I really have no business living in New England.
I was born in New Orleans in August, in the middle of the afternoon. I could check what the temperature was that day, if that info is even available, but whatever. It was hot. We moved when I was just over a year old, and I spent a few years of my early childhood in Rhode Island. I can access a few hard details and events that stand out in stark relief, but most of my memories from that time are only sketches, shadows, colors, feelings. Vague images of snow angels are among those.
Before kindergarten, when my parents divorced, we (my mother, baby brother and me) moved back down south, initially to Mississippi where my grandparents lived. My mother remarried shortly thereafter and I was back in Louisiana—Baton Rouge this time (much less interesting than New Orleans, just as hot). For a couple of years at age 10 and 11, we had a stint in Indiana where I enjoyed the snow and don’t remember hating the cold, after which we were back in Baton Rouge.
Then, at age 13, my fighting spirit collided with family issues and catapulted me back to Rhode Island alone, this time without my mother and brother, where I arrived to live with my father, stepmother, stepsiblings and new baby sister—a process which was set in motion in February of that year. The cellular and psychic imprints from that tumultuous time made an alchemic brew with the cold and the dark I found here in subsequent winters. Voila, seasonal depression. February was always the worst.
Every winter, when the bitter cold arrives, I’m inexplicably surprised and kind of angry. Whose stupid idea was this? What possible evolutionary purpose does this kind of cold serve on this planet? Why should your face hurt just from being outside? That’s just wrong.
A friend once told me she loves the cold and I looked at her like she was crazy, asking “How? WHY??” “It’s invigorating!” she said. Invigorating. Please. Now whenever I’m outside cursing the cold, a meme of her saying this pops up in my head like a cartoon. It mocks me.
And the dark. The dark! My yearly rituals also include cursing the sadists who insist we continue to do Daylight Savings Time (who are they, anyway?).
A few years back, when we were still in the weeds with small kids, I decided I was done with all this kvetching. I gave myself a big “positive thinking” pep talk in preparation for the looming winter. It’s all about the mindset, I thought. It’s all about the “story” I keep telling myself about hating winter (perhaps you can tell I was reading a lot of Law of Attraction stuff at that time). The trick to enjoying winter, I decided, was wearing more layers and learning to enjoy cold weather activities. I bought snowshoes from LL Bean for the whole family for Christmas (they even had adorable little toddler ones!). We would go ice-skating at least a few times a month—look how blessed we are to have a rink 5 minutes away in our city! Downhill skiing was too expensive a hobby to adopt with any regularity, but maybe we would go for a day trip once a year, and at some point we could get cross-country skis and have storybook moments all bundled up on wooded trails, or even on our city streets after a storm.
I was going to create idyllic family memories and kill my winter depression in one fell swoop.
This attitude adjustment may have helped a little, but we’ve still never gone skiing, either downhill or cross-country, and the snowshoes gathered dust in the garage. I gave away the outgrown toddler ones, unused. The only thing that stuck was the ice-skating, which has solidified as one of our seasonal family traditions.
My intention to appreciate the season has brought other small gifts. I’ve learned to savor those few things I’ve always loved, like when the snow is the consistency that makes it stick to every little tree branch after a storm. I used to find the sight of the bare trees utterly depressing until I began to notice how you can see more of the sunset and sunrise behind them. I came to appreciate the beauty of their silhouette against that light.
Still, the winter blues kept coming. Forced positive thinking didn’t cut it. A new eye and some genuine gratitude for stark beauty came closer, but it still wasn’t enough.
And yet, for the last few years, it has gotten better with each passing winter. That’s around the same time I quit drinking, and I know this is one of the gifts of sobriety, but that’s only part of the story. What else helped?
Unpacking some stuff.
I mean, instead of keeping it under wraps and tying a big sparkly bow around it called “Positivity,” or some variation thereof. I’ve had a fair amount of therapy over the years and I’m something of a self-help book junkie, so I thought I had processed certain things to death and was done. I believe some things really can be done and left in the past, but as is often the case with the big stuff, I had a few onions lying around with more layers to peel. I went into it kicking and screaming (“Seriously? AGAIN? Jesus H. Christ.”), but eventually I quit bitching about the necessity, got down to work, and let some old stuff come up and move on through.
Keeping it real.
I no longer try to talk myself into loving winter, and I’ve dropped my frenetic efforts to have fun with it (though fun finds me here and there anyway). I’ve made peace with the cold and the dark, without grimaced determination or pretending, and instead by yielding to the reality that is mine.
Reverence for cycles.
People talk about how great it is to have the four seasons in New England. I always thought they were talking about variety, and maybe they are. But I’ve come to appreciate the distinct seasons for the tangible cycles they create.
For instance, the trees. Appreciating them visually was one thing. Now that I have a better eye for the cyclical nature of things, I see beauty not just in bare branches against a sunset, but also in dormancy and the unseen preparation for new growth.
So now I use the dead of winter for reflection, preparation, renewal. I am dormant, as much as my extroverted nature and life’s responsibilities allow. I am the bare trees.
This works better. If the black dog does arrive at my door, I’ll invite her in and see what she needs this time around. But I think she may be at peace for now and ready to let me be.
Either way, February is coming and I’m not afraid.
© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2018, all right reserved.
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