Winter blues. They’re real. As a mental health counselor, I know how to diagnose depression. I know signs, symptoms and risk factors. I help others move through heaviness and help that heaviness move through and out of them.
And me? I’ve never been described as “down.” But lately I awake at 5 a.m. with no drive, no oomph. Why get out of bed? No reason. “Oh, it’s like this today,” I think.
I check my self-talk. “Everyone’s having fun. Not me. I have no life. Just a void.”
My wiser self taps me on the shoulder, “Psst. Did you forget that we don’t need to believe our thoughts? Are these statements true? No life? Really?”
My friends, family, students and teachers chorus, “Not true. Look at all you’ve done, all you do. Note your vibrant health. There is no void.”
Friendless, isolated and lonely; that’s the story I tell myself. Truth: my life is, by all measures, full. But I’m trapped by my story so I sit in my funk. The next thought pops, “No one loves me.”
Again, false. Yet the mind is shameless, has a mind of its own. I hear Chicken Little, “The sky is falling.”
I have indeed forgotten that we shouldn’t always buy the mind’s banter. I know this gloom is not true depression. Yet in a bold attempt to fix it anyway, I choose chocolate for breakfast. My energy jumps, then tanks.
To chat, to connect, I call a friend who suggests, “Have you tried acceptance? Or kindness?”
“Acceptance? OK,” I say and hum, “Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.”
Friend? Yes, because just like me, everyone has moments of darkness: slogging through mud is a shared human experience. Darkness is a friend if it teaches us that we are not alone, and moves us to reach out.
I soften. The murky fog lifts some. To try kindness, I listen for the heart-centered voice, which whispers, “This is tough. Be gentle.” Darkness can friend us with self-compassion.
In darkness there can be wisdom. Here’s Piglet in Winnie the Pooh, “There are two things that you need to know, Pooh. The first thing is that even those… people, who seem to have got everything in life all sorted out… they probably haven’t. Actually, everyone has days when they feel Not Very Okay At All. Some people are just better at hiding it than others. And the second thing you need to know… is that it’s okay to feel Not Very Okay At All. It can be quite normal…”
And, here’s Mary Oliver in her poem, The Uses of Sorrow:
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
A gift? Yes, of being human. Mostly our moods pass like clouds, shift like the wind. To encourage the gift of “this too shall pass,” we might listen to author and educator Parker Palmer, “One begins the slow walk back to health by choosing each day things that enliven one’s selfhood and resisting things that do not.”
I take in this quote and take my darkness outside. There, light sparkles and shines. Birds sing. At sunrise, colors prance in the sky. Trees sway in the breeze. Ocean waves frolic. Nature plays a symphony of reasons to re-enter the world. With time, patience and self-care, we come to see the truth in poet Gregory Orr’s words, “If we’re not supposed to dance, why all this music?”