The Winter Blues, the January Blahs, whatever you choose to call it, many of us are less than enthused about this particular season, and I am one of them. I grew up in New York, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been unhappy with winter. I can vividly remember being confused and horrified as a child when it got dark earlier in the day. A memory that sticks out is me watching Scooby Doo and thinking that they had changed the time when it came on, because I usually watched it after school, but it was pitch black outside.
Also, winter cancelled my seventh birthday.
My birthday is January 24, and my severely bipolar mother put together a huge party for my seventh birthday during a period of mania, so she went all out. She spent money that was allocated for bills to hire a clown and bought too much food and excessive decorations and then no one came because of the weather.
Of course there could have been any number of reasons why people didn’t come, but they all blamed the weather, and there was a significant snowfall in progress. And since my mother was in high mania and doing everything in excess, she had invited everyone, so it’s not like only a handful of people were snowlogged. Adults, children, classmates, church folks: No one came.
Well, one person: DeeDee the clown, presumably taking on the mantra of the U.S. Postal Service in pursuit of her check.
I sat solemnly looking out the window at the dark sky and the falling snow while the clown played with my infant brother and my mother preened about eating cake in a new dress. And I hated winter.
In subsequent years, I was fortunate enough to spend time visiting St. Vincent, the West Indian island that my father is from. The tropical climate feels like home to me, and to this day, just the sight of palm trees calms me down. Being near the water in consistently warm weather feels like my desired default setting, and yet…life happens.
I’ve moved back and forth between New York and L.A. many times now, generally because I tend to book work in NY, but I go running back to my beloved palm trees whenever I can. I moved back to NY from L.A. a few months ago, and the reason why I came back fell through, so here I am begrudgingly in the thick of a New York winter. Here’s how I’m fighting the blues:
1. I start the fight by not fighting. I HATE WINTER and I’ve accepted that about myself. It takes extra effort to get out of the house and do anything, my body is freaking out, (five doctor’s visits in two months for the coughing, sneezing, and wheezing — I’ve never been this sickly in my life), and I’m either cold and losing feeling in my extremities or sweating from wearing a bunch of layers and a coat and getting on and off of a bus or a train to get around.
My winter blahs go a little deeper than that, though. I realized recently that I really don’t like how much weather changes things. It’s weird because I wouldn’t say I’m a person who resists change overall, but I feel freer to explore, to have adventures, to fully live when there’s more stability in my surroundings. I recently walked a NY block that I’ve walked many times over many years, and I actually felt anxiety at how different it looked covered in snow under a dark sunless January morning sky, as opposed to the last time I had been there, during summer.
If I can count on my immediate environment to exist within smaller parameters of change, I feel like there’s no limit to what I can do personally. But when I have no idea what I’ll find when I look out the window or step outside, I find myself with fear even before my day has begun, over something that is decidedly out of my control. Which is why…
2. I check the forecasts and stay informed. Hi technology, I’d like to thank you for my smartphone and my Weather Channel app, which I use daily. It wouldn’t be the best course of action to try to alleviate my weather anxiety by obsessing over the weather, but rather I take frequent looks to have a better idea of what to expect, and the app lets me know in great detail and 15-minute intervals.
It also tells me the exact times of sunrise and sunset, which is somehow comforting. I love sunshine and want as much of it as possible, but today I won’t have that Scooby Doo shock when the sun sets at 4:51 p.m.
3. I stay in more. This is a weird one because it doesn’t necessarily sound like a great thing, but it’s a conscious effort on my part, new this season, and it’s helping. I’m generally a get-up-and-get-out kind of person: I work as a performer and freelance writer and when I’m not working on a highly structured project, I have to create the structure myself. I know this can be difficult for many, but it is an area in which I’ve done okay, usually because I like to get right out and do…something.
So of course I get annoyed when Big Bad Weather gets in the way. I want to throw on my sneakers and go right to the gym, and there have been days recently when the actual news is saying things like “Don’t go outside unless you have to.”
