The Sun and Me

At this time of year there's less sun that usual in the northern hemisphere especially at such high latitudes as the UK. We're higher than you realise here - if you draw a line due west across from Land's End you don't hit New York as the sign there might have you believe. You hit the northern half of Newfoundland in Canada. New York is more in line with Madrid.

But I digress.

There are less sunlit hours here in December but sometimes the sun is more in evidence. Walking along the seafront as I do in the morning on the way to work, I often get to witness sunrise itself. Sunset is often too early for me – I'm usually still working. Maybe I'll try and catch it this weekend. 

Of course I don't look directly at the sun, and that's not just because I'm being well behaved. This is one of those warnings that you don't actually need like "don't set fire to your hand" or "don't bang your head against a brick wall". Any attempt to look at the sun and you look away in discomfort.

Weirdly this didn't used to be the case for me.

I clearly remember looking at the sun as a young child (probably less than five years old), staring up at the bright close star in the vast empty blue sky above the primary school playground. I was fairly sure I knew what the sun looked like. It was a disc of white fire that you weren't intended to see being permanently eclipsed by a rotating disc of sky blue of almost but not quite the same size that occasionally let slip little slivers of the brightness as it spun wonkily. There was something both thrilling and scary about the sight, something not intended for human eyes. I was slightly frightened.

I now realise that the sky blue disc was the after image, the photosensitive parts of my retina temporarily overwhelmed by the brightness of what I was looking at. The wonky spinning was caused by the saccades as my eye moved imperceptibly, movements normally edited out by the brain.

So I knew what the sun looked like.

As I got a little older and started getting encyclopaedias and astronomy books as presents I realised what the sun “really” looked like and stopped seeing the rotating occluded sun. In fact I stopped looking directly at the sun all together. It was as if I had learned that I shouldn't and so it had now become physically unbearable to do so.

At that age I used to notice all sorts of patterns and make odd connections. That round bit in the centre of a slice of carrot (which I only now learn is called the xylem - the other part being the phloem) was something that always stood out to me. It reminded me of the sun. The connection was there and therefore I was slightly frightened by the interior of sliced carrots.

At this time of year the lack of sun makes me SAD. However, as it turns out though too much sun (in fact any direct sun at all) is bad for me. Even though I tan quite easily (due to traces of Spanish blood from a few generations back) I should avoid the sunlight and always wear hats when it's hot. This is because I have discoid lupus (DLE) and sunlight exacerbates it causing red patches on my scalp which in turn lead to scars which make it difficult for hair to grow.

For some reason it's the scalp that's the most affected by this condition, perhaps due to its nature as the thinnest section of the human corpus, stretched tightly as it is over the dome of the skull and thus more prone to inflicted injury (the lupus is an autoimmune condition whereby the body's own defences start attacking not just any invading bacteria or viruses in a wound, but the flesh of the wound itself. In the case of sunlight, any dead skin cells caused by the UV of the sun's light hang around and are misidentified by the immune system as hostile invaders causing a pitched battle and even more dead skin cells.

Despite this physical danger, I do always feel mentally more healthy when there's more sunlight to go around. Without it I lose energy and would rather do nothing and hide under the duvet all day.

Unfortunately modern society isn't set up this way.


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