February

I don’t know what to do with February.

When I lived in Boston, I realized how terribly seasonally affected I am. My first winter I slipped cleaning up after an ice storm, split open my knee, and spent the rest of the winter somewhat immobilized and terribly depressed. When Spring arrived I rejoiced in the mud season, the sunlight, and the new energy I felt.

My second winter I was again low, unmotivated, lost, and sad. I got food poisoning so badly I was in bed for almost a month, and never quite shook the malaise that settled during that month. That winter ended a relationship and left me more alone, cold, and detached. I don’t remember thawing emotionally until at least June that year.

My third winter I had recaptured some of myself. Following a work injury that ended a career, I had reinvested my life in theater. I walked to rehearsal one autumn evening as rain began to fall. In the streetlights, I mistook the rain for snow. And I panicked. Really panicked. Ran three streets until I found a pay phone, and called the airline by memory. “Get me home!” I shouted into the phone. “I have to go home before it snows!” I actually sobbed on the phone then, terrified I might have missed my window to get out, and would now be locked in Boston for the six month depression they call winter.

It took the agent’s confusion and detached professionalism to make me realize I must have a winter-related mood disorder.

So I sought a therapist who prescribed a light box. “Most people need at least 15 minutes a day of full spectrum light,” he told me. “You should start with two hours every morning, first thing. If that doesn’t work go to three hours.” So I woke extra early and read a book in front of my light box all winter.

Damned if the quicksand that sucked me down every waking minute didn’t disappear.

Who knew?

When I moved home to California I kept my lightbox close. Just in case. But our winters are different. It’s not cold until November, and it warms by February. We have a lot of sunlight all winter, and no snow. Overcast days rarely last half a week before we’re treated to bright, if unimpressively chilly sunshine. There are bright days every week and it’s rarely cold enough for down or wool.

So every year, just as I remember that maybe all the carbs and the grouchiness and the panics that make me resolve to go back to school, change careers, rekindle old relationships, and overhaul my house and life might be biochemical, winter’s gone.

And I deeply appreciate the plum blossoms and the paperwhites and the daffodils of early February. I do. I love the hot days that have us all chuckling that it’s rather rude to go from wool to short sleeves in a day, something we’re careful not to post to facebook or tweet or blog about, because how rude is it to note in February how powerful the sun feels on otherwise rough days. (Oops. Sorry Bahstin and Rhodeyeland. Hope you all have power and food and a warm place to shelter.)

But my body still knows  it’s supposed to be winter. It knows that we’re not out of danger yet. It knows March might be really dreary. It knows Mother Nature might snatch back all the Spring she has thus far blessed us with.

So I keep a cupboard full of caramel and crackers, the breakfast of SADS champions. I rush to plant the garden but hold back on tomatoes. I greet each sunny day tentatively. Just in case. Tomorrow might rain. Or snow. Or swallow me whole into a world where the sun goes down at 4pm and doesn’t rise until 8am and never actually feels warm and, and, and…

Breathe.

I think the masochist in me is a little glad it’s going to rain tomorrow. Because I really should get out the light box before it’s too late, one way or the other.

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34 thoughts on “February

  1. Imma need a full post with all the details about what you ate that gave you food poisoning for a week! Girl. That’s massive. Did you eat Ebola crackers? Ok. Love the post as always.

    • Ha!

      Still don’t know what caused it…it happened after a friend served us a gorgeous Thanksgiving meal. Nobody else got sick but damn was I out for the count. Something that made the people at my doctor’s office send official health department letters that said, “For heaven’s sake, if you’re a professional food server please don’t go to work.”

      I was not. But I couldn’t if I had tried.

    • I promise. There is something about knowing what I missed when I was gone that makes every single bloom a giddy little gift for me. I stop and show my kids every leaf and how they all grow differently. Spring is sob-inducingly beautiful precisely because it means no more depression.

      Or less.

      But aren’t you going to talk me out of the PhD?

  2. I love February, actually. February is the month in which my first son was born. February is the month in which we start to see the light hold on until almost dinner time. February is the month in which the snowdrops appear in the flower bed outside the door. February is the month in which the sun gets strong enough that you can be outside when it’s 28 degrees and it feels warm enough in the sun to only have on a sweater.

    Then March comes. I hate March. Cold rain and cold mud and winter holds on and on and on . . . If I could skip right from February to April, that would be great. Must work on that.

