky at this time of year. When my alarm goes off, it wakes me out of a deep sleep that my body has made no plans to end for another hour. I am dizzy and depressed on many mornings. A gray malaise overcomes me. This darkening of the mood affects my thoughts and those thoughts turn increasingly to negativity and the belief that I am a burden to others. Wouldn’t the world be better off without me?
The cheap fixes I employ are to adjust my medications if the depression gets too deep and to seek out the help of my therapist more often. I stick to my clock, however. Millions of others are in the same boat. So why do we persist in this? Well, our country puts corporate interest over people. What is my life to them? I am collateral damage.
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