I am not much for winter. It’s never particularly been my thing. And I don’t really keep that a secret either.
I grew up in northern Wisconsin, and while winter was quite obviously a thing there (for nearly a full nine months out of the year), it still was not my thing. Sure, I bundled up and went outside and did winter things, but that was mostly because you had to in order to stay sane. There’s only so much TV you can watch. (And that is not even a joke about mental health, because it’s a real thing up there in the tundra. Which, for the record, was 3.5 hours farther north of Green Bay, where “The Frozen Tundra” is located.) I ice fished. I snowmobiled. I dabbled in skating and building forts. I did it, but I can’t remember liking it. When you’re young and still living with family, and trying to fit in with people at school, you do a lot of things you don’t actually like.
I moved to lower Michigan for college and my feelings didn’t change. Michigan State is a huge campus, and they don’t cancel classes just because it happens to snow two feet. Ever ridden your bike two miles in that shit? Not fun. Again, did it. Can’t remember liking it. But at least no one was really forcing me to leave the relative warmth of my apartment all that often for “fun” winter sports.
And I’ll always remember trudging the nine frigid and slushy blocks from Union Station to my office building in Chicago. One of a million other young professionals making it through till that glorious summer arrived. Did it. Can’t remember liking it. (Badge of honor though.)
Moving down to St. Louis, I basically took all that experience with real winter and got super aggravated about how everyone reacts and forgets how to drive come November. I can remember being pleasantly surprised and happy with the mild-ish winters, but still not especially fond of them. It’s gray, so, so very gray, here, and that’s tough in its own way. Again, wears on your mental health over time. And the absence of snow provided a new reason to dislike winter. It might be a little warmer, but not always, and if you don’t even have that option for recreation, what’s the point? It’s too cold to do anything outside, and my damn house is freezing too. Thus, a winter spent living with dry hands and a grumpy disposition. Did it. Can’t remember liking it.
I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. Always arguing with those people who just looooovvveeee winter, who I totally cannot relate to. Honestly, same goes for fall. Everything is dying. And then it’s dead for months. How could this possibly be your favorite thing?!?
It’s been a really weird year and a half.
Looking back, it’s also been really hard. It’s basically been all winter, metaphorically. It definitely felt like a lot of dying. More darkness than I felt willing to admit, until now. And where I was at mentally and emotionally didn’t correspond to nature’s seasons whatsoever. It made last fall and winter especially difficult. Thankfully, those dark seasons don’t last forever, and I’ve been making my way out steadily, feeling a lot more like myself.
On the other side of a winter, of darkness, is new growth, no matter the time of year.
So, when fall came around this year, I found myself in a completely foreign state of being. Asking myself, could this be something enjoyable? Were all those people onto something after all?
We got a bigtime cold snap this week, earliest inch-plus of snow on record for STL. For the last thirty-odd years, that would mean instant grumbling. Straight up pissed off, complaining about it to anyone around me, whether they wanted to listen to it or not. This year, I felt completely accepting. I got up, got out of the house, went to work, went to the gym. Even stood outside in the snow and took some cute selfies with snowflakes on my eyelashes. Honestly, I’m writing this, reflecting, and still surprising myself.
Do I like winter now?
Like might still be a strong word. However, I have a much deeper appreciation for winter and all it affords us. After what amounted to two years of perpetual winter, I understand it better, and I’m feeling much readier to embrace it and the gifts it brings.
Of course, there’s something very real to being physically uncomfortable and wanting to avoid that as best we can. There’s a reason why so many people live in southern California. But I can’t help but see with a whole lot more self-awareness that a part of my dislike for winter had nothing to do with that. I have lots of warm gear, after all. It was more about avoiding other forms of discomfort.
Fear. Loss of control. Failure.
All big struggles. All struggles that seem even bigger in the winter and the dark – be it metaphorical or environmental. All things we’re able to shine a light on, if we’re willing to put batteries in the flashlight we happen to be holding. But sometimes, it just feels so much easier to stumble around instead.
I’ve never considered myself one of those people who has to be in control of everything. And in a lot of ways, I’m not. I go with the flow the majority of the time. But wow, was I completely missing how much I was clutching for control of the dark. And it amounted to so much more conflict than was strictly necessary, for pretty much my whole life. It finally became overwhelming.
I started to wade through my darkness, and along the way, I read a lovely little book that shed a lot of light on seasons. I took the most from fall and winter, of course. Notably, this:
“When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can only be one result: artificial light that is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows even more terrifying as we try to hold it off. Split off from each other, neither darkness nor light is fit for human habitation. But if we allow the paradox of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing.”
“Our inward winters take many forms – failure, betrayal, depression, death. But every one of them, in my experience yields to the same advice: ‘The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.’ Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives. But when we walk directly into them – protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship or inner discipline or spiritual guidance – we can learn what they have to teach us. Then we discover once again that the cycle of the seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all.”
I fought the paradox for a long time, and I didn’t let myself get out into the winter. Guess what happened? The darkness grew, even in the seasons of light. It grew bigger than I could handle, and I was forced to walk out into it. To trust it. To trust that there was something in it.
Slowly, I realized I had to embrace the darkness, but that I could use my flashlight too. I didn’t have to stumble around, or stay hunkered down, inside, cold, in one place. I could explore, and know that eventually, the natural light would come back around and I would feel whole and healthy.
Eventually, the natural light comes back around and we feel whole and healthy.
Winter is something we’ll always have to do. (Yes, even you out there in Southern California.) Darkness is something we’ll always to go through too – we’re human beings, after all. We don’t really have a choice in it.
But the liking part – that can bring around a little bit more opportunity and flexibility to choose.
This winter, the timing of the light coming back is beautiful, and I’m choosing to like.
I’m going to like how the air feels on my skin and the sound of the ice crunching under my boots. How cozy the cat is at the foot of our bed while we sleep. How cute my sweaters are. How welcoming my office and community are, and how incredible and supportive my husband and friends are.
I’m going to like the process and the lessons and the hibernation. How good it feels to grow. How embracing change leads me closer to the life I want to live. How walking with my fears and failures will help others do the same.
For the first time in my life, I’m going to do winter, and I’m going to remember liking it. Maybe it’ll become my thing after all.
OK, maybe not. But I know I’ll take what the darkness has taught with me forever. Because here’s the thing – we can’t avoid seasons, in weather or in life. There’s no such thing as forever summer. There’s a place for the darkness and the quiet.
From death comes life.
No matter what physical or mental or emotional season you happen to be in right now, I hope you’ll stay open to receiving its gifts.
I hope you’ll get out into it.
If your darkness is more than overwhelming, like it was for me, consider reaching out. There are anonymous resources out there, free ones, emergency ones, local, online…regular therapy has changed so much for me, and a whole lot of other people I know too. And if you’re ready to start shining a light toward your new season, email me anytime, or schedule a call to talk about it below.