I wrote this a few years ago when I was still living in the American Northeast. I hope it can help all those in the midst of these winter storms.
I’m a tropical girl. My heart sings when it hits the mid-90’s, bathing me in blinding sunshine and swelteringly humidity. But for the foreseeable future, I’m living in New York City which momentarily mutates into the Arctic tundra each winter. I don’t have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but my stomach winds into impenetrable knots when the September forecast begins predicting temperatures below 80° F. Because anything below 80°F is unacceptably cold to me. Once it drops past 50° F, I start crying every time I step outside. I grew up in New Jersey so there’s no reasonable excuse for my expending exhausting amounts of emotional energy trying to deny winter’s existence.
This year, I desperately searched for jobs in warmer climates and nothing worked out. Dishearteningly frustrated as a dozen opportunities to relocate slipped through my fingers, I heard a little voice inside me ask, “What makes you think you’ll find happiness in a new thing, when happiness comes from within you?” The reality check stung my audacious ego that emphatically maintained I wasn’t pulling a geographic. So instead of trying to leave, I chose to meet the spiritual challenge head-on and instead focused on finding ways to make my environment enjoyable year-round. I believe everything that happens in life is intentional, so I started to see my current living situation as a call to help me achieve maximal soul growth. Turning to meditation, I acrimoniously attempted acceptance; while I can’t always alter my circumstances, I can shift my thoughts about them and the how I choose to experience them. Move a muscle, change a thought, my sponsor used to say. Invariably, my feelings about those circumstances then change. And so commenced my journey to make my living situation bearable.
I sought to match my outsides to what I wanted to feel inside. Small ways that I could tweak my environment to reflect my spirit’s essence crystallized during meditation. I invested in home décor, visually transforming the interior of my compact urban 1-bedroom apartment into a beach bungalow. I littered my living room with candles, cozy pillows, and blankets in delicious hues of beige and Caribbean turquoise, giant seashells and rustic wooden beach signs sprinkled throughout. This year, I’m repainting all my shelves and cabinets white to manifest more of that warmth. I made my home my sanctuary: an infallible constant amidst even the most bitter of winter storms.
When I finally conceded to owning adequate winter outerwear, I bought things in beach-vibe beiges and whites, matching my tan bag to which I affixed a beautiful starfish. My new cell phone case is turquoise; my screen savers and office bulletin boards all boast breathtaking vistas of tropical shores with seashells and dried white flowers peppering my desktop. I updated my Instagram account so that I only follow users who post photography of beaches, surfing, and Hawaiian hiking trails. If I need reprieve from rampant miserable winter dirges innocently posing as Facebook statuses, I can retreat to my social media safe haven of Instagram. They all serve as sweet reminders that what I love isn’t so far away. I feel connected to that energy since I imbue every aspect of my life with it. The takeaway? Winter doesn’t feel so oppressive. Visuals of the sand, the summer, and the sun breathe life and sea-kissed warmth into the dark gray winter days.
At the same time, I chose to focus on things I do love about the winter instead of magnifying my anger toward its significantly less-favorable qualities. I love the quiet. I love how the City rests. I love the charm of a fresh snow and how sweetly it enchants my neighborhood. I love the empty City streets blanketed in a pristine powder. I love transit delays because it demands that I relinquish my neurotic control of a fast-paced time-crunched commute and simply be. I love steamed matcha green tea lattes cozily warming my body as I sip them on chilly days. I love nimbly careening down sledding hills and flying off snow-built ramps with my trick snowboard. Yes, I found a winter hobby!
But how to battle the outdoors when forced to face them? I opt for longer public transit routes to avoid standing outside for too long, and change my travel times so I can snag a seat and rest. I’m naturally petite and have hypothyroidism with a family history of Raynaud’s, so my body is unusually sensitive to cooler temperatures. I hibernate at home for the entire weekend if I can’t deal with the cold, and I let that stand as a valid reason instead of scolding myself for “isolating.” If I need to connect to my sobriety network, it’s easy to talk by phone. I also treat myself more often to things I love to keep my spirits high, like seeing ballets or concerts. And I really pat my inner child on the back for surviving the excruciating 10-minute trek to the subway, often indulging in a mouthwatering mega-slice of Lady M Mille Crêpe cake as a reward.
Winter passes quickly and painlessly when I keep busy, and staying inside helps me forget about the depressing weather. Heeding a wise friend’s sound advice, I started investing the majority of my spare time in indoor hobbies. Last year, I focused on healing my chronic illness, which required dozens of doctor’s appointments, substantial rest, and countless hours perfecting a medical meal plan. I happily bypassed the drama of a snowstorm while I spent two weeks at home recovering from wisdom teeth surgery. I researched potential graduate school programs and conducted informational interviews with academic advisers. This year, I’m finishing prerequisite classes and studying for the GRE’s. I definitely don’t want to be doing any of that when it’s perfect beach weather! Plus, I won’t feel guilty for procrastinating when summer rolls around because that seemingly insurmountable chunk of my To Do list will be done.
So, winter’s not so bad. I make it comfortable by finding my energy and flowing with it. I consciously decide, every day, whether or not I want the day to be enjoyable. I can harness happiness where I am, in this place and in this moment, no matter how treacherously the Nor-Easter outside may be blistering. At the end of the day, spring will always be around the corner. As a dear friend shared, “Nothing in nature blooms year round.” At this time in my life, I need a season that barricades me indoors. There’s no coincidence that my career led me to a location with a cold season while I have much to accomplish for my educational, physical, and spiritual growth. It also doesn’t hurt that I get to visit my friend on a tropical island in a few weeks.
Disclaimer: Charlotte Grey does not claim any professional training in social work or psychiatry. The suggestions listed on this page and on this website are meant to inspire supplemental treatment options for self-help. It is recommended that professional treatment be combined with any solutions discussed herein for suspected or known psychological or psychiatric malady, and that the content of this website not be used as substitute for professional treatment.
writing © Charlotte Grey Writings
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