I remember being seventeen and driving in the car with my mother. It was raining outside and the skies were a dull grey. She had to stop and pump gas. She got out of the car grumbling that she had let the tank get so low, less than delighted to be stepping out in the murky weather. I sat in the passenger seat and watched my mother as she filled the truck up – her hands shaking in the cold. She opened the driver’s door and sat back in the car. She slammed the door shut and spoke without turning to me, “Those damn birds out there just keep on singing. They must not know how shitty it is outside.”
Those words stayed with me forever because they have always seemed to encapsulate my mother – the way I felt she saw the world for what it really was – ugly, dark, and filled with rain drops, and yet she trudged ahead fervently doing whatever needed to be done in the moment. Part of me admired that no nonsense, no bullshitting attitude. Another part of me wanted to be like the silly, optimistic birds she spoke of – singing through the darkness and seeing the growth and beauty that came to the world because of the rain, rather than the inconvenience and despair it brought to that precise moment.
As I look out my window this morning, it’s snowing, the wind is blowing, and the world is still dark outside. It makes it awfully hard to smile, and even harder to sing. It makes it difficult to even fill the tank, feed the children, do the dishes – trudge on as my mother did to complete that which needs to be done. Winter makes me want to pull the covers back over my head and stay in bed. Winter makes the wind blow through my bones leaving me feeling hollow and empty, as low as the gauge on my mother’s gas tank in my memory.
I know that I am not alone in this feeling. Many individuals, likewise, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many individuals fall into a depression during the winter months, when the light is less bountiful. For some individuals, as myself, their mental illness becomes more severe during these winter months. Other individuals are only affected by depression during this particular season. Regardless, the symptoms are the same: moodiness, depression, anxiety, weight gain, drowsiness, a loss of interest in activities. According to Dr. Norman Rosenthal, six percent of the US population is affected by SAD in its most marked form. Another fourteen percent of the population suffers from a lesser form of this disease, known as the winter blues.
The “winter blues” are not an excuse to be lazy and moody. SAD is a very real and very serious illness that is not to be disregarded or downplayed. It’s important to recognize the reality and challenges of this illness, but not to succumb to the disease. SAD needs to be treated and a concerted effort is required. I can’t stop the snow from falling, nor can any one of us. However, we can choose to look for the light both literally and figuratively. We can indeed forge fervently ahead, and even whistle a tune while doing so.
Yes – it’s shitty outside – often downright miserable. I recognize this too, perhaps unlike those silly birds my mother had complained of. Yet, despite the knowledge that I possess of less literal light and biting, blustery cold temperatures, I want to be like the birds. I want to sing even through the darkness, even when times get tough, even when clouds hover over me. It may be naïve. It may be overly optimistic, but I want to sing. I want to sing. Sing. Sing. Sing.