Winter—that cold chill that starts climbing your spine the morning you wake up and realize the leaves are mostly gone, people start switching from making ice to making tea, jackets are either too warm or not warm enough and complimentary to the resurgence of carols on the radio crimson starts to appear everywhere, from your nose to your toes.
It is here folks—on the ground, in your boots and on the roads. (And if you’re anything like me, your serotonin has known this for a while.)
In this cold, barren time of year, it is natural to reflect. It’s what we’ve been taught, not only by the ‘new year, new you’ traditions, but by our brains as they try to tear apart ‘what makes today-me different from august-me?’.
But here’s the thing, the lack of natural sunlight does not diminish you as a person. You are still the strong, vibrant human you were in August. You’re just held back by thicker socks, lowered exposure to warm temperatures and sunshine, last minute tire changes and coming inside from outside while still wearing your glasses.
So how do we approach self-reflection when we bio-chemically miss the sun?
Save the hard stuff for sunny days: If you are feeling particularly weighed down about an issue, or a conversation is pressing into the dark spaces that Seasonal Affective Disorder can create in us, try to save the hard reflection for days when the sun is present-enjoying it through a window.
Nothing beats the crisp chill of the air as the burning ball of fire in the sky reaches out to touch you specifically, and anoint you with the false hope that spring is coming soon.
Give yourself permission to set boundaries: Boundaries are a-ok! In fact, they’re often a sign of respect for yourself and for others. If you need to say no just because you don’t want to, or because saying yes is only going to add to the load—do it!
If you need to end a conversation to preserve your sanity (oh joy, family dinners), speak with confidence, in a firm voice, without being argumentative. Focus on that moment and not every moment ever (as tempting as that can be.) Your future self will thank you!
For example, “Uncle Tom, your racism is making dinner uncomfortable. Can I help you change the topic?” is an important statement sometimes.
Values: When stuck in the blue and trying to figure out who you are or why something’s bugging you, do what more than one therapist has taught me—make a list of your values.
Here’s some to get you started: compassion for others, sharing of resources, moving through conflict, family, spending time with my partner, saving money when/where I can, being a good pet-parent and so on.
These values can help to guide your decision making and if you’re a hustler in this world calling us to hustle, they’ll help all of these different sides of you feel at home in the same person.
Find people you trust! This world is lonely, fast paced and dependent on instant communication. QR codes, zoom calls and digital wallets still dictate a lot of our interactions with people around us.
And for some folks, that distance makes the heart grow fonder. But for others, it’s important to stay in touch.
Use whatever tools you have at your disposal to pull those few, trusted people close and ask them to virtual coffee while you’re self-reflecting.
The thing is, you don’t need a makeover, or to do every single thing differently. It’s important to narrow in on what causes conflict in you, and ask for their support while you address it.
Remember that you, like everyone else, are still growing: when little kids stumble and fall, we understand their shock when they’re suddenly face-first in the icy snow bank; a bit of a cry, maybe a maliciously pointed finger and things are almost all better.
But as adults tumbling isn’t received so well. We worry not only that we will fall or fail, but about who will see us, who will know, what we drop on the way down and who else will be affected. We aren’t those playful, protected little kids anymore. We’re the ones doing the protecting and every edge is a sharp one.
It is impossible to go through this life without discomfort and you will not finish every race you start.
We need to be graceful with ourselves and with others. The simple recognition that if doing better was accessible to that person (your arch nemesis, your family member, your friend, yourself) they would be doing it.
So, think: what can you do to help? How can we set ourselves, and those we care about, up for success?
Remember, just because the sun has gone into hiding doesn’t mean that our feelings do. Our stellar tans, sweaty foreheads and weekends of constant beach plans just aren’t there to distract us anymore.
Don’t let that stop you from challenging yourself to be a better version of you, but love yourself in the process because this world needs you—even on the dark days.
Racheal Walser is a local literary short fiction author and poet working in feminist non-profit. She lives on a ranch for retired house hippos along with her great white carpet, er, dog, Anthem and her not so squish, Squish cat who meows maliciously at feeding time. Her work has appeared in publications by Mensa, Fast Forward Press, After the Pause, Canadian Stories and many more.