Uh-oh, I’ve turned ….

Alicia BessetteI grew up in Massachusetts, where many people seem to observe autumn with near-spiritual devotion. Which is understandable, because fall in New England is beautiful. As a child, I loved the colors, the dusty smell of October air, the sense of receding all around.

But, though I still savor the crunch of leaves and in-season apples, fall no longer invigorates me. Instead, it makes me feel tired, gray, and grumpy. Every fall, Summer Me⎯eager and vibrant⎯turns into the human version of Eeyore.

Well, Eeyore with a temper.

The other morning Matt wandered into the kitchen, yawned, and stood there for a moment, watching as I ransacked the cupboards and cursed about how I couldn’t find my preferred mug.

“Uh-oh,” he said, over the clang of dishes.

“What?” I snapped.

Then I caught myself, took a deep breath, and faced him. “Sorry,” I said. “I’ve turned, haven’t I?”

He nodded slowly. “You’ve turned.”

Call it the winter blahs, seasonal affective disorder, or hibernation mode. Whatever it is, for the next few months, I’ll be fantasizing about southern Florida, and Matt will be calling me “CP” (short for Cranky Pants).

I constantly seek out warmth, especially in fall and winter. A few Januaries ago, I wore a below-freezing mummy-style sleeping bag around the house. I zipped up in it while watching television, working at the computer, and eating dinner. I heightened the insulation effect by pulling on fresh-from-the-dryer fleece pants immediately before mummifying. On a few very cold nights I even brought the bag into bed (much to Matt’s chagrin). I was perpetually sweaty but, after two weeks, I realized I’d gained seven pounds. (You can’t exercise in a sleeping bag.) Knowing I was at risk of spending all my waking (and sleeping) hours inside that bag until April, I quit it cold turkey.

I had to laugh when comedian Denis Leary (also from central Mass) poked fun of SAD sufferers on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. “Sorry, that’s called winter, okay?” Leary said. “We all go through it. It’s why we invented ice hockey and skiing.”

Indeed, I used to follow NHL hockey with fervor, and I’ve been a skier since age five. I used to relish cold temperatures, and never understood why grownups grumbled about them. I couldn’t imagine anything more magical than snowstorms — all that white quiet to play in, all that steaming hot chocolate, stirred with candy canes.

But as I get older, winter holds so little appeal that even the season before it, despite its beauty, inspires in me a bit of melancholy. Can anyone out there relate?

~Alicia Bessette

21 Replies to “Uh-oh, I’ve turned ….”

  1. My husband gets down in the winter too. At winter’s peak, sun sets here at 4pm and doesn’t rise till 8am. It’s not enough light for him.

    Me? I’m a shade plant. Summer is too hot and sticky, and light way too late. Winter is just right. Early dark invites me to start winding down for the evening. A late sunrise encourages the kids to sleep in. Plus, I have a winter birthday. And Christmas! And I still have the primordial thrill of Christmas break from school deep in my bones, even though it doesn’t apply to me anymore. The brisk air of fall makes me so so so happy!! 🙂

  2. Hi Alicia,
    we both can feel with you. Although we prefer holidays in the North of Europe more than in the warm South it is always sad to see the summer go away.
    Especially in the garden where we have to put away camping equipment and to cover the pool it is not very amusing now.We’ll miss the colours of summer very much.
    Today we had to scrape the ice from our car windows for the first time. That means winter is quite near. The only good thing is that we can watch more winter sports on TV, especially Biathlon which is so famous here in Thuringia.And we have a lot of wood for our fireplace for warm and cosy hours while it’s cold and windy outside.
    Maybe it helps you to “survive” when you look at your holiday photograps on the beach 😉

  3. I was raised in the deserts of California and Arizona and now live in the Amazon, so I’m definitely a sun & heat guy. I lived in Oregon for 10 years and hated the weather there – always cloudy and cold. Even the rhetorical question “Isn’t the snow pretty?” causes me to shout out No!
    You and Matt are always welcome here. Maybe one of these days computers and the Internet will get to the point where I can send you some sun as an attachment.

