Winter. My lifelong nemesis.
Dramatic, yes, but for as long as I can remember I have despised winter. It isn’t simply my least favourite season, it’s approach fills me with dread while I’m trying to enjoy autumn, it’s first dewy signs inspire gloom in my heart, and every day it lasts I spend daydreaming about living someplace where it’s icy grip cannot reach. I could go on, but you get the picture.
This year is different though.
Sometime toward the end of September 2016 I made the pledge to love winter; a conscious decision to embrace the season that has darkened every year of my life to date. And when I say love winter, I mean adore, relish, delight, lust, become so weak with fondness that I will arrive in spring with longing for the season left behind.
So far, so good. But we have been fortunate to have an extended autumn this year, so I’m not going to blow my trumpet at my success since it may well be short lived.
I realise I have set the bar unrealistically high. Some would suggest simply learning to appreciate the little things about winter, or to plan things, social things, to look forward to. No doubt, that method has and continues to work for many individuals. I have tried some of those suggestions in the past and found that I do get little bursts of joy interspersing the long periods of the blues. But last year I had the longest and most serious bout of depression I have ever experienced.
It began in the middle of summer 2015 and I can say I only feel like I started to recover around the beginning of August this year. I was in a dark, lonely, scary place that I have no intention of returning to. I still struggle some days with the thoughts that led to the feelings that sunk me into that darkness, but I have strengthened my mind so that I can dismiss the thoughts sooner, before they start to do real damage. This year, as a result of overcoming depression, I realised just how powerful our thoughts and imagination are when it comes to the reality we experience.
With that in mind, I am confident that telling myself and the people around me that I love winter is the first and most important step to making that a reality. I am also employing a few strategies to make sure I see that through. These include:
- A change of vocab. Some people may argue that this is ridiculous and they could be right but I genuinely think that coming up with new adjectives to describe cloudy wintery days other than “dreary, grey, dim, gloomy, miserable” makes a significant difference to my perspective. Much to the annoyance of the people around me, I have been labelling cold days as ‘crisp’ and dark greys as ‘atmospheric’. It seems naive, but I have personally found that I am looking at the days in those ways, I actually find grey days pretty cool now, and if it’s foggy even better. It helps that the clear light on overcast days is optimal for painting.
- Do nice things for others. Dropping in to see friends and relatives, particularly ones who can’t get out the house because they’re old or poorly, taking them a treat or some flowers, these are all things that warm me up from the inside. (Queue the retching noises and mocking laughter). It’s true though, when I’m thinking about how I can help other people it takes the focus off me and my problems.
- Hand cream, face cream and lip balm. Sounds superficial but the discomfort of chapped lips and scaly hands that are too far gone to heal properly is a major source of resentment for me when it comes to winter. Wearing gloves when house cleaning and washing up helps with this too.
- Wrapping up like the Michelin man. Who cares if I look like I’m two sizes bigger? If I’m cold, it’s hard to keep up my morale. I get grumpy and I complain. I know this and rather than stop myself from complaining (which is just not gonna happen) I need to do what is necessary to prevent me from getting cold so the complaining never starts.
- Hygge. Pronounced something like “who-grrr”. This is a Danish term I learned when I listened to the audiobook A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. It can be defined as “Hygge is as Danish as pork roast and it goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge.” So this to me means a cosy house, hot drinks, blankets, movie nights, curries, chillies, and all other warming, comforting, snuggly things that come to mind.
- Looking after my appearance. I’ve been surprised by how much more confident in myself I feel when I like the way my clothes look put together, my hair is relatively presentable, and my blemishes are covered up with a bit of concealer. Even if I don’t look at myself for the rest of the day, somehow it puts me in a better frame of mind from the start of the day.
- Getting active. I’m not talking about the gym or a workout video as punishment for all the stollen and pastries I’m undoubtedly going to indulge in. I just mean going for brisk walks and bike rides just because it feels good and gets me out in nature. Sometimes I may get a workout in but it’s just important to get out of the house and face winter like a boss. To look it in the eye and say, “I’m not afraid of you, I’m not going to cower at home because you’re too cold. These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what I’ll do.”
- A daylight bulb. I don’t know if these actually do anything as far as curing SAD. They apparently do. But the reason I have one is so I can paint and draw and all that good stuff even though it gets dark early. I love art and in previous years I’ve been put off doing any in my free time because it’s been in the evening when it’s dark and all our bulbs emit that orangey yellow light which I think is cosy to curl up and watch Netflix in but not so much to draw in, and definitely not to paint in because you can’t see the colours properly. So my daylight bulb has totally livened up my evenings.
- Not overindulging. I have often turned to comfort eating in previous years to alleviate my blues but I end up feeling bloated, lethargic and overweight so it is counterproductive. I am trying to have a little bit of what I fancy but to continue to listen to my body by not overdoing it.
Those are the things that are helping me love winter. I’ll let you know if it has worked around Spring next year. In the meantime, tell me, do you hate winter? Or have you always loved it and don’t know what I’m talking about? Please share your thoughts below, especially any tips for making winter enjoyable. I need all the help I can get!