Lauren Zito loves darkness.

The creator of the vampire chronicle “The Weakness,” she spends most of her days in the world of the undead, a place where things rattle and moan and feed in the dark. Light is not a friend to the creatures she has invented.

When the northern half of the world tilts away from the sun and winter days grow maddeningly short, Zito is not like the rest of us. She doesn’t become restless and agitated. She is not gloomy and irritable, her body starved for the sunlight her characters detest.

“I am not a religious person and I’m not a big celebrator of the winter holidays,” says Zito, an Auburn native now living in Pittsburgh. “But I love houses that are decorated with lights. Classy ones, tacky ones, trendy ones. I like it when they leave them up until march. That always brightens my mood.

“I also love walking during a crisp winter’s night,” she says, all chipper and optimistic. “The wind is different, the night sky is different. Things are clearer during the winter. On a cloudless night, the stars are brighter, denser, closer.”

A mental health expert might applaud Zito for finding ways to celebrate the long darkness of winter rather than resisting it. Way to go, Lauren.

Then there are the legions of us who regard her as a freak.

The idea that people drink more, fight more, sleep more, commit suicide more and descend into crippling gloom during winter is not a myth. Add the loud buzz of Christmas to the cold and abbreviated periods of sunlight and humanity tends to go mad.

“Research shows that during the holiday season there is an increase in depression, suicide, domestic violence and drunk-driving accidents,” says Kathleen Dumont, a licensed clinical social worker at the Kennebec Behavioral Health office in Skowhegan. “Add to these the bleak economic times, the frigid cold weather, the shortest amount of daylight, deployment of loved ones, loneliness and sorrow.”

Yes, add all those things, mix well and you wonder how a person like Zito still manages to whistle while she walks.

The beast of winter despair goes by a few different names. The people of KBH describe it as seasonal affective disorder or winter-onset depression. Because of it, they say, as many as 6 percent of Americans have a change in appetite or weight gain, fatigue or a drop in productivity, a tendency to oversleep, trouble concentrating, states of irritability or anxiousness. Not enough for you? They say SAD can cause you to be more sensitive in social situations, and you might be less interested in the kinds of activities that you otherwise would enjoy.

And yet people cope and survive without drinking drain cleaner or sleeping 18 hours a day.

They ski, ride snowmobiles, slide down hills, fish through the ice and walk with giant shoes designed for snow. They bathe themselves in ultraviolet light in attempts to fool their skin into believing the sun shines upon it.

Some of them get creative.

“We’ve created a bit of the tropics in an unlikely place: our basement,” says 33-year-old Kayt Miller DeMerchant of Turner. “The walls are a beautiful turquoise, the carpet is the color of sand, the decor is bright and tropical … seashells and all. It is a great space for our family of five to escape for a bit of relaxation and play. It helps keep the feel of summer and sunshine in our home year-round.”

Robin Graziano takes a lesson from the animal kingdom: If it’s too cold to be outside but you crave the light of the sun, try thinking like a cat.

“Take advantage of the sunshine when there is some by sitting by the window. I am inside warm and cozy and the sun does warm your bones and brighten your spirit,” the 40-year-old Bowdoin woman says. “It must be beneficial because my dog fights me for the spot.”

More from the realm of creatures:

“Quilt, or whatever your fix might be, under a full-spectrum bulb,” says 41-year-old Mary K. Burpee Sargent, a Lewiston native who lives in Parsonsfield. “It’s great for seeing true colors and you get the bonus of feeling like there’s a nice, warm sun shining over you. Only problem is, cats love it, too.”

In Rumford, Paul Lowell finds that music hath charms to soothe the savage winter.

“I keep from going crazy by playing my guitar,” the 55-year-old says. “I actually look forward to this time of year because I can go up in my garage — my music room — and play and sing unintimidated.”

He likes to sing and strum in the summertime, too. But with all those windows open, it becomes less of a personal matter and more of a public concert.

“I feel I have to be a little more quiet, if you know what I mean,” Lowell says. “Not everybody likes the blues.”

And speaking of the blues, don’t forget to take your vitamins. Many people swear by Vitamin D and take healthy doses of it all winter long. Others add cod liver oil to the vitamin diet, perhaps believing that the heinous taste of it will distract them from the weather.

The skiers just want more snow, as do the snowmobilers. Others eschew that macho stuff, savoring the slow-down pace of winter.

“Catching up on books and movies that I am too busy in the summer to read and watch,” says Jan Bachelder, who lives in Turner, where there is more darkness than just about anywhere. “It’s a good time to slow down a little from the hectic rush of summer.”

And a good time to stay inside and play video games. Or start that novel you’ve been meaning to write. Or learn to play the pan flute. Or build a replica of Fenway Park out of beer cans in the basement. Or take your motorcycle out for a spin even if it’s 3 degrees outside and dark at 3 p.m. Because you love that motorcycle and riding it is heaven even if you get frostbite on the end of your nose.

Clearly, the people of Maine find ways to get through and even thrive in the dismal months. If they didn’t, there would be Asylums for the Cold and Insane on every other block and morgues on the other ones.

And for those who struggle with winter’s glacial gloom, frustration and an unwillingness to adapt can actually become coping mechanisms in themselves. I could describe this form of reverse psychology at length, but why bother? A woman named Susan responded to our query with such succinct beauty, it perfectly tells the story of this state of mind.

“Winter,” she said, “sucks.”

How to not be SAD

By Kennebec Behavioral Health

Sunlight is in short supply and will be until Maine’s mud season ends. That means many of us already are experiencing a mood disorder that can persist until sunlight can again stream onto our bodies.

There are ways to counteract this disorder, and several won’t cost you a dime.

You can brighten your mood by brightening your home. Open the blinds or drapes. Sit by a window at home and at work, if you can. Take a lunchtime walk or exercise regularly. It all can help.

Light therapy is another method that people with SAD sometimes use. With this method, you sit a few feet from a specialized light-therapy box and the effect is like sitting in true sunlight. It causes a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Before you buy such equipment, talk to your health-care provider to make sure it’s the right thing for you. If you have severe depression, your doctor might prescribe antidepressants. Your doctor also could recommend that you continue to take such medication beyond the time your symptoms normally go away.

Winter-onset SAD is common in northern regions, like Maine, where the winter season drags on longer than in most states. Be patient with loved ones who experience this cyclical disorder. For many of us, this really is a SAD time of year.


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