Let me begin with a confession: I like winter. I love snow and I like cold weather. A winter blizzard is a real treat for me. And I don’t just enjoy winter through the window while sitting in a comfortable chair in a warm living room while enjoying coffee or hot chocolate (or a cup of both combined). I do enjoy that but I also enjoy being outside in the storm. While I don’t really want to drive in the blizzard, I am not opposed to cross-country skiing or show shoeing in it. I even like shovelling snow, in moderation anyway. I am aware that many people I associate with on a regular basis, including the majority of people who form the congregations I have been called to pastor think I am a lot strange because of that but that is really their problem, not mine–I am very comfortable in my minority position.
But as much as I like winter, I am aware that behind the banter and joking that I do with the congregations, there is a deeper and more painful reality. Winter in Nova Scotia puts some serious and significant limitations on lives. There are the obvious ones: difficulty travelling, disruptions and closures because of storms, dangers coming from walking on ice and snow, the issue of cold and darkness caused by power failures and so on.
But there are also some significant psychological emotional issues that many people face. The restrictions often mean that people don’t get out all that much and that isolation creates havoc with our needs to be social. The lack of sunlight because of shorter days and increased cloud cover is depressing, causing things like Seasonal Affective Disorder and so on. Some people also develop a fear associated with winter and its difficulties, expressed in comments and questions like, “What if I get sick in a blizzard–how will I get help?”
A lot of the feelings and difficulties associated with winter get worse in January. We enter January tired from the Christmas rush and stress. January means the party is over and we have to get back to normal, although the normal is often negatively affected by the weather, or our perceptions of the weather. The post-Christmas let down coupled with the winter darkness and travel restrictions provide the perfect breeding ground for depression, anxiety, and interpersonal tensions.
Now, because I like winter, I am not as prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder–if I am going to get depressed, it won’t be because of snow. Lack of snow in January might do it but normally, my depression is tied to my perceptions of what is going on in my life. But because I know depression from personal experience, I have a lot of empathy for those who get down in winter.
While many believe an early spring is the best cure for the mid-winter blahs and a trip to somewhere warm and sunny is a good temporary fix, there are other ways to deal with the issues that many people struggle with at this time of the year–or six months from now south of the equator.
The first step, as with any issue, it to accept the fact that it is happening and it is happening to us. Often, we like to pretend that we are find. We aren’t fine, we don’t feel fine, everyone else can see we aren’t fine–but we still pretend. Denial might seem like an effective coping mechanism but in the end, it really only postpones the inevitable need to actually deal with whatever is going on.
So, we begin by accepting that we are depressed or tense or worried or angry or whatever we are feeling because of the mid-winter winteriness that surrounds us. We admit that we are fed up with snow (that statement sounds seriously messed up to me personally), with not being able to do what we want to do, with feeling on edge worrying about the weather–whatever is there, we get it out in the open first for ourselves and then for others.
This honesty is different from whining about the weather, something that is almost guaranteed to increase social isolation. This honesty is based on being willing to admit that we are not right and that there are things we can’t control that contribute to the not rightness. For some, this admission might itself be enough to start turning things around. Self-honesty is as much a tonic to the soul as cross-country skiing in a blizzard can be to me.
May the peace of God be with you.