Flakes falling. Fires aglow. Baking. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Not for all of us. Or, “Tis the season to be jolly.” Not always. At dawn recently, skies had already spit rain, sleet, then snow. I, not with my usual jump-out-of-bed smile, drove to a coffee shop, “to get out of the house.” Eating a scone, a stranger unwrapped his scarf from his face and neck, pulled off his wet cap and asked, “How do you like winter?”
Fair question. For some of us, parties, the wonder of post-solstice light, and holiday spirit cloud over by, well, clouds. Our dark moods mirror the darkness. We grieve for those gone. Gravity glues us to sofas. Gray air grows gray inside us. Outside ice ices our hearts. Some of us suffer “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days,” as in Judith Viorst’s charming children’s book.
What to do? If winter blues, if feeling “down,” descends into Seasonal Depression, talk to your doctor. Seasonal Depression was called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Not exactly a disorder, SAD is almost normal here. Feeling SAD is epidemic in this climate. In winter, nature reaches in and down to its roots. With seasonal depression, may we reach out and up for support.
Advice often says, “get out in nature and connect with friends.”
I do that often. In November, two women younger than me and a brood of children ages 6 to 12, hiked a New Hampshire mountain. We dressed in long underwear, parkas, some in hiking boots, some with running shoes. We lugged back packs with dry socks, water, and snacks. The wind whipped, nose-biting cold. The trail wound rough, tough, brutal, you might say. Yet winter wonderland shone its beauty with sparkling trees and babbling brooks. Author and activist Glennon Doyle coined the word Brutiful for this life, brutal and beautiful. The mountain hike, too, was Brutiful. Half way up, one of the six-year-olds stopped, stomped her boots and said, “This is hard!”
Her mom knelt beside her, smiled, hugged her and echoed more of Glennon Doyle’s words, “This is hard. But remember? You can do hard things.” The young one beamed, offered her gloved hand to her mom, and said, “I remember.” Up they climbed.
Later I walked down with one of the forty-ish women. A thirty-ish couple, hustling up, stopped and stared at me, my face mostly hidden, hat pulled down to my eyes, dark glasses and a neon orange neck-up to my nose, only frosty rosy cheeks showing. The man asked, “how many revolutions of the sun have you been on this planet?”
As they trudged past, I asked my friend, “Do I look that old?”
She chuckled, “Not many people your age can do this hike.”
One more thing. At the end, in the parking lot, a young boy, maybe five years old, having just completed the hike, was jumping, twirling, singing, and flailing his arms, embodying “joy to the world.” His mother said, “Shh. Keep your voice down.” He said, “Mom, it’s hard to keep your voice down when you’re so excited.”
So, if holidays get you down, try getting out of the house, then pay attention to what happens. That day, I was gifted with at least three truths. Kids can do hard things. Seventy-two-year-olds can also do hard things. It really IS hard to keep our voices down when we are so excited.
If winter Seasonal Depression has you frozen, connect with support. If it’s cabin fever, connect with nature and friends. Connect then notice what’s brutiful.