It being the bleakest middle of the bleak mid-winter, a group of us decided that what we needed, as trendy young 21st century beings, was some light box therapy. Not vitamin C, not a good early night, not some fresh air and fresh fruit and veg and perhaps drinking some water rather than dosing up on coffee and stimulants – we needed light box therapy. It’s the way forward. Plus, it was free for a limited time only, due to something I didn’t quite gather and wasn’t about to argue against that.
So, off we trotted, through the winter evening of a Friday night, all of us shivering against the bitter cold and stamping our feet, comparing ailments, aches and illnesses – one of us had a heavy cold that had been malingering for the best part of a month, and she was singing the virtues of Day Nurse, as it apparently produces for her the magic combination of cold-symptom relief and appetite suppressant, so she was able to lose weight while suffering.
We arrived at the centre, we queued, we found that our booking had been confused and there wasn’t enough room for all of us to get lit up at the same time. The acknowledged leader of us, the one with the loudest voice, strongest opinions and cut-glass accent of authority that sounds remarkably like she’s spent most of her adulthood shouting at hounds and horses, barked orders at the blinking assistant. He became so disorientated that at one point – and this isn’t a word of a lie – he excused himself, stepped back from our group into the light tent, rubbed his forehead for a moment and then, gathering himself, stepped back towards us, unaware that I could see the whole process. In the end, we split into two groups, one lot heading towards the light box and the other lot sitting downstairs in the closed cafeteria to wait 20 minutes until our turn arrived.
We sat and speculated about what we thought – and hoped – that a concentrated dose of lightbox therapy would bring us. The girl with the constant cold thought it would bring her immediate relief. Another person thought that it would be like a buzz from a strong dose of caffeine. A third person speculated that we would all come out suntanned and blissed up, as if we’d spent a week on the beach.
Finally, our turn arrived, and the little blinking assistant showed us into the brightly lit tent, in the centre of which lay a circular white sofa generously supplied with white throw pillows, and surrounded on all corners by fluffy white bean bags. All around the walls hung bright rectangular lights, which gave off no discernable heat, and were easy to look straight into. I law down on the sofa and immediately began to stare straight into the light, all the better to get as much out of the experience as possible. The blinking assistant, catching my train of thought, warned us not to look directly at the lights at any point.
We had, he explained, a twenty minute session here in the light box. In that time, we were to sit down, relax, and look only occasionally in the direction of the light. We were to keep our eyes open at all times, though, otherwise the light box would have no effect. To our dismay, he went on to explain that one twenty minute session with the light box would have no real effects on our health or state of mind as being in the light box for 20 minutes is the equivalent of being outdoors on a sunny day for 40 minutes. The sunny day, he went on to elaborate, need not be a warm day, but even just a bright winter’s day, much like today. If we had been outside for about 40 minutes today, he said, we would have had the same benefits.
Everyone else groaned. Having schlepped their way across town for this miracle cure, we now found out that eating a sandwich in the park in our lunch hour would have been just as good for us. However, as I hadn’t been outdoors all day, I felt that at least I had something, however small, to gain from the experience. We lay down, and chatted for our allocated 20 minutes. We felt cheated, wishing he had lied to us, told us that all our woes would be undone and all our enemies punished and miserable. We wished he had told us that we would leave the light box with a new spring in our steps, a renewed libido and lust for life, a healthier appetite, reduced blood pressure, all malignant cells zapped away and old wounds healed. The man, after all, had been wearing a white coat, and holding a clipboard. We would have believed everything he said.
Once our 20 minutes were up, we filed out of the lightbox, blinking in the sudden darkness of our ordinarily lit surroundings, and feeling resentful to have been denied our miracle cure. The light box experience did nothing for me, other than leaving me with the sense that I had been cheated out of something, something that hadn’t been mine to expect to begin with.