Sunday, November 18, 2012

As Winter Approaches

Just a few thoughts at the darkening of the year. This is a hard time for many of us. First and foremost, days are shortening. In America, we have exited Daylight Savings Time, so instead of the long slow dusk we’ve been used to all summer, it’s pitch black before we even get our dinner. The warmth is leaving, and the holiday season is coming with its heavy expectations. Those who have family or community that they feel good about can snuggle up to them right now, but many of us feel the lack of close ties or gifts or abundance; so the whole season registers as a reproach, a scenario we “should” be living up to but aren’t.

This is the time to pull out your whole wardrobe of anti-depression strategies, because you’re going to need them. There’s exercise, number one - which you actually need more of to balance all that comfort food and indoor hunkering. There’s finding access to light, whether you sit by a window or invest in full spectrum bulbs or just put Christmas twinklers on your mailbox. There’s music - not necessarily Christmas music (I think it’s too early, anyway), but something to stir the blood a little. And there’s color. Don’t retreat into a brown and grey world just  because Winter’s coming. Bring out sweaters or quilts or pillows in your favorite bright colors to spice up the days. Wear them, sleep in them, sprinkle them around your home. It doesn’t cost any more to buy a bright color than a dull color, and it gives an immediate lift to the spirits. Nature herself approves of this: She brings out the brilliant reds and golds the minute Fall hits. Your environment doesn’t have to be drab just because the weather is.

This is a good time to cultivate beauty of all kinds. Walk through a gallery or museum or a pet shop full of brilliant exotic fish or birds. Attend that movie that’s billed as sheer eye candy. Drift through a lot full of sleek shiny sports cars. Now is the time to find the indoor beauties we have perhaps been neglecting.

It’s time to cuddle up with a good book or audiobook, or your cat or dog, or your knitting or whittling or DVDs.Take up meditation or mosaics. It’s time to shift focus. That’s not bad. It’s just an effort.

And speaking of shifting focus, I had an experience today that I’d like to share. I hope I can do it without sounding like Pollyanna Purebread. Today was a bad day for me mentally until about 2 in the afternoon. I was angry, irritable, grim, emotionally in the bottom of the ashtray. There was no reason why (which suggests to me that it was purely symptomatic). At some point, driving my car, I said to myself, “I don’t want to feel this way. What can I do to feel different?” I had taken my pills. I had gone for a two mile walk. I had treated myself to tea at Peet’s. I didn’t know what else to do for myself.

Suddenly it occurred to me that my brain (and emotions) were insisting on telling me everything that WASN’T ideal, when actually there was a lot that was good about the day. I remembered an old 12-Step tool and started listing, out loud, the things I was grateful for, starting with the fact that I was in a car instead of on public transit. And you know, once I started listing things, I just couldn’t stop. There were so many things, tiny things and big things, that could have been worse. By the time I arrived at my destination, I felt great. It completely changed my outlook - so far, for the remainder of the day.

Now, I am the first person to roll my eyes when people urge me to “think positive.” There are times when life is not positive, there is nothing positive to think about, and I’m not going to force myself into an emotional lie. But I see that shifting my focus from things that are wrong to things that are right is a completely free and easy way to improve my state of consciousness. And as those of us with diagnoses know, state of consciousness is everything.

I make no promises, but this sounds like a method I want to add to my toolbox. I offer it to you, for what it is worth.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, available at, Kindle Editions, iBookstore, and other major vendors. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at She has also narrated a guided meditation CD with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker. Check out sound samples at