For many of us, winter brings a desire to slow down, reflect, and heal in the comfort of warm, peaceful settings protected from the elements and the hustle and bustle of the holidays. But winter also brings low moods in response to decreased daylight, the stress some of us feel around holidays and family, and a myriad of seasonal viruses. I went into November eager to experience winter without the impending doom of college finals for the first time in five years. Unfortunately, reality could not match my dreams of cozy hours spent reading as the rain pounded on my window, or of bright and cheery adventures amongst the lights of downtown, or gliding around an ice skating rink with friends.
Instead, my immuno-compromised body fell victim to at least four viruses, the low daylight sent my mood plummeting, and the rain and cold triggered my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue so that I experienced even greater pain and fatigue than usual. The good days were few and far between, and many days I didn’t even have energy to read, let alone plan and embark on wintery adventures. Although it’s been almost two years since my initial diagnosis, seasons like this are still hugely discouraging. The double-winter of my physical and mental health is inescapable. Holiday parties mean small-talk with strangers and relatives that reawaken my fears that my life is going nowhere and that I will always be trapped in this moment in time by my illness. January brings with it the expectation of newness, inspiration, and determination to accomplish important and fulfilling things, and I feel caught in the middle of my desire to grow and my physical inability to do many of the things I long to experience. Changes in the lives of people around me–new jobs, graduations, engagements, births, etc.–make me feel like I will be left behind as everyone else moves forward and I just keep surviving.
Amidst the heightened grief, anxiety, and isolation of this season of life, I am trying to let the slowness and hiddenness of winter teach me. I am trying to learn to invest in simple, sustained growth that no one will ever applaud or even see. I am trying to learn to allow myself to be passionate about achievable dreams and to work on them steadily, even if I must work at what is sometimes a gruelingly slow pace. I am trying to learn to be compassionate towards myself when I cannot see where movement or change is happening within me. I am trying to learn that sometimes breathing and being is enough. And I am trying to learn to trust that I can still find a purpose that gives me life meaning and fits within the limitations my illness places on me. I can’t say for certain that the dark and cold of this winter will inevitably give way to the light and warmth of spring, there is too much I don’t know to make that prediction. Some days all I know is that I’m surviving, but I have to believe that in the dark and the cold hope is surviving with me.