6 Ways to Deal with the Winter Blues

January is the worst.

Somehow, the cold that made me feel cozy in December chills me right through in January; the lights that looked festive a month before now seem dim and kitschy; the warm sweaters I loved to wear through fall and Christmas are suddenly restrictive straight jackets. There's a reason that the curse C.S. Lewis dreamed up in his Chronicles of Narnia series was "always winter, never Christmas." Because if you're like me, the sole redeeming quality that winter has to offer is Christmas. 

Well, folks. Christmas is over. The letdown can be rough, particularly if you're stuck inside after all the family time after the gauntlet of the holidays. If you struggle at all with seasonal depression, this could be the time it sets in—when it's cold and dreary and spring seems like a far-off impossibility. Sometimes, while I'm bundled up on my couch staring out the window at even more snow, I wonder out loud to my kids, "Will I ever be warm again?" Yeah, I'm a little dramatic.

The other day, I wrote two lists. One was titled "Why January Sucks," and the other "What Can I Even Do About January?" It was my coping mechanism—let's plan this out and make the middle of frozen winter a little warmer. The best decision I made in my planning was to turn to my Instagram friends (man, I love those people—jump on board if you want to join in this incredible community). 

These smart people came through and had some solid ideas for me, and I've already implemented a few of them. In the spirit of sharing the wisdom, I've put their ideas and my own together into a list for you. 

1. Embrace What's Good About Winter

Several of my Insta friends suggested getting outside for some winter-only fun like skiing and sledding. I'm not a skier (*looks toward two children, deadpans to camera*), but we have gotten out to sled with the kids and the squeals were worth the cold. There are other things, of course, that you can celebrate about winter without going outside: favorite knit sweaters, long evenings inside by candlelight, being snowed in with family, more time to read... I'm trying here, you guys. 

2. Cozy Up 

Maybe you've heard about the Danish tradition of "hygge," the intentional choice to cozy up, rest, and enjoy simple pleasures. This video makes me feel like winter isn't so bad after all, as long as I have nice socks and hot beverages and a warm living room. Even just lighting a candle, pouring some tea, and using the cold as an excuse to snuggle can make the frigid temperatures bearable. 

3. Think Green

Green things are coming. Spring is on its way (somewhere under the frozen tundra). Remind yourself of that with a few new house plants. This is the time of year that I visit my favorite local plant nursery and stroll their greenhouse—it's like visiting an oasis. Bring home a few bulbs to watch grow, force some paper whites. There's plenty of research to support this—nature has been proven to lift our moods and ease depression. 

4. Seek Sun

Where I live, we have this nasty word that comes up at least once a year: inversion. We live in a valley, and "inversion" is the meteorologist's term for "tears wept into your soup in January." Or, put another way: you won't see the sun for a few weeks. Luckily, we can get out of the inversion by driving a few hours out of the valley and gaining some elevation. If there's an option for you to go somewhere sunny, do it. If not, consider buying a "happy light" or another light therapy lamp to get some indoor rays. 

5. Fight the Hibernation Urge (a little...)

I need to take this advice to heart right now because (whoa) I haven't left the house since Monday. It's Friday. (Hubs and I share a car at the moment, so I haven't been able to get out, and we've had a snowpocalypse.) It's tempting to stay inside, cancel all plans, and go under the blankets until spring. Sure, stay comfortable, but don't let yourself get too cabin feverish. Have some friends over if you can't bear to leave the house, or head down to a coffee shop and get something warm to drink. Get outside, if you can, even for a short 10-minute walk. I promise you'll feel better.  

6. Tread Lightly With Resolutions

I've found that the expectations I set for myself are correlated with how content I am with my life. If my expectations are sky-high and unrealistic, even a decent day or week will leave me deflated. This time of year is like candied poison for a type-A overachiever like me since it seems like I now have the power to plot out a "perfect" year full of lofty goals. It's good to stay focused and goal-oriented; it's harmful to overwhelm yourself with visions of unachievable ideals. Maybe give yourself some time to think about what you want your year to look like, or better yet, reflect on lessons from your previous year and move forward with intentions instead of terrifying plans. Whatever you do, be gentle with yourself. 

Spring is coming, friends. We'll make it. Until then, come sit on my couch with me—feel free to bring wine. 

Winter can be a tough time, especially if you're struggling with any seasonal depression. These ideas can help you get through till spring with a cozy, positive attitude.

If you're struggling with more than a case of the winter blues, please know that there's help. The third Monday of January is called "Blue Monday," a recognized phenomenon, and a time that sees a spike in suicide rates. You're not alone. If you're struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please, seek help. The suicide prevention hotline is always available: 1-800-273-8255. These words from Sam Lamott are also so true. 