    • YES! February promises it’s all over, then March laughs cruelly in your face. Both my boys were born in March, so I don’t notice how awful the month can be, what with the balloons and the aching nostalgia.

      Now April, April is a month I can get behind as sole candidate for whole-year status.

  3. As a midwesterner, I grew up hating February as the most brutal of months. When I lived in CA, it was my favorite month because everything was so green and beautiful. It was cool enough for me to wear awesome jackets, but not so cold that I’d have to worry about freezing to death if my car broke down.

    Now that we’re back in the midwest, I’m back to loathing February. I cannot wait for it to be over.

    • Oh, Fie. I’m sorry. Hope it didn’t make you ache for the Bay Area too much. Does it help that the average rental for a one bedroom apartment in this February weather is $2,600 a month?

      Thought so. ;-)

      • Yeah. I bought a really cool 4 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom, 2400 square foot house for 157k. My mortgage, including insurance and taxes is 1046 a month. I’m pretty sure that this house would be well over a million bucks in the Bay Area. Not that I’m bragging. Most of the country is like this. It’s just super cool places that are so expensive to live. But damn, February makes me ache for the Bay Area, nonetheless.

        • I actually laughed out loud at that price. Jealousy and disbelief. A four bedroom in our town is easily 1.5 million. With a…what…$8000 a month mortgage?

          We pay a LOT for nice weather. And copious jobs. And art and theater and universities and…a LOT.

          And we miss you out here!

        • We never would have been able to buy a house in the bay area. That was a compelling reason to leave. My parents were poor when I was a kid, but they still were able to buy a house. Not in a good neighborhood, and it was only 800 square feet, with one tiny bathroom. But they were still able to buy a house with a yard bigger than the one at the nice house I lived in in San Mateo.

          I don’t know. There are trade-offs everywhere you go. I always felt like I could never keep up with the Joneses in the bay area. Here, I AM the Joneses. It’s really awkward and weird. I still feel like a poor person.

        • That feeling never goes away. We won’t be able to buy until I sell several novels, and even then it’ll be really small. But I will always identify with the John Hughes characters from the wrong side of the tracks.

          Wonder if my kids will feel poor growing up.

  4. oh my goodness, my life!! imagine all of that (before the glorious escape to california) and then, to add insult to injury, plop your birthday in the middle of the month. you would THINK that would help one survive the winter. maybe 1 out of 10 years it does. the other nine it just makes the misery hole even deeper!! i think i really need a lightbox, lol.

    • Oh, dear. I think the birthday in the middle of February would be impossibly cruel if you lived in weak-sun snow country. Yikes. February feels like a cackling dungeon keeper for those who desperately need sun.

      You should get a lightbox. No joke. It helps with everything—the sadness, the carbohydrate desperation, the giving up on life, the anger—without making you put anything in your body. Getting up a little early to get some sunbox also makes you more likely to get out in the morning for exercise, which helps, too.

      Happy birthday. Really and truly. Buy yourself a lightbox. Most insurances will help with the cost.

      Here’s to April! ;-)

  5. Two days ago I wore my first shorts & sandals of spring & today we’re back to heavy coats–but only for a day or two, I hear. Life in California–which is why I don’t live in Seattle–which I love! Or anywhere where winter actually lasts ALL winter. Keep your light box close, but the flowers are going to keep blooming anyway. :) Sacramento, CA

  6. I guess it would be cruel to mention the Florida weather. Winter means that you have to put a light jacket on and that only happens a half dozen times a year.

    I love the Bay Area weather! Although, now that I have acclimated to Florida sunshine, I would probably freeze to death in California.

    Hubby spent 50 years in upstate NY and at the slightest cold he gets that chilled to the bone feeling. We’re only allowed to visit in July and August. The only good thing that comes out of being in area that has awful weather…is some really great blues music.

  7. The first time I was in Argentina, I lived through three winters in a row (with a little fall/spring cushioning each side) because of the switch in hemispheres. The winter in Buenos Aires wasn’t terrible, but man, I was never so glad to see summertime after chasing it around the globe for a year and a half. This trip? We planned three summers in a row. I’m sweating but happy.

  8. I am so happy that you get to live in California and be surrounded by sunshine full time : ).
    I have a friend who tried a light box one year. I can’t remember if she said ti helped or not. It does seem like a good way to get some sunshine, right? Thank goodness Spring is on the way, right? I am so ready for it : ).

  9. Hey, just wanted to stop by and let you know that I have nominated you for a Leibster Award. Check out today’s post on my blog. I love your blog!

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