This essay originally aired on TriStates Public Radio. Go here to listen.
Bah humbug. I don’t know about you but I’m really struggling with the holidays this year. It’s a perfect storm, a trifecta of winter weather, the pandemic, and climate crisis. I mean, geez, why bother even getting out of bed? But I only allow myself to take refuge under the covers for so long until I remind myself to focus not on the problems, but on the solutions.
The solution to cold weather.
Like 20 percent of the population, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. The shorter days, the gray skies, and the overall lack of light all conspire to bring me down faster than the plummeting temperatures. Over the years I’ve tried everything: vitamin D, light box therapy, antidepressants, and exercise. Exercise worked well. Too well. Two winters ago, I swam in the tropical waters of our local rec center pool and it was so helpful to my mood that I kept swimming – until I injured my shoulders. Shoulder pain or not, I’m too worried about the virus to go to a rec center this winter. The only other thing that gives me relief from sunlight deprivation is the sun itself. So I followed the migration of the monarchs who flee to the south and am spending the winter in Arizona. The sun fuels my soul. Though, unfortunately, the weather is not as warm as my body requires. The better solution would have been to go with the monarchs all the way to Mexico. But . . . the pandemic.
The solution to the pandemic.
The New York Times just ran an article titled, “The Double Whammy of Seasonal Affective Disorder in a Season of COVID.” God help me — and the millions of others who suffer from even just a mild version of SAD. If not for my fear of ending up on a ventilator, I would be spending time with my family, but I had to decline my brother’s invitation to celebrate Thanksgiving with him and his college-age kids, as that would have been like stepping into a COVID petri dish. I would be in Los Angeles right now visiting my mom to bring us both some holiday cheer, but LA is under lock-down for three weeks. Instead, I am — along with just about everyone in the world – grieving not only the loss of lives, but the loss of connection that the pandemic has bestowed. There is no gathering in groups for holiday parties for some much-needed face-to-uncovered face conversation, or even more important, hugging. There is no taking my laptop to a coffeehouse, lingering over a good meal at a restaurant, or browsing for hours in a bookstore. As humans, we require physical and social contact for our wellbeing. But life as we’ve known it is over, and this is causing tremendous grief.
But I know grief. I know what helps heal it – and that is doing nice things for others. Like making a pie for a friend who is even more depressed than you. Or buying groceries for someone who lost their job. Or donating winter coats to a coat drive. And now that the holidays are upon us, we can get an added dopamine hit by giving gifts to others. That was the case for me as I got lured into the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. But then I was like, “Wait. Consumerism is bad for the environment. By buying non-essential, made-in-China things, with all the plastic and all the fossil fuels required from manufacturing all the way to delivery, I’m only contributing to the climate crisis.”
The solution to the climate crisis.
This is the ultimate source of my grief. Seasonal Affective Disorder is only seasonal so there is always an end in sight. And we are so close to getting people vaccinated against the virus, which will enable us to get control over the pandemic. But the climate? The media keeps reporting that it’s too late to fix it, making every other crisis – like racism, poverty, immigration, and political divisiveness – a moot point. Talk about depressing! My brother, who shares my current Grinch mindset, came to my rescue by recommending a book called “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” edited by Paul Hawken. Instead of dwelling on the apocalypse, it offers guidance on practical things we can do to help save the planet. Too late or not, it’s a dose of hope. Another book, one for the holiday season, is “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas” by Meg Nordmann. She writes about ways we can give without adding to the stress on our mental state, our wallets, and, ultimately, our landfills, by finding value in “experiences over objects” and giving comestible gifts instead of material ones. I, for one, would prefer receiving a box of chocolates over anything that adds to the clutter in my house.
Meanwhile, I keep telling myself – and anyone else who’s struggling — to hang on a little longer. This is a hard patch, but it’s ultimately a blip in time. I’m going to keep getting out of bed, taking walks in the sun, wearing my mask, and recycling – while holding tight to the knowledge that this, too, shall pass.
You might also like reading these previous posts:
For pie-making help, check out my YouTube series, Stay Calm and Bake Pie