Being married to a pagan, one develops a familiarity with the winter solstice that the average layperson lacks...
Christmas used to be the day within December that held the most significance for me. However, as I have gotten older and as I have become more intimate with and knowledgeable of my own mental illness, there is something about the Solstice that has made it just as (if not more) important.
When I first heard of seasonal affective disorder, something inside me clicked into place. Winter has never been easy for me, especially since moving to the Chicago region over a decade ago. I can handle the cold—to some extent, at least. I can even enjoy the snow. But the darkness... that's what gets to me. After the time change, my heart sinks. 4 p.m. is too early for it to be getting dark, and yet we cannot escape it. Darkness is a natural part of life's cycle, of life's order.
Every year we plunge into darkness not knowing what pain, or what beauty, it has in store for us...
This will be the first winter season I've faced without the crutch of smoking since before my grandmother passed away. I'm learning that, without that distraction, there is far more pain, angst, and grief yearning to surface and be faced than I could have imagined. In conversations with some dear friends, I am not alone in this. Many have talked about decreased appetites, increased sleep, minimal energy, and the constant urge to cry or curl up in the fetal position. I do not know why, but this winter seems to be a hard one.
As Christmas draws near and our calendars fill up, it can all be overwhelming, especially for those whose day planners leave them with solitary nights and weekends. People whose family members have died, literally or relationally. It can be amazing to walk through the crowds of the Magnificent Mile and feel utterly, hopelessly alone. I see the homeless with their heads hung low, their cardboard signs, and their empty soda or coffee cups and wish that I could do more, and that others would do more. I worry less about their hunger or hygiene and more about the loneliness and isolation that they might be feeling. Winter truly is a dark time.
Darkness does not leave us easily as we would hope — Margaret Stohl
I'm working on my final paper for seminary, and yet again, I've chosen a topic that hits close to home: self-injury. Cutting. Branding. Bruising. Sometimes, in the throes of darkness and isolation people simply want to feel something. While I have not actually engaged in said behaviors for several years now, the urge is still there, especially during the long nights of winter. Even last night, rather than lay down on the couch to catch up on some TV shows, I laid down and fell asleep as a way of my body coping with overwhelming feelings of sadness and grief. I know I am not alone in this, but like many who face depression, seasonal or otherwise, it is far to easy to feel alone.
Rather than ramble as I am tempted to do, the following is a poem from Dylan Thomas that I have been holding dear for some time now, one about perseverance and resilience in the face of darkness
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on that sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I don't know where you're at right now. Maybe you love winter: its chill, the stillness and silence of it, the smell of holiday feasts and thriving evergreens. Or maybe, like me, you struggle in these cold, dark months. Regardless, hold steady. Do what you need to in order to not simply survive, but thrive in abundance. Those moments may be few and far between, but when they come, cling tightly. Look for all the love around you and the worth within you. You are not alone. Winter will end. Wholeness will come.