I’m turning to the advice of researchers at the University of Glasgow who suggest that people like me who are afraid of you should send you a letter.
The idea is that writing to you can help banish the blues from those of us who fear your coming, as well as those affected by seasonal affective disorder (about three percent of us who fall between November and February). depression) as well as all of us who detest your darkness and dampness, your flu and your coughs, your leaky roofs and heating bills, your train cancellations and your endless, shuddering colds.
No doubt you will be in your usual wild mood – already sending storms to flood and shake the land, a violent foreshadowing of your plans.
But, dear winter, you bring comfort. Every year you prompt me to write a diary, which psychologists say is an effective aid to anyone suffering from depression or anxiety.
Writing makes me look at the world more closely and helps me put my situation in perspective. It allows me to laugh at my dejection and count my blessings.
HORATIO CLARE: But, dear Winter, you bring comfort. Every year you prompt me to write a diary, which psychologists say is an effective aid to anyone suffering from depression or anxiety
HORATIO CLARE: Writing makes me look at the world more closely and helps me see my situation in perspective. It allows me to laugh at my dejection and count my blessings
This morning, looking for details and stories, I saw the silhouettes of pigeons in the beech tree like little gargoyles in the mist. The jackdaws chatted on their branches, woke up, flew and turned the fluffy sky into a space full of joy. They made lightness and this small town their theater. “Málaga!” they babbled and “Alabama!”
Their chatter reminded me that where we are and what we see is not the world, but only a tiny fraction, and that light and space are always out there.
Dear Winter, I know you’re not just experiencing sputtering tire jams, the slap of windshield wipers, wild trucks gliding through the spray, and the beat of bad news on the radio. They are also those electric days with azure cold, bright sun and frozen branches that look like broken scepters.
You are nights when the stars tremble and the cold turns the darkness into luminous energy. You are spotted fire planets, green, blue-white and crystal clear.
You are the miracle of transformation by making puddle paths and freezing the channel into a shard. Last year I found the white geese nesting there like sculptures, their feathers icy and shiny.
You are the lights and contours of my little Yorkshire town, fighting off the cold and the darkness that stretches like a blanket over the shapes of the moors.
They make us seek companionship and conversation, warmth, friends and events. The great composer Tchaikovsky wrote: “If you cannot find a reason for joy in yourself, then look at others, go among people, see how they can enjoy themselves and give themselves wholeheartedly to joyful feelings.” Imagine the festive cheer of the common people. Joy is a simple but powerful force. Rejoice in the joy of others.’
This is good advice for your season. Therapists strongly believe that social isolation kills happiness, energy and self-confidence. Even when I feel like hibernating, especially then, you force me to accept invitations.
My ten year old son and his friends are great winter teachers. From the Halloween disco to trips to the theater and cinema, strolls through the forest, hot chocolate in the café and strolls through the park – your season is a boost for children.
They seem impervious to rain, they love snow and Christmas, and they naturally live in the moment.
I never really understood mindfulness, the therapeutic practice that can help soothe low moods, until I realized that children are natural practitioners and enjoy the immediate.
By giving the present moment their full attention, they grant it a primacy that much of adult life undermines with its worries about the future. And so we shout for joy as a silver winter moon appears at the end of the road. We discuss a thousand buzzwords: the Aurora Borealis, Archimedes, the Goes Wrong Show, tick-proof dogs, the possibility of snow and cloud breaks.
HORATIO CLARE: One cruelty of your seasonal depression is the way it robs its victims of a sense of our own follies and the absurdity of life
One cruelty of your seasonal depression is the way it robs its victims of a sense of our own follies and the absurdity of life. My boy makes fun of my winter unhappiness and says, “You’re like the man in a movie who falls over a cat!”
And I say, “Thanks, darling.” I’m here to entertain!’
Winter makes me realize that the seasonal blues need to be combated with vitamins and nutrients. My son rolls his eyes because I take cod liver oil, vitamins D, B6 and C, zinc and iron every day. I eat sardines and he tells me I smell like fish.
‘Good! Oily fish is key!’ I return. And it’s known to improve mood.
I count your everyday joys, winter. They urge cooking, from porridge at breakfast to family dinners at night – broccoli, asparagus, whole grains, olives, blueberries, fresh fruit, dark chocolate: nutritional psychiatrists recommend that the Mediterranean diet improves mood. It includes fresh fish, occasionally steak and wine.
Winter demands and rewards the lighting of fires, the lighting of candles, the drawing of curtains and hugs. Physical contact is extremely important to us, never as important as it is now.
As the Blues Brothers put it, “Hold that woman, hold that man, hold that person, squeeze her and please her, give her all your love…” Hold your friends, your children, your cats and Dogs, they might have added.
Especially in winter, I hug my friends at get-togethers and my boy every day, put my nose on his head and tell him that he smells like a warm owl, even if that’s not the case.
On the weekend, hiking is my main defense against your blues. Everything we know about mental health (and everything we’ve discovered during the pandemic) proves that it’s a powerful antidote to depression.
HORATIO CLARE: I look for the light, the deep gold and the horizontal that seem like pale spots of hope, and those breaks in the weather when the air is almost clinically clear and every wet slate is defined and luminous
HORATIO CLARE: Light, dear winter, is your greatest challenge. Many of us use therapy lamps, but there are other types of light as well. There is the light of solidarity between strangers who laugh and shake their heads at the same weather, the same difficulties and delays
When more rain is forecast, I go out and look for the beauty of your winter mornings, for the sudden pinks and Greek blues in the high, cold sky, for seagulls rowing past, for tiny silver threads of birdsong.
I look for the light, the deep gold and the horizontal that look like pale spots of hope, and those breaks in the weather when the air is almost clinically clear and every wet slate is defined and luminous.
Light, dear winter, is your greatest challenge. Many of us use therapy lamps, but there are other types of light as well. There is the light of solidarity between strangers who laugh and shake their heads at the same weather, the same difficulties and delays.
In all of our key people shines the light of determination and dedication – may we never forget them – that have carried us through times more difficult than these.
There is a light that shines through all of us whenever we admit our problems. There is a bright, clear light that holds us all, sailors on the same winter sea, through the same cold waves of days.
I think it is the light of our vulnerability, dear Winter, the children you make of us with your powerful tides.
And so we stand now on your hard shore, and we know you are coming, and we hope you will all find us side by side.
- HORATIO CLARE is the author of The Light In The Dark: A Winter Journal.