How To Survive The Winter

I am writing 100 How-To essays. It is a big project. Here is why I am doing it. This is essay 11 of 100.

SAYNO.jpg

I feel a little guilty telling you this, but I’m having the best winter of my life. I know this for a fact because I’ve been mood-tracking since I was basically a baby. And don’t get me wrong: January is a waking nightmare. 

You enter January — as you enter every month — with hopes and dreams about how things are going to improve; how you are going to work harder and be better. This is maybe even a little truer in January than it is in the other months because, try as you might to resist the “resolution” Kool-Aid, it’s freaking everywhere. Maybe you secretly make a resolution for your life. You can picture the slightly smaller pair of jeans you will soon be able to buy.

And just then, January comes in and is all, “NAH. YOU CANNOT HAVE ANY OF THE THINGS YOU WANT. I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU DEPRESSED AND ANGRY AND I AM GOING TO MAKE ALL YOUR GOALS AND DREAMS IMPOSSIBLE. I HATE YOU, HUMAN PERSON, AND I AM GOING TO CRUSH YOU.” And, predictably, January crushes you. And then you kind of forget about it by the next year, and the whole pattern repeats itself.

This January, though, I remembered about last January. Lucky for me, I usually write exactly one blog post every January, and it is usually about how I did not think I was going to get depressed, but I had gotten depressed. I’ve left a hefty paper trail. So when January came for me this year, I did not fight it. I decided to hibernate.

It is a privileged thing, to be able to hibernate. Millions of people have to work more hours than their bodies can stand to simply to stay alive. I acknowledge that the degree to which everyone can hibernate changes based on one's job, or one's responsibility to a family. The question I would like to pose now to you is this: Is it possible for you to hibernate just a little bit?

I better define this word, because if you took Life Science in middle school, you are picturing a bear in a cave sleeping through the whole winter. There is a little more nuance to what I am recommending. I am recommending simply: saying no, not trying your hardest, abandoning your goals. Let your aspirations be nuts in the ground. You know where you buried them; you’ll find them later. I am recommending also: sleeping as much as you realistically can.

I have written at length about my intermittent insomnia, and my daily routine of rising at 4 a.m. I have held these truths about myself close to my person as proof that I am tough and maybe a little bit tortured, in a hot way. But in January, I am saying no to both of my sleep habits. No, I will not have insomnia. When the insomnia comes anyway, I lie in bed as still as I can and listen to my breath and tell myself over and over that if I can’t sleep then I am allowed to rest. When 4 a.m. comes, and my body thinks about waking up, I tell it to sleep a little longer. It is winter. There is nothing really all that good out there in the world. 

There is no way humans aren’t immensely impacted by the loss of light and all the cold that comes with winter. I almost feel angry that Seasonal Affective Disorder has been named, because I've literally never met anyone who didn't get anxious or sad in the winter. It should be normalized. Our jobs should recognize the winter as a time when less is going to be accomplished. I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of SAD; I’m suggesting that more people are affected by the winter than have been able to admit it.

When someone invites you out and you want to want to go, but you just don’t want to go, don’t go. If the someone judges you, or shames you, or tries to make you feel bad for staying home, tell them that you are hibernating. You will be ready to hang out in late February; maybe March. 

When there is something that you must do because it is your job to do that thing, ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t do your best. What if you did the bare minimum this time? If your job would not be endangered, and no one would get hurt, do the bare minimum.

I love resolutions and I am constantly thinking of ways in which I am not good enough, and ways that I might better myself. The ways seem really easy. All you have to do is make a painting every day! All you have to do is count your calories! All you have to do is ride your bike to work! Trust me on this: those things are all too hard right now. Allow yourself to rest. Let your goal be to survive. 

This year, I have slept in and skipped things. I’ve not returned calls. And from the bottom of my heart, friends, I have felt utterly fine for the entire month. I have not had major anxiety attacks; I have not cried for hours on a bathroom floor. There have been moments of joy— an impromptu family dinner this week with vegan chili and three kinds of La Croix sticks out in my mind; there have been moments of anguish — today, a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. work day, hasn’t been great. 

But here I am, taking my two-hour dinner break for myself in a comfortable empty room that overlooks the lake. I have my feet up on the windowsill and I just ate six fruit leathers. I felt like I wanted to do some writing, and so I am doing some writing. If I’d felt like I wanted to lie on my stomach by the radiator, I would have done that. 

Listen: The winter is HARD. Even if you’re a winter person, I’ll bet you’ve been feeling the pressure of it lately. As you walk through the world, know that everyone else is feeling the way you are; treat them kindly. When you find yourself giddily engaging in a little internal self-hate, remember that you’re feeling the effects of an unrelenting, non-discriminating season; treat yourself kindly.

And remember that the days are starting to stretch out. It’s 5 p.m. right now and the lake is still blue and not black. This is the inevitable progress of the year. When I am ready to stop hibernating, I will have so much more energy for all those goals and dreams and hopes I burrowed away. I’ll be grateful.