Fear of February: How my winter depression shifted

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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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When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting

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Photo credit: StockSnap. Description: Woman with eyes closed and shadow across face.

I want to talk about something I witnessed last week in the online world.

First, a little background. A couple of years ago, I became increasingly aware of a pervasive phenomenon in the (overwhelmingly white) women’s spirituality/ personal growth circles I move in. I noticed persistent attempts to deny and disown painful realities by insistence (overt or implied) that we create our struggles with our negative thinking or energy or low vibration or fill-in-the-blank. I do believe the way we frame things in our thinking can be important to our well being and success, up to a point. I do believe we have some authentic choice around where we place our focus, and those choices can impact our well being and success, up to a point. However, I found the blanket application and oversimplification of these ideas to be profoundly negating of people’s life experience. It also borders on blaming people for certain external realities truly beyond their control.

I wrote a blog post at that time called “Anger and Spirituality Are Not Mutually Exclusive” in a stumbling attempt to speak to this thing I couldn’t name. I didn’t know then that I didn’t have to name it because it already had a name—Spiritual Bypassing—and there’s a whole book about it. I found this out when a dear friend put her copy of the book in my hands and said, “Will you please read this already? It’s what you’ve been bitching about for a year.”

Here’s the quick definition: Continue reading

Notes from a Radical Self-Care Weekend

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This past weekend, I was blessed to spend three nights at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the beautiful Berkshire mountains with one of my closest friends. There is so much to love about this place. The view of the mountains and lake. Dancing to live drums on Saturday (my very favorite thing). Yoga and more yoga. Time for hiking in the woods, sitting at the lake, journaling, and reading. The fourth floor sunroom, the labyrinth. The little things, like filling my water bottle with the herbal iced teas that are available 24/7 and the blankets in the bin on the big front patio, in case you forgot to grab your sweater or want to spread out on the lawn. Oh, and the beautiful, amazing food.

It’s a big place that draws 40,000 people per year. At this point, after half a dozen trips, I feel very much at home there, and at the same time, completely anonymous. It’s a strange yet comforting combination. Continue reading

6 Ways Bullet Journaling Makes Me Less Busy and More Productive

If we asked how many people feel perfectly happy with their organizational habits and systems, what percentage would say “yes?” Less than half, I’m thinking.

I haven’t written about my Kon Mari decluttering project in a while, probably because I haven’t worked on it since I did my kitchen this summer. That whole process is supposed to take six months. Since Marie Kondo’s book doesn’t acknowledge the existence of children and how life with them— and their stuff—might impact a massive whole-house purge, I added another six months for each kid. Even with that, I just passed my projected finish time. That’s OK, I know I’ll get it done. I watched the documentary “Minimalism” over the holidays and I’m re-motivated. Plus, I have a new system to keep me accountable and focused moving forward—bullet journaling!  Continue reading

An Ordinary Day in a Privileged Life, When the World Is Falling Apart

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“When the world is running down

You make the best of what’s still around” —Sting

As we heard the news of the final massacre in Aleppo on Tuesday, I felt things that are becoming all too familiar. There was, first and foremost, horror, heartbreak, and confusion about how such atrocities can keep happening, and incomprehension about what is wrong with human beings? In addition, it felt utterly perverse that my family and I were about to spend the evening decorating our Christmas tree in our safe (for now, anyway), warm house while this human catastrophe was happening simultaneously.

I woke up the next morning full of heartache and foreboding for Aleppo, and for everything that’s weighed heavily on my heart most prominently since the summer, beginning with the latest spate of police killings of unarmed black people, and intensifying with, of course, the election.

So I began another day with the question: How do I approach my relatively cushy (for now, anyway) life on the days when it seems like evil forces are taking over the whole world?

Continue reading

Notes from the Beachbody Bandwagon, Part 2: The 21-Day Fix Workouts

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About 10 weeks ago, as a person who “doesn’t believe in diets,” I started the Beachbody 21-Day Fix weight loss program. In my last post,, I talked mostly about the eating plan and why this program feels doable and sustainable for my life. I’m learning how to eat properly (meaning, in reasonable portions) for the first time, and I really was “eating healthy” by most standards. You can read that post here.

They say nutrition is 80% of getting to and staying at a healthy weight. Today, I’ll focus on the other 20%—the workouts. Continue reading

Notes from the Beachbody Bandwagon, Part 1: The food

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Two months ago, I finally accepted that my 30+ extra pounds were not going to come off via mindful eating and positive body affirmations. Since then, I’ve lost 7 pounds and 8 inches, and I feel great. Besides feeling good, long-term results and maintenance are the real tests, and it’s way too early to know about that. At the risk of eating my words later, I’m writing about it now because I’m excited to have found a nutrition and exercise plan that feels like a sustainable lifestyle change more than a diet. I’ve been doing Beachbody’s 21-Day Fix.

At age 45 with a 20-year career in health care, it’s crazy that I’m only now learning appropriate food portions. It’s kind of embarrassing, really, but I’m glad I finally am. It’s motivating and empowering. Continue reading