This time of year has always depressed me. I hate the cold. I hate the dark. I know, I know... I was born and raised in Ohio. I'm supposed to be "used to it". But, my body just wasn't built for this weather. I'm cold all the time. And it seems inevitably this time of year I get a cold that just lingers and lingers. My favorite part of the day is the warmth of the shower or crawling under the covers at night. The time from about the end of October to the Winter Solstice (in just a few days) feels like a descent into darkness literally and figuratively. Every year I have to fight it.
As I've been practicing Buddhism, the last couple of winters have been a lot more bearable. Buddhism has helped me deal with the depression through mindfulness, gratitude practice and living in the moment. Unfortunately, my sitting practice has fallen completely by the wayside right now as I just seems I don't have enough hours in the day to get everything in. But, I do have the residuals of that practice lingering and one thing I've observed this time around is that while my body feels just absolutely blah, my mind is still OK. There's a battle going on between the real "me" and what my body is telling me. It's a really fascinating distinction for me to realize the S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) is not in my head, it's really in my body. I told a friend the other day that I am solar powered and I am. I could definitely be a sun worshiper. This time of year, on those rare days when the sun comes streaming through the windows on the back of the house, I'll lie on the floor and just soak it up. I can literally feel my energy level go up when I'm out in the sun. I can feel it drop when the sun goes into hiding for days on end. I know this is a physical thing because I have nothing to be depressed about. I have a wonderful life and family. The business is going well. We all have our health. We've had great times with friends at parties. The blah I feel is most definitely coming from my body.
I always struggle with this time of year because part of my practice is also to practice living in the present and gratitude. The temptation is to dream about living somewhere else or to think how Spring will be here soon. Neither "escape" is productive. I'm also tempted to moan about the weather (which is what you would expect in Ohio). I don't want to spend my days wishing for Spring, especially since such a large chunk of my life (until I move) is spent in these dark days of an Ohio winter. I have to learn to deal with these days and embrace them just as much as I would a sunny summer day. That is the goal. To (mentally) treat each day the same, whether sunny and warm or blustery and gray. But, part of that for me, is to accept the fact that my body just doesn't feel the same on December 16th as it does on August 16th.
I bought a light from Costco a couple of years ago. It really worked for me. I did not get it out last year and made it through OK. But, it's sitting here in my credenza and I might pull it out soon. The light is a Philips GoLite. I just bought the little desktop model. It works on a timer and produces the blue light waves that us summer people crave during the winter.
This year was the first time I've heard of a "blue Christmas" ceremony- a church service that acknowledges this time of year is not all "peace and joy". I've always heard that many people are depressed around the holidays. But, usually I've heard the cause attributed to the loss of loved ones and it being a time to reflect or to unrealistic expectations of what the holidays are supposed to bring. For some of us, it's actually a physical thing where our bodies seems to want to go into hibernation. Dealing with that can actually be a part of our practice. So, that's what I'm working on this cycle around the sun.