December, with its short Scottish winter days, tends to be a tough month. I realise how much light I’m missing, and I need my ring light on in the office simply so I can be seen for the last four or five hours of video calls in my day.
Most evenings I take my walk on the main road with the street lights and the cars roaring past, instead of in the quiet green woods with the flowing water and nature’s little miracles everywhere.
The sparkle and light of Christmas helps some, but it’s definitely an effort. And some days – like yesterday, when the sky was grey and the rain fell consistently, endlessly – it feels as if the sun never bothered to make an appearance at all.
Oddly, I thought it wouldn’t bother me this year.
I have a fully functioning ankle! I’ll be soon flying off to America to spend time with family and will get plenty of sunshine in Florida and North Carolina and Arizona! My Christmas tree is up (and I put it up myself) and there’s every reason to be joyful.
But there’s still a lot of darkness (or greyness or wetness or all of the above) and it drops down fast.
I also decided recently, in a fit of effort for my mental health, to cancel Netflix. I was tired of how much of it I was watching on repeat, especially in these evenings which start midway through the day. (Netflix very cleverly lets you keep watching until the day of cancellation, about a month later, at which point they hope you’ll give up and turn it back on. It’s very rude when you’re trying to break an addiction.)
It’s been just over a week and I know it was a healthy decision, but as with all addictions, there’s a cost when you first make the switch.
I keep reaching for the remote, or for the ipad, then thinking, “Oh. What can I do instead?”
The first weekend I cancelled Netflix I read five books and started a sixth. I’m in the middle of a seventh right now as well. Actual paper books that you hold in your hand.
I’ve also been swimming a lot more than I was before. Yesterday I was feeling grumpy because all I wanted to do was lie in bed and do nothing, so instead I went to the pool and swam two miles instead of my usual one. My arms were sore this morning, but I went again and it definitely lifted my spirits.
That’s the key, for me: finding the little candles of light which lift my spirits in the darkness (or greyness). For me it includes:
- Going for a swim. I’ve never once gone for a swim and wished I hadn’t, or didn’t feel marginally lighter afterwards. It’s my personal reminder that exercise actually does release endorphins (which are basically magical mood lifters and pain releasers)
- Reading a physical book. I read on my phone when it’s the fastest or best way to get a copy of a book I want to read, or when I’m travelling (so I don’t have to carry around a stack of heavy books), but I really love sitting with a physical book. First, it helps strengthen my habits of continuous activity (instead of jumping about reading texts and getting on social and making notes on my phone), and second, without a screen I have a much more realistic sense of when it’s time to sleep.
- Hot drinks (in the winter). One of my favourite things to do is make a hot apple cider in the slow cooker (apple juice, an orange stuck with a clove, a cinnamon stick, and mulled wine spices) and let it simmer for hours and for days. I’ll pop it on warm in the morning, and then anytime during the day I can pour a cup of a hot apple (nonalcoholic) drink. It’s soothing and brings a little sparkle to the grey day. A Starbucks peppermint hot chocolate does the trick too, when I’m out and about.
- Routines, or patterns. I don’t tend to have daily routines: I’m not the sort of person who shows up to the same coffee shop every day, or every week, at the exact same time, ordering the same drink. I like variety. Things change in my life, and I like it that way. One of the best things about swimming, for me, has been the number of pools I find to use – because I’m travelling, or this week doesn’t look like that week. I’ve swum in at least ten different pools in the last four months. However, I hadn’t realised how much I appreciate the familiar. I got really thrown off this week when my local pool closed for almost a week for maintenance. It took me a while to find another pool, and as much as I appreciated the opportunity to keep swimming, I found it hard to decide when to swim. I kept forgetting things, and everything took a bit longer and confused my days. Last night I checked the website and my local pool was open again. Honestly the sheer pleasure of knowing when it’s open and what time to go and how full or busy it will or won’t be was a real mood lifter.
These are very simple things, and there are others. Yours will be different: maybe going for a run, or cooking, or reading with your children. Whatever it is, it will seem small and almost prosaic, but it matters. And taken in combination, the little pin pricks of light make up a warm glow that defeats the darkness.
Here’s to a little more light today.