  4. I’m the same way. Other women my age wear layers because of hot flashes. Me? I’m like the old people in sweat suits and jackets when the thermometer gets below 80.

  5. I love winter, but only for about two weeks. It would be perfect if it could snow a few times (the snow would have to stay fluffy and white), then abruptly turn warm. I wish I could carry my bed around with me during winter. Maybe I’ll take your sleeping bag idea!
    I have a friend who uses a lightbox during winter – have you tried that?

  6. Winter is the perfect time to write a book. Consider it a self-imposed exile – typing keeps your fingers warm and yelling at the screen when things don’t go well gets your blood boiling! Then there’s always the medicinal benefits of hot cocoa, hot coffee, soups and sauces bubbling on the stove. Spring and Summer are for shedding said medicinal remedies, but hey… who said this plan was perfect?

  7. I get depressed every year at the summer solstice because the days will start to get shorter, and the dark of winter is coming. I try to remind myself to celebrate on the winter solstice, too, because it means that longer days, and summer, are on the way. Is that a little weird, to be sad when summer starts? I hate being cooped up in the winter. Cabin fever is worse than the darkness. Or maybe it’s worse IN the darkness.

  8. i turned a few weeks ago too. it’s ugly and i feel terrible. it’s hard for me to take those moments to get a breath and try to recapture the more delightful version of myself.

    i’m thinking of adding some Red Bull and cocaine into my diet. that’s healthy, right?

  9. I don’t get this way until mid-January but I do relate. Which makes me wonder….why do we live in such cold states? (Michigan, here, where there are two seasons, winter and road construction.) Oh yeah, because I don’t want to be far from family, who also probably live in Michigan because THEY didn’t want to be far from family. My descendants are doomed to be cold forever, I fear…

  10. I too never took seasonal affective disorder seriously until we went to The Dominican Republic a few years ago. We left a snowy cold gray Philadelphia and when we stepped out of the plane and into a warm island climate, Al cried tears of joy and the personality transformation was almost instant. Poof. A whole new person. Was amazing to see/experience. We’ve been hunting for super economy island trips and going somewhere warm for at least a week every winter since. It’s a hard sacrifice for me–drinking the darkest winter hours away on a beautiful beach–but I love my wife, so I do it for her and with no complaints.

  11. Oh, dear. I used to have SAD. I used to constatnly be in conflict with myself because I loved the change of seasons but I dreaded the sadness that came along with them. Fall and Spring have always been my favorite times of the year, and once I healed some of my trauma, I was able to see things differently. For a long time, I dreaded the entire Fall, then it went to just the month of October, then it was a week, a day, and now I love it all. I can finally appreciate all of the seasons and what each one offers.

    Your humor writing is as beautiful as your dramatic writing. It’s because all of it is honest and real. I can just picture you hopping around the apartment in a sleeping bag. Haha!

    Thank you for your continued sharing and honesty. And thank you for the weekly inspiration! Keep up the great work, Al! (And when is the book coming out?)

  12. Thank you for the lively discussion today, everyone! I think I’ll answer you all individually. Here goes …

    Emily: My birthday’s in November, which I call (in my head) Nothing
    Month, because the trees are bare, it’s cold and dark, and there’s no
    snow on the ground to cozy it up! Our trip to Ireland was the happiest I’ve ever been, thanks to the sun setting at 10:15 or so — heaven.

    Sigrid: I love watching sports on TV, especially the winter Olympics. Downhill skiing amazes me.

    Scott: What’s the moth situation in Iquitos? I might be willing to
    face my fear and move down there, if it means lots of sun.

    Kathy: As I write this, I’m wearing a fleece jacket and fleece-lined
    clogs. And it’s 65 degrees out.

    Sarah: Actually, I have two Happy Lights, a big one that’s parked in my
    living room, and a small one that travels with me to New England. They serve me pretty well, I have to say.

    Robin: You’re totally right. The dark months do lend themselves to
    holing up next to a warm stove and scribbling away.

    Jean: I get a little sad on summer solstice for the same reason. CP really kicks it up a notch when it’s time to turn the clocks back, though.

    Evan: Instead of cocaine and Red Bull, try Captain Crunch!

    Kristina: Every year I decide once and for all that I’m moving
    somewhere warm. Then I change my mind, because I fear homesickness
    will be even worse than winter. Vermont is one of my favorite places on earth, in spite of everything.

  13. And Heather: It’s inspiring to know that you “eradicated” your SAD without actually moving south. The only other person I know who kicked SAD did it by moving to Key West and living on a sailboat! (To answer your question: All Come Home comes out August 2010.)

  14. We live in western Canada and while we could live a whole lot further north, this is far enough. It doesn’t get dark until 10pm in the summers, and never totally dark, really. We love that! However, it does get dark around 4pm in the winter, and it’s already creeping quickly that direction. The first year we were here, my husband whined and moaned a lot about how grey it was, how dark it was, how much it rained (it actually doesn’t rain a lot here, but it rains for days at a time, which was a new experience for a southern boy). I’m a native Oregonian so it seemed like home to me, only drier, and after a winter of his whining, I said, “You live here now. Suck it up.” And surprisingly, he did! Last winter he just put on rain gear and rode his bike anyway. We built roaring fires and read books and I taught him to cook for something to do. Spring is my nemesis. So pretty and yet it tries to kill me every year with pollen!

    By the way, it’s not that warm in the winters, but it’s sunny in Tennessee and I have a cottage on a gorgeous lake I’ll make you a heck of a deal on!

  15. My goodness I’m stunned, Alicia, especially since you could well be a character straight out of Dr. Zhivago! However is it possible that your doldrums come from the absence of Fantasy Baseball? Hmm, it ended a few weeks ago, “Champ,” and then the change… 😉

  16. So tell me again what is keeping you both in South Jersey? Just got back from Charleston…a whole new warm, slower paced way of life with longer days filled with southern sunshine…and minutes from the beach. I am sure if you moved there your family would come (more then you may want). And remember… home is always just an email, phone call or flight away. Other then that have taken the “Joelle” attitude as just this morning I was struggling to get up and start the day in what still seemed the dark of night…sucking begrudgingly!

  17. Apparently SAD is not genetic, because I’m the offspring of the aforementioned Key West refugee, but I’m psyched this time of year. Yes, I’m sometimes annoyed that there isn’t enough daylight in the evening to mow the lawn, but then I don’t really want to mow the lawn after work anyway. This is a great time of year to gain 7 pounds eating apple pie, apple crisp, apple dumplings (at Brookfield Orchards), and drinking mulled cider. And did I mention Nightmare Before Christmas? D-amn. I love autumn!!

  18. As I read this I was bundled in flannel pants, long sleeved tees, fleece socks and wrapped in a blanket-shivering! I tried to pretend fall wasn’t here by walking around all day in a dress and no coat. Fall-1, Kelly-0.

  19. My sentiments exactly! When my feelings of the winter blues get too bad, I head to the tanning bed (I hear the gasps) but it is the only way I get through January and February without loosing my mind! This year, I have a strategically placed vacation to Florida to look forward to but it is minor relief. When I lived in Virginia, it wasn’t so bad – I swear the sun stays out longer in the south and the cold is not that cold! Yesterday (and today for that matter) there was/is frost on the car windows (already) which makes me want to hide under my bed until it is all over! As odd as it all seems, I wouldn’t trade in my New England life (I tried that and it didn’t work out) – just my New England winters! The Fall and Spring are beautiful if I can get passed the fact that winter divides them! Here is to sunny skies and warmer days (or at least here’s hoping the memory of them gets all of us through the winter!)

  20. I go back and forth on winter. I love the way the air feels after new snow, but it is very cold and very grey in Rochester in the winter and it gets hard to take after awhile.

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