December fell over me like a heavy blanket. All at once it seemed, I felt the energy drain out of me. I worried I was slipping into depression, as I have in the past struggled against that gravitational pull, down into darkness, silence, deep introspection, isolation. I spent most of my adulthood watching for the signs that the dark was creeping in to grab hold again and drag me under. When I hear the first notes of that ghostly refrain I usually launch into my list of preventive action steps: I push myself to go running, to get out and socialize, to eat something nutritious even when I don’t feel hungry. I talked to my therapist: “I don’t know,” she said, “This doesn’t sound like depression to me. Could your body just be telling you that you need to slow down and rest?”
The next day I reread a text message I sent to a good friend: “I wish I could just curl up in my room for three days and see no one and do nothing. Then I could re-enter the world and be ok again and do Christmas.” Suddenly I flashed back to a year ago almost to the day, telling another friend right before a week long trip to see family: “I wish I could just check out from everything for two days and then come back and do the whole holiday thing.”
My life is as full as always: work, and school, a preschooler, household stuff and new projects on the horizon that I am excited about giving my time and energy to. But everything feels overwhelming. Not uninteresting just…too much. And the more I push my body the greater the urge to retreat. And it’s no wonder, as we are linked to the earth’s cycles along with every other living thing. Since the Summer Solstice, we have been incrementally losing light here in the northern hemisphere. The longer nights and lower temperatures signal the trees to drop their leaves and the animals to start preparing for winter. When winter arrives, the trees are almost all bare, many of the plants that once flourished in the sun have let go their leaves and blossoms. If you didn’t know better, many of the plants and trees might appear as if dead. There is no movement, thus begins a period of conserving energy through the coldest months. Though life force is just as present, activity becomes dormant.
And why should we be any different? (Read: BODY RHYTHM, PLANETARY RHYTHM).
Alan Fogel, author of Body Sense, writes in Psychology Today: “I’ve always thought it odd that in the late Fall — when my body just wants to withdraw into cozy, warm rest in response to the longer nights and cooler temperatures – urban culture becomes more active, more complex, and more demanding. The trees are shutting down all but the most basic functions and mammals are retreating to their dens and burrows for some form of hibernation. I want to go with them but I can’t because school is in session, there are performances and shows and social events, business deals are being made, and then the winter holidays come with all their pulls and obligations.
All this social pressure coming at a time when our bodies want to slow down is a perfect storm of stress and anxiety. Could it be that SAD and other seasonal dismays are not the result of darkness at all but rather a psychological splitting as we are torn between social demands for increased activity and the planet pulling our body sense in the opposite direction? Perhaps it is not our dark moods that are problematic so much as our sense of their cultural unacceptability?
Let’s imagine that we could just accept and embrace our body sense as it follows the lows and highs of seasonal cycles…Let’s imagine letting ourselves feel tired, I mean really feel like we are going to collapse if we don’t crawl under a blanket. Probably, you could find that feeling inside right now if you let yourself. Let’s imagine that we could give in completely to our sadness, that tears might come because we really let our feeling fill up the present moment; we become sadness and there is nothing else in the world but sadness. What would happen if we could do that?”
Well, what would happen?
There is another pattern I have started to notice over the past four years of noting my natural cycles of highs and lows throughout the year is the near inevitability of a melancholy February and March, where exhaustion is often accompanied by sadness and loss of passion and interest in normal things. While this could be in part a natural reaction to the lack of sunlight (I plan to invest in a magic desk lamp this year) could this also be a result of pushing through the holidays, work, family gatherings and social events instead of honoring my own need to retreat, rest and conserve energy during the darkest months? Why is it so often our habit when feeling out of balance to add more instead of doing less?
Maybe there isn’t anything “wrong” with me at all but this natural inclination to check out from the world for awhile, even to be sad, to let the soul mourn it needs to could actually serve my highest good? Can I make space for honoring the dark?
Perhaps I can’t take a week off my job or check out of parenting and run away to a hotel for three days by myself but can I bring the feeling of nurturing and self care into my life in small ways? What if, I could prepare for December the way people start their Christmas shopping early or string their lights up after Halloween? What if I could start creating space in July by working a few more hours to set aside for the December days when I need to work a bit less? Or be more deliberate in advance about keeping my schedule light during the holiday season?
Just by beginning to entertain these things, my heart begins to feel lighter. I don’t have to fight this, I don’t have to resist. I can make tea. I can change into my pajamas early. I can “check out” in the evenings with something good to read, with a movie or a good show. I can decorate my altar to honor the Winter Solstice. I can let the house stay messier than usual, I can honor my body with a restorative practice instead of power vinyasa. I can make a big pot of bone broth, I can clear my calendar of unessential items and I can curl up under this blanket for awhile and just rest… that is, until my kid calls me to come wipe his bum.
So yeah. That’s where you’ll find me. Don’t be offended if I don’t answer the phone. I’ll be back just as sure as the light returns.
Look at me all honoring myself and shit. I’ve come a long way, baby.
This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
Let the dawns
let the sunsets
let the evenings
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.
Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
steals the source
Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.
~ Joyce Rupp