I've been a bit blocked on the blog lately, partly because when the great Norm left us I realised how much I had been trying to emulate him (without success), partly because of bullying by an individual who has not liked some of the content of my posts (the latter has been going on for more than a year) and partly because the time of year has affected me more than it usually does. Cold, dark days, and all that. Of course, every November and December is cold and dark here in Alsace - so why is this year worse than previous ones? Well, it has been worse than last year, because this year I had a cataract operation in September which stopped me swimming for two weeks, then other things, including a two-week closure of the outdoor pool, kept me swimming indoors if I swam at all. The local heated outdoor pool is a splendid thing, and I need to use it several times a week, especially in the winter - how else would I get vitamin D?
I've got very fair Celtic skin, and two members of my family on my father's side (from whom I got the skin tone) have had skin cancer, so I have always used sunscreen and protected myself from the sun, well before it was routine advice to do so. And also because I burn very quickly in strong sun. I now realise that this was probably a mistake. The body makes vitamin D by absorbing sunlight through the skin. For this the skin needs to be exposed. In Saudi Arabia, where there is strong sunlight all the time, a great many women suffer from vitamin D deficiency - because they are always covered up outdoors. It's nearly impossible to get enough vitamin D through diet when there is no sunshine - and the sun hardly ever shines in Alsace. You could only do it if you ate an Inuit-type diet consisting entirely of oily fish. But last year, when I swam several times a week outdoors right through the winter, I had good levels of vitamin D. This year I don't.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency? Various. Sometimes none. You get more colds and other infections. Mainly fatigue. A different kind of fatigue from that you get when you haven't had enough sleep or you've been working hard, physically or mentally. Last night I sat down to watch my favourite soap and immediately fell asleep. Like someone switching a light off. I woke up to the closing credits. I've fallen asleep at the dinner table several times recently. I have difficulty getting up in the mornings, for the first time since a brief period when I was about 15. And all my joints ache, not all at the same time though. When I wake up my first thought is "What is it going to be today? Hip, knee or wrist?"
So, something will be done. To the pharmacy for a supplement. Eat an egg every day and oily fish twice a week (hard to come by in landlocked Alsace where fish has never been part of the diet, food in shops in France being more regional and local than it is in the UK). But, most importantly, back in the pool. Even on the darkest winter day (I never swim early in the mornings or in the evening when it's actually dark at this time of year, although the pool is open then) there is some diffused sunlight coming through in the daytime, and a heated outdoor pool provides a unique opportunity to have more than the face exposed to whatever is available. So, don't worry about sunburn - it won't happen in winter anyway. Do worry about vitamin D deficiency. Bad for the bones, bad for the blood, and bad for the mood.
What about you?