I’m not flaunting some sort of an extreme “can-do” attitude, though, because the fact is that I’ve done myself more harm than good at times by insisting that I can overcome the weather/extended darkness no matter what. First of all, that’s probably a part of why I’ve been so sick this season, and my inability to “take it easy” is really nothing to be proud of.
If I bundle up and insist upon going out in terrible weather just so that I can feel that the weather can’t stop me, chances are I’ll be grumpy as all hell anyway, and I need to remember that I’m far from invincible. One significant slip on some ice recently helped drive that point home.
Lately, I’ve made peace with staying in. I’ve given myself permission to get caught up on Netflix (shout-out to technology again!), and feel alright about that. I’ve been lucky enough to have a fantastic gentleman caller in my life who’s a New Yorker to the bone and gets that snow happens, and he’s taught me the joys of chilling on the couch on a Saturday and watching TV. I make us soup. And I am happy. Oh, speaking of soup…
4. I’m eating more. This winter feels like a milestone in my battle against excessive dieting and negative body image. Every winter, there are societal warnings about gaining too much weight, and even though I am able to form my own opinions without the aid of television commercials, that media megaphone can be extremely loud.
When I’ve spent winters in L.A., I’ve felt at least a bit less at “risk” (LOL), because the science behind the biological imperative to gain weight when the temperature drops isn’t a factor. Mind you, I’m not sure I fully trust the science behind that to begin with; I think I just clung to it as a comfort while in L.A. and a diet motivator (through fear) when in NY.
Eff that noise. Between the holiday meals and the Sunday soups or stick-to-your-ribs chili I made last weekend, I’m eating. I wouldn’t say I’m overindulging, and I keep it healthy by choice, but what I put in my mouth and what I do at the gym is far more about health than my dress size these days, and I think this winter is helping that.
I’m cold. Soup is warming. What’s outside makes me grumpy, but I can make joy in the kitchen. Again, I’m not losing myself in buckets of comfort food — I even did a juice cleanse last week, but that certainly wasn’t about losing weight, and I’m back to eating regularly.
Eating regularly is a revolutionary act for many of us, and I’m so thankful to be in this place with it. And speaking of which…
5. I practice gratitude and give back. Eating regularly is also a privilege, and it doesn’t escape me that my whining about the weather when I get to sleep indoors in a warm bed is kind of gross. I never feel as privileged as when I’m genuinely saddened that precipitation is preventing me from wearing an especially high pair of high heels. C’mon, Pia.
We know that “there are people worse off than you” is not an acceptable response to depression, but I am someone who believes in giving to those less fortunate all year round in any climate anyway, and the struggle for those in need is amplified during a cold-climate winter.
Rather than sitting around pouting and feeling bad about feeling bad, I’ve donated sweaters and excess coats and returned to volunteering at one of the drop-in homeless shelters I used to frequent as a server. It never feels like enough, but I urge you to look up volunteer opportunities in your area. You don’t have to be rich to have something to give.
I also try to appreciate the perspective of people who enjoy winter. Children who make snow angels and people who would choose a ski destination for a vacation over a beach one fascinate me, and I shamelessly try to steal their mojo. There are places far colder than where I am now, where winter is a way of life, and I may never share that perspective, but I’d like to appreciate it.
As I said earlier, many of my moves back to L.A. have been about running away and seeking solace as opposed to creating a life that doesn’t require so much escape in the first place, regardless of where I live and what the temperature is (t)here. I don’t want to run away again right now. Palm trees make me smile, but so does accepting that I may have to wear my “ugly” snow boots but how lucky am I to even have them, and hey, my toes are actually warm and I could get from point A to point B in relative comfort and maybe life isn’t all about which stilettos I’m wearing.
I could not have foreseen the circumstances that have come to pass, but I’m here and life is happening, snow boots and all. I have good people in my life, and I’m working on being the best person I can be to them.
Many people in this climate feel that it makes them tough, and then spring comes along as a joyous reward. Some of us can feel so beaten down by winter that it’s just preferable to live in a place where every day isn’t a fight. And sometimes we’re living in a place we didn’t choose and can’t immediately change, but life won’t wait for the clocks to spring forward.
As of right now, I’ve got exactly three hours of daylight left for today. I’m off to make the most of it.