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.

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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

Self Care is Lifeblood, Not Luxury

 

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Self care is not a luxury. It took a while, but I finally get it. It’s a necessity, like food and water and breathing.

I’m a midwife and a homeschooling mom of two boys. It’s a life I love, and it takes a lot of juice to keep it up and running. More still to keep it flowing and vibrant.

I no longer expect to be able to pull the energy and peaceful frame of mind I need—for myself and my family—out of thin air. It has to be consciously generated. I’m learning how often, in what ways, and for how long I need to make time for self care and renewal. Continue reading

Anger and Spirituality Are Not Mutually Exclusive

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Kali, the Hindu goddess of death, destruction, creation, fertility, healing, and compassion.

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger. I’m working with it at home in my efforts to quit yelling at my kids. While I navigate that process, I’ve also been thinking about how anger plays a role in our responses to the injustice, corruption, and violence we see in our world. Unfortunately, there’s been no shortage of material for this kind of exploration.

There’s also no shortage of pressure in spiritual growth culture to beware of negative emotions and be all about positivity and good vibes at all times.

Having the sole mission to spread love and inspire others with positive messages is one way to serve, and we need more of this for sure. And there are other valid ways of being in the world that are a little more down and dirty, but can still effect positive change. Anger has its rightful place in this realm, as the call to direct action and the generator of energy. Continue reading

More on Ritual: 6 Favorites that Make Our Lives Better

In my last post, I wrote about a prayer ritual from my husband’s religious tradition that I do every day. Since then, I’ve been thinking more about the role of rituals in my and my family’s lives. It’s kind of funny that I’m writing about this, because I used to hate the word “ritual.” It conjured up vague but frightening images of biblical animal sacrifice. Or something. Either that, or it was synonymous with routine, which I used to equate with boredom and rigidity.  Either way, I had no use for it.

I love the word “ritual” now. This was a gradual change, and I never noticed or thought about it as it was happening.   Without ever planning it that way, I keep adding rituals to my life one by one, and now they are my spiritual container, my guideposts. Initially foreign and even a little bit forced in some cases, with time and repetition, most of them have become part of me now—as comfortable and familiar as a favorite pair of broken-in shoes.   They are reliable reminders to focus on what really matters. On the harder days, they help me hang in there. On the best days, they create more joy in our lives.   Continue reading