It’s winter, and that means darkness.
I live in Scotland, and in the summer it’s almost never dark at all. The sun comes up so early (and so calmly) that you hardly even notice – even if you stay up or get up to watch it, there’s just sort of a general lightening of the sky.
And in the height of summer it stays light until almost midnight (or longer than that the further north you go). One of my favourite memories was a day in May, when a friend and I went to the Isle of Iona and – after a late dinner – watched the sun set after 10pm, and kept watching and watching and watching….and finally gave up close to 1am, when the sky was still streaked with gold and purple and red. (The sun stayed up longer than we did!)
I love that. It’s beautiful and glorious and makes travel a joy.
But we do pay for it in winter.
Because after the clocks change at the end of October, the sun is setting earlier and earlier…and rising later and later… until the depths of winter, when there are streaks of pink across the sky and it’s not even 2pm yet.
It’s just harder, in winter. Everything’s a little bit harder. It’s icy cold, so it’s harder to get out of bed (because you’re warm and cosy). The sun starts going down and I feel like it’s really late and I need to stop working and make dinner…but it’s only 3pm.
All the other winter-things kick in, too. Everyone gets sick – not because it’s cold, but because we’re all holing up inside in the warmth, making little incubators of germs. (That’s why continuing to walk in the winter is one of the best things I can do to protect my health!) There’s a general dragginess, and everyone feels it. We’re missing out on all that vitamin D.
There’s beauty in winter, too, of course! And pre-Christmas I do pretty well, because even with the darkness, there’s a lot of sparkle and magic and cheer.
Gifts arrive almost daily in the actual post (one of my favourite things ever), people send physical cards (not just emails and texts), the Christmas markets sparkle with lights, my morning walk sparkles with the sun rising over frosted everything. We’re all looking forward to a time of rest and good food and singing and carols and pie and fuzzy jammies and crackling fires and joy.
But after Christmas, after new year’s…
…that’s when it gets really tough.
You have all the darkness of winter, and none of the sparkle of Christmas.
Everyone is tired, and recovering from too much food or not enough exercise or a turkey coma or spending a leeeeetle more than you meant to (on yourself or others).
Last year, January got to me.
I said goodbye to the family in Arizona, packed up all my gifts and the warmth of family time, and came back to a cold, dark, fairly dreary Scotland in January.
There were a few other things, too. The kind of issues that happen all year round, like team issues or systems issues or sorting out things for clients or a client with an exceptional situation or people getting sick or whatever….but in January, they feel harder.
And I took it hard. Prior to that I had been trying to eat healthier and walk regularly and work out most days. I was doing decently well at it, but last year I decided to take “a few days off” at Christmas. I would eat whatever I wanted, lots of sugary things, just enjoy the holidays. Then I would get back to healthiness in the new year.
Only, Christmas sort of trickles into the new year almost seamlessly.
I kept enjoying good food and plenty of it, and putting off a walk or exercise or working out, and decided I’d start again when I got back to Scotland.
And then I got back, and was tired and jet lagged. (Even more tired because of how much and what kinds of food I was eating, and no exercise.) And Things happened and had to be dealt with.
And so I dealt with it by eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I didn’t walk very much because I was tired, which made me tireder, which made me sick, which was discouraging and added even more work to my plate, which made me tired, which meant I didn’t want to walk….
And that’s how I ended up standing on the scales on the 1st of April 2018, staring at the biggest number I’d ever seen in my life in relation to my own weight, and wondering how I had gotten there.
I let the dark days of winter get me down.
I’ve thought about that a lot this year. Most of you know i changed my ways after that day on the scales. I stopped eating sugar. I started counting calories. I started walking, every single day. I post my “Monday Motivations” on instagram every week, and little by little the weight started to come off, the energy started to increase.
And along with the light and the sun returning and staying longer, my energy returned. Actually more energy came back than I’ve ever had in at least 15 years. I haven’t felt this good since away back when I first moved to Scotland.
And now it’s winter again.
And it’s cold and beautiful, and Christmas is coming, and family time and carols and resting and joy….and January is coming, too.
The darkest days of winter are still ahead: but this time, I will come into them ready.
Because I know, this time, the cost of my choices.
It’s all about choice. I can “let” January and February be dark and dreary: or I can choose to see beauty, and eat well, and keep walking, and insist on seeing the blessings. They’re always there.
I want to encourage you, too. Don’t let the dark days of winter get you down: and now, right now, is the time to prepare for that.
You don’t need to wait until January to make resolutions.
Actually, I think January is the worst possible time, ever, to make resolutions. You’re tired and draggy and annoyed with yourself and it’s cold and dark. The whole rest of the world is making promises, which many of them have no true intention to keep. They’re signing up for gym memberships and starting diets and committing to creating content and saying they’re going to hire people or fire people or leave their job or start a new business… and it lasts a few weeks and then it’s back to business as usual.
Now is the time to resolve.
The last Saturday in November is the time to prepare for January. Make up your mind now that you won’t let the darkest days of winter get you down.
I’ll join you. We’ll both of us choose joy, and health, and the decisions that will help us stay strong.
And the light will come back. It always comes back.
What’s the thing that you know could get you down in January, or when the darkness is deepest? How can you prepare for it now?
P.s. my sketch is from a portion of Handel’s Messiah, which I listened to the other day and sketchnoted the whole thing. I love the reminder that Christmas is all about seeing light in the darkness.
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