I’m not going to lie; this is a difficult time of year for me. Life this far above the equator feels like death. I thrive on sunshine, and wither in the cold. My nose drips, and because of the dry, forced-air heat, when I blow it, it bleeds. My eyes drip and my skin chaps. My fingertips snag on fabric, especially silk and micro-fiber. The day goes dark before dinner, and I find myself staring at a cold screen, hoping to find something worth clicking on. I wear wrist warmers at my desk, and to bed. I’m in hibernation mode.
It helps that Bob dislikes winter as much as I do, and that he loves me unreservedly even when I’m stuck in the shadows. It helps that I have a job which forces me outside, and that my desk faces south. It helps that I have walking buddies. Shelley and I share our best and worst stories every week over a long walk. Lately, we’ve been shaking off holiday stress by bursting into song with: “It’s the most wonderful time, of the year!” It makes us laugh, and clears our lungs. Of course, we’re kidding.
To make things worse, there’s pressure to make the holiday season bright. And while I love the holiday lights, I find myself attracted to the blue bulbs. There are ample opportunities for making merry, but I’m not in the mood. I end up hugging the food table and stuffing myself with sweets. I keep my car radio tuned to holiday tunes, but the phrase that sticks in my head is Elvis’s “I’ll have a blue Christmas…”
Every winter is harder on my Mom and Dad, hanging in there at eighty-five and ninety-one. I’m concerned that one or both might not make it through another winter, and wish I could make things easier for my brothers who are taking an active part in their care. I regret that my childhood memories aren’t sunnier, even though I know very few people can say their images of Christmases past match the Normal Rockwell archetypes.
And so I’ve developed strategies for coping. Here are five of my favorites:
Go for a walk outside, preferably with a friend
Take a long, hot shower
Sit down and write about the challenges of the holiday season
Put on some music and sing along
Bake some cookies and give them away
Last week, I surprised my neighbor, Noah, on his twelfth birthday by bringing a plate of chocolate chip cookies to him at school. On Sunday, Judy and I went for a walk, and decided to go off-trail. When we reached Stinking Creek, we immersed ourselves in the business of dragging logs to make a crossing. “I feel like I’m 9 years old,” she laughed, and I agreed. I’m sixty-three, and Judy is ten years older.
In addition to my favorite tricks, I’m drinking a lot of water, getting plenty of sleep, and enjoying my friends one at a time. I am not forcing myself to be sociable, or indulging my afternoon cravings for caffeine. In this way, I walk the line between withdrawal and engagement. I assure myself the days are already getting longer – a whole two seconds longer today, the first day after winter solstice. And I know from experience, that I’ll make it back into the light.