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.