Surviving Winter

Battling the season's harshest element

‘What? Snow???” I exclaimed. “Honey it is November” my husband gently reminded. “But I still have flowers blooming in the garden” I retorted, as if that were proof that it shouldn’t be allowed, this shift from fall to winter. I know it is time to turn my attention away from this season and onto the next, I just don’t feel like it. I want to linger in the garden. I sometimes imagine while I look at my flowers that it’s still summer, even as I pull up my socks and draw my hood tighter around me.

I have a love-hate relationship with this bittersweet time of year. The glory of fall-turning-winter in Upstate NY is not to be matched– spiced cider and brisk winds, crystal nights with harvest moons and sparkling starlight. The last Canada Geese are fleeing southward, the squirrels move at a frantic pace now and the rustling leaves pile higher each day. But, of course, fall turns to winter, which for our family, carries a special weight. My husband Greg suffers from severe bi-polar depression and winter is the hardest time of year. I remember him commenting last winter in a lighter moment, “January wouldn’t be so bad if it were followed by something other than February.”

“What are you depressed about?” one well-meaning friend asked him recently. “I’m depressed because I have depression.” he replied and I was proud of him for not finishing the statement with “duh!” This is nothing new for us. Greg’s been diagnosed and medicated for over 10 years We’ve tried light therapy, diet, exercise, he takes 5 different medications now and the list of has-beens grows every year-Prozac, Zoloft, Trazadone, Wellbutrin, Lamictalin, Eskalith, in doses ranging from miniscule to mammoth. He sees his shrink once a month, it should be more but since he’s disabled and we live on my salary that’s the best we can do. Everyone has a helpful suggestion, this kind of tea, that book, as I’m sure happens with every illness, and I appreciate the sympathy and compassion but as nightfall comes earlier and his mood spirals out of his own grip and into the clutches of his illness it becomes more difficult to greet these well meaning offenders with a patient smile.

In spite of these challenges, I do look forward to the holidays- seeing the folks I only seem to see in that whirl between Thanksgiving and New Year but there are those who will not come again to these gatherings and I can’t help remembering that and regretting the losses.

The scripture readings at mass are moving us along in the same way. This week is the last Sunday of the church year -The Feast of Christ the King (we Catholics like to end with a bang). Two Sundays ago the readings were about heaven. And with this past week’s “the days will come” language we are pushed to look ahead, reminded that this season is not the final one. These readings are called “eschatological”. They deal with what will take place in that “final” future (the Greek word eschaton means “limit”) when the whole universe will undergo radical transformation at the hands of God.

I can move forward but first I want to take the time to pack up this year’s memories. Like so many summer clothes, I need a Saturday afternoon to get them tucked in boxes and ready to go into the attic. I am willing to let go of this year even as I wrestle with my own questions: Was I the person I desire to be? Did I love well? Why do the same demons still snap at my heels? Could I maybe trade in this same old set of bad habits for some new ones at least
? As I write the snow’s effects on the garden are painfully obvious. There is still color but everything is wilted and darkened, no more pretending that its summer. My family and I need to look ahead and prepare ourselves for what comes next. We also need to surrender in trust to the creative energy of God who makes all things new.

I often think of depression as a thief. It lurks around the corner and I fight the dread that begins to rise up in me. It comes in the dark times of the year skulking in the shadows, scavenging in these gloomy months, this long night that stretches from now until March. Surviving the winter I sometimes feel like a pilgrim, gathering enough wood and making sure we’ve put up enough food, bought enough lamp oil. As my husband’s mood and energy level begin to sink we stoke the fire and check our stores once more. No matter how bitter or dark the winter, I refuse to let depression steal our joy. I will hold it at bay. I light the lamps of friendship and music, of love and laughter and beauty. I take solace in the quiet companionship of my God.