I Want to Write a Psalm

I want to write a psalm. 

Like David, crippled with anguish, running with fear. I want to throw on some sackcloth and ashes and write a lament—how long, oh Lord? Have you forgotten me? Don't turn your face away, please. 

I want to write a psalm. But I'm no David. David fled a vindictive, jealous friend-turned-powerful-enemy. My friends stand around me, let me cry on their shoulders. David sheltered in caves, feared for his life. I set a thermostat to my comfort level, enjoy a body free of pain. David—after God's own heart. Me—maybe I'm just weak. 

I Want to Write a Psalm // emilyfisk.com

Besides, children are dying in Aleppo. Friends are preparing for first holidays without dead parents. Lonely divorces, sick spouses, injustice, violence—they're all there, reminding me I'm privileged, that maybe I won some cosmic lottery of birth and place and I'll never know some dark truths the way others do. There are countless thousands with resumes of suffering far more impressive than mine. 

Clearly, I'm under qualified to write a psalm.

But His eye is on the sparrow—right? He loves to give good gifts, so I've read. I could use a good gift tonight. I can't quite wrap my head around it, but my heart tells me He has no litmus test for whose pain He'll give ear to. I'm in pain, and maybe the guilt I'm adding on (the guilt that says: you're fine, get over it, stop and move on) isn't helping. Maybe if I can't believe He cares about my bumps and bruises and skinned knees (in the grand scheme of creation) then I can't accept His offered comfort. 

So I'll write a psalm. And it'll say:

 

Deliver me, O Lord.

My children are well but

most days I can't love them

like I should.

 

Deliver me, O Lord.

The bills and the worries and the guilt pile up

and threaten to pull me under 

dark waves of overwhelm. 

 

Deliver me, O Lord.

I'm weak and uncoordinated 

in my attempts at selflessness. 

I falter under the burdens

I want to shoulder bravely.

 

Deliver me, O Lord.

I have these four walls surrounding me, 

but some days they're a prison, 

and I'm a frantic animal, wide-eyed within them.

 

Deliver me, O Lord.

Forgive me for seeking only human approval; 

a potent anesthetic, I'm 

delirious and numb with it. 

 

Deliver me, O Lord.

You're merciful, so you'll 

look past my pettiness, my underdeveloped 

spiritual muscles, won't you? 

You'll hear me, though my problems

fail to impress?

 

Deliver me, O Lord.

 

You are a God who rescues.

 

Selah. 

 

To My Second: A Birth Story

PC: Kimberlie Ann Photography

PC: Kimberlie Ann Photography

"I'm not ready." 

The thought ran through my head on broken-record repeat as I lowered myself into a warm bath. 

"I'm not ready." 

I combed through my tangled hair. 

"I'm not ready." 

I held my oldest; her last moments as a baby ticked by. 

"I'm not ready." 

I surveyed my home—my home with no oven, no countertops, no carefully placed bassinet. 

I wasn't ready. But ready or not, here you came. 

* * * 

As I write this, you're napping. The clock just snuck past 5:45, telling me you've napped for over an hour by yourself for the first time in a few weeks. Besides this nap, you've needed shushing, soothing, and contact with my weary body to nap well. 

So—that's how month two has gone. 

And yet, there goes month two, and I'm already nostalgic for it. Month one fled too swift—that first bleary month where all you needed was me and all I needed was you. Month two came gradually, and then all at once; it was a month of slow recovery and tired arms and short nights. 

There goes month two. 

* * * 

I had played and replayed scenarios in my head like bad movies. There were scenarios where my contractions led me—kicking and screaming, for all intents and purposes—into labor and delivery. I imagined telling a nurse, "Please stop it. Please. I don't have a house and my husband doesn't have a job." 

See, your dad got laid off in June, while we were knee-deep in our long-dreamed-for home addition. We'd already borrowed the money and we had severance pay, so we plowed ahead, pushing the deadline closer and closer to your due date. We moved in five days before you made your swift and decisive entrance, dear one. 

I tell you this because I wasn't ready. And you still came. And you were still perfect. 

* * * 

As it was, a few things had fallen into place. Our home had power as of 24 hours before I admitted the obvious—I was in labor, and it was time to go. We were hopeful about three job prospects—in fact, your dad had all but been offered a job. 

But your little bassinet—it was still boxed up in the garage somewhere. Your diapers and wipes and onesies, they were all jumbled in a pile, not carefully folded and ready for you. And your planner, doer, make-doer mommy was scared—scared that this lack of preparedness and certainty would hurt you somehow. You'd know we loved you, right? 

So I put on a sweater and briefly checked the contents of the hospital bag and told your dad in exasperation, "Yes, it's for real. Let's go." And I added, as backed out of the driveway: 

"Damn it. I needed one more day." 

* * * 

You wouldn't wait one more day, though, or hardly one more hour. We arrived, and the nurse—I can't recall her name or her face, so frazzled I was—went through the admittance procedures. She checked me and announced I was a four. "A good time to come in," she congratulated me. Your dad took a video of me, robed in a hospital gown, swaying gently, holding my belly. "How do you feel?" he asks. Watching it now, I wish I could go back and tell that terrified girl she'd be okay, that her baby didn't care about paint or bassinets or medical insurance. "Feeling like this is it," I replied, proffering a strangled smile. They monitored you, they started an IV of antibiotics for my group-b strep, they gave me cheery updates as I pursed my lips in pain. "That IV should be done soon. I'll check back in a bit!" 
 

The shakes started only an hour after we arrived. I couldn't control them and felt silly, frustrated. "Are you cold?" The nurse raised her eyebrow, surveying me. "No," I said, "but shakes are normal, right?" 

She mumbled something about "usually later," and said, "You still want an epidural? I'll page the anesthetist." 

That's when the pain started in earnest. That's when my worries relinquished control to my body and I was suddenly delirious with wave after wave of contractions. My desire to appear nonchalant and in control was still in place—but barely—when I asked about that epidural what seemed like years later. "On her way!" I heard a voice say from somewhere in the room, somewhere I couldn't focus on as I breathed through the tightened, white-hot agony. 

The anesthetist arrived and began to explain, in a low, rehearsed drone, that if I had complications from this epidural it wasn't her fault and the hospital wasn't liable and other things you care deeply about while experiencing the worst pain of your life. I inhaled sharply at a contraction, and she asked, "Need to take a break?" "No," I said, "keep telling me about liability." 

Then things got real. "I feel a lot of pressure!" I remember yelling, afraid you'd already poked your tiny head out somehow and were greeting me with a cheeky grin. When I felt a gush, I knew my water had broken and heard the words "meconium" and "NICU" and that's when mama started swearing. "Yep, you're a nine," my suddenly all-business nurse announced from somewhere under my hospital gown, and I gasped, "Does this mean no epidural?" 

My midwife was suddenly in front of me. "You can get that epidural NOW," she intoned firmly. 

Thank God. That was my thought. Because no matter how much pain I was in, at least the epidural was going according to plan. 

I held your dad's shoulders and swore rhythmically into his shirt while using all my strength to hold still as the anesthetist inserted a giant needle into my spine. I tell you this, dear, because I hope that by the time you have babies, they've made this feel a bit less barbaric. 

"Can I move?" No. "Can I move yet?" No. "Can I move now?" Yes, here, roll back on the bed. 

That epidural didn't set in until I had started, in a half-laughing, half-crying fit, pushing you into the world. 

"No need to wait for the contractions," my midwife said from behind goggles and a mask. "She's almost here. Go ahead and push however you'd like." 

So I pushed. A few times. And you were here—wailing like your life depended on it. 

Turns out, it did. I knew when you screamed with those tiny lungs that you hadn't swallowed any meconium, that you were breathing and okay, that NICU wouldn't whisk you away from me. I pulled your slimy, red body toward me and laughed. 

And all at once, I was ready. 

Let it Be Light: When Advent Hurts

Running along the river, we drew in lung-numbing air and breathed out weariness. "When I heard about the attacks," she huffed between strides, "I just sat on my bed and cried." 

The familiar weight settles in my chest again. We talk about bombings, sick children, refugee crises, the fear permeating our neighborhoods. These and other tragedies threaten to push me further downward. Advent promises to bring light after the days get darker, but it's only November and I’m sinking. The days aren't even as dark as they'll get yet. 

Last year around this time, I was entertaining visions of a nostalgic first Christmas season with my daughter. Instead, the unbearable weight of global events knocked the wind and the manufactured magic right out of me, and I felt trapped under an unbearable grief for a broken world. I felt cheated. Jesus was in the manger and the story was moving on to the Wise Men, but I wasn't ready. Where was the peace on earth? The goodwill toward men? Christmas had come, but injustice still reigned and the darkness felt tangible. 

//

Then in despair I bowed my head.

“There is no peace on earth,” I said

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

// 

There was a time when Advent meant nothing more to me than opening cardboard cut-outs to reveal the number of days between me and merriment. I subconsciously linked Advent with pleasure, comfort, and a cleaned-up baby Jesus. But it's a lie that Christmas is all smiles and store-bought magic.

Instead, Advent is painful. Jesus' entrance into this world came during war and xenophobia and genocide. Sound familiar? Only shortly after the child King was born, Herod killed every Jewish boy under two. The infant Christ turned refugee while a xenophobic ruler ripped babies from wombs. The first Christmas didn't happen in a world somehow safer or cleaner or kinder than the one we live in now. 

Let it Be Light: When Advent Hurts // emilyfisk.com

That's why Jesus came. That's why Advent hurts. All the twinkling lights on earth can't pierce that darkness. It takes a Light stronger than the coming summer sun to warm human hearts. The promise of Advent is that the Light is coming. The days grow shorter, colder, and darker—but the light always comes with the change of the seasons. It's a cyclical symbol of a bigger story. The Light is coming. 

This Advent, I'm embracing the hurt instead of covering it up with paper and ribbons. Let’s simplify the commercialism and the rush and instead quiet ourselves to listen and act. The light isn’t hanging on a Spruce tree or twinkling from a storefront: the Light is here and still coming, and someday He’ll wipe away every tear. 

//

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

"God is not dead, nor does He sleep.

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on earth, goodwill to men."


Originally published November 2015.

Friday Favorites: The Best Articles I Read This Year

I've said this before: reading is one of the best ways for me to stay sane as a parent. Reading lets me go on a trip when I haven't left the house in days—no real pants or makeup necessary. Reading helps me exercise my analytical skills and brain muscles when I've been talking toddler for eight hours straight ("No, it's not time for lollipop num-num, it's time for night-night"). Reading inspires me to keep writing, because frankly, I can use the reminder that words matter. 

I now read slowly, and sometimes sporadically, since becoming a parent. I used to devour a couple books a month, but now reading after 8:00pm is a sure way to start snoozing. But I still read, and I've found that reading articles and shorter pieces has become my go-to. I'm sure my friends and family are tired of hearing me say, "I read an article that said..."—I start an embarrassing number of sentences that way. I love to share the stuff I read, though. Here's a roundup of the best articles I've read this year—and guys, some of these are perfection. All of them are fantastic in one way or another. I've put them in categories so you can find your jam. 

Here's a roundup of the best articles I've read this year—and guys, some of these are perfection. All of them are fantastic in one way or another. I've put them in categories so you can find your jam.

Parenting

"A Manifesto Against 'Parenting'" by Alison Gopnik in The Wall Street Journal

Gopnik makes a compelling plea to stop complicating child-rearing—to stop focusing on the minutiae of methods and instead respond to our children's unique needs as a gardener responds to the needs of different plants. 

Best quote: "Middle-class parents obsess about small variations in parenting techniques. Should you co-sleep with your babies or let them cry it out? Should strollers face front or back? How much homework should children have? How much time should they spend on the computer? There is almost no evidence that any of this has much predictable effect on what children will be like when they grow up. Does this mean that parents don’t matter? To the contrary: From a scientific perspective, being a parent, as opposed to 'parenting,' is crucially important, but it’s important in a very different way."

"Instead of denying our own sadness to our kids, we should teach them how to cope" by Smita Malhotra in The Washington Post

Malhotra explores the reasons we hide every emotion but happiness from our children, particularly when they're younger. Her conclusion made me think about allowing my girls to "sit with" their feelings, take stock of their emotions, and ultimately live healthier emotional lives. 

Best quote: "By constantly telling children to 'turn that frown upside down,' our society sends them the message that being sad is almost unnatural. That it is something that needs to be fixed immediately. I find myself trying to protect my child from any emotion but happiness."

"WHY WE NEED TO STOP TECH-SHAMING OUR KIDS" BY KIRA LEWIS ON SUNSHINE AND HURRICANES

I love this call to stop using technology as a tool to shame (other peoples') kids. It's quintessentially human to scapegoat, and technology seems to be a favorite scapegoat for all the "problems" with "kids these days." The reminder to look at technology more critically and holistically is timely.  

Best quote: "Technology is a part of our kids lives and a part they embrace and enjoy. We need to stop implying that their childhoods are somehow less because of it. That isn’t fair to them. It is our job as parents to help them learn to use technology safely, responsibly and in moderation.  Perhaps that is hard, because we ourselves are struggling to do the same. But that isn’t technology’s fault." 

"I WAS JUST HER" BY ASHLEE GAD ON COFFEE + CRUMBS

Oh, I need to read this every day. The stages of parenthood are full and fleeting, and stepping outside of them