Confession: I’m not a huge fan of winter. I live in a temperate rainforest, which is gorgeous and lush and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen on this planet. It also, by definition, requires abundant rain. Like, six months of rain. Yes, I know rain is healing, nourishing and all of that—and I agree. Rain is awesome (in theory). But winter rainforest rain is incessant. For. Six. Months. And after a week or two of relief that the summer drought broke in October, and another week of feeling “cozy” in November, most people start to go a little bit stir-crazy.
When I first moved out west, someone told me it takes about three years to get used to the winters. It’s definitely easier than it used to be, but every year, the darkness descends and I have to put more concentration into my emotional well-being.
We’re about 200 miles north of Seattle, and while it’s not quite Norway-level extremes of light and dark, the change in daylight is dramatic. In the depths of winter, it doesn’t really begin to feel light until around 10am, and after 2pm, the light fades rapidly. In addition, the sun’s arc is lower on the horizon—at about 30 degrees, compared to the direct (90-degree) overhead sun of summer. So the quality of light is paler, more diffuse, and it’s never exactly ‘bright’. The ocean takes on a steely grey appearance, a drastic shift from summer’s bright blue. Some days, when it’s extremely overcast and pouring down torrents of rain, it simply looks like someone forgot to turn on the sky. This blue-tint photo was taken on the seawall at noon.
On those days, I don’t really want to get out of bed.
For the past two winters, I was bartering with a coffee shop; I did some social media in exchange for breakfast and sometimes lunch. That meant, if I wanted breakfast (or coffee), I had to be up, showered and downtown by a certain time. In turn, that energized me to write and walk and, y’know, interact with people, even if only minimally.
This year, I ended the barter, and although I’ve been working remotely, that project rarely required my presence at 9am meetings. There are tasks I need to accomplish, but I don’t have to be anywhere. For several months, I’ve gone stretches of days without speaking to another human being.
I think I might be turning into a cat.
The biggest thing for me, in coping with long stretches of darkness, is managing my own expectations: As soon as I remember that it’s normal not to feel the same way in winter as I do in summer, I relax. I don’t beat myself up for not being all happy and shiny.
There is no rainforest without rain, and there’s no flow without an ebb. In mythology, the shortening days are ones of introspection, of preparing to let go of things that no longer serve one’s life, of conserving resources and deepening self-care in preparation for the expansion ahead. I feel all of this right now, including being on the cusp of something new. These feelings are guiding me to do exactly what I need to do (though perhaps with a few more Lindor treats than necessary).
I can feel what I feel—positive, negative or neutral—without comparing it to summer as a baseline.
But sometimes, it’s not so much fun to just be all emo and “yeah, I’m hibernating for the winter.” So here are some things I do to keep myself a little more balanced through the rainy season:
- While I suppose I could be outside as much in winter as I am in summer, it would be pretty dark. And cold. And windy. And wet. Writing outdoors (which I often do in summer) is out of the question. Still, I get outside and walk as much as I can. When I’m bundled up in good rain gear, the wind can be invigorating, and I always feel better after I walk. Always. And it’s usually pretty nice to come back inside and warm up again. Getting out, though, that’s the hard part.
- Because of the topography of this town, with a mountain on one side and a harbour on the other, we get unusual weather patterns and often experience micro-climates from block to block. It’s rare that the clouds are so heavy they just appear to be one big layer; often there are multiple layers, floating at different speeds in different directions. I try to watch them without labeling, to quiet my mind.
- The single most effective winter mood-booster I’ve found is a bright-light lamp. Before I bought it, I’d go to a tanning salon for just a few minutes (4-5 in a stand-up booth), just to get that blast of bright light. And it always, always made me feel better, without giving me an awkward mid-winter tan.
- Like almost everyone in the Pacific Northwest, I take Vitamin D by the fistful. I’m not sure if it helps, but I am sure it doesn’t hurt. I’m also sure I prefer the natural kind that’s absorbed through my skin.
- This is a super-lush area, with infinite amalgamations of greenery, so I’ve tried to reframe “raining” as “greening.” This works…sorta-but-not-really. It’s more effective in spring and autumn. Especially with the drought we had this summer, I’m aware that rain is precious and healing…but that doesn’t really counter the “low daylight” feelings.
- I practice fierce presence by holding my palm to trees, or feeling the sensation of pine needles against my face. I make eye contact with a seagull searching for food, or an otter playing in the water.
- I do more guided meditations than solo meditation, mostly because when I meditate in winter, I tend to fall asleep. Note to self: Turn down the heat when meditating. Or possibly, don’t meditate in bed.
- When it’s not raining, I take photographs. Looking through a camera lens (even if it’s just my phone) helps me see things in different ways. I notice how there’s a beauty to bare, stark trees, or passing, layered clouds.
- Three weeks ago, I started another giving round, because it gets me out of my head. In summer, it’s easy to give; I’m outside more, and there are countless opportunities every day (and if all else fails, there’s no doubt a tourist group that needs a photo taken). But when I’m holed up at home, or even down on the waterfront, alone, coming up with unique ‘gives’ requires more creativity.
- Because everyone in this town shares the experience of darkness, people here really make an effort to bring as much brightness as possible to the winter—whether it’s Santa and his elves arriving by seaplane, or transit buses fully decked out with holiday themes (and candy canes), or LED lights on all the trees lining the downtown streets… there is beauty to be found. I actively look for it and make mental notes of it.
- And when I can stop resisting the long, dark nights of winter, I remember where I was two years ago: I was bartering for food, because I didn’t have enough income to eat; I was two months behind on rent and terrified of losing my apartment. I had boots only because someone had gifted them to me, and I had no idea how I was going to pay any of my bills. I am immensely grateful that today, I have food. I can pay rent. I have boots, and I even have a couple of pairs of jeans. These are simple things, yet they are fundamental, and the instant I remember where I was two years ago, my resistance melts into appreciation and gratitude.
Of course, this is only Solstice. Although the days will start getting longer, we’ve still got another few months before spring. But that’s okay; it’s all part of the cycle.
Good thing I have super-thick flannel sheets to cozy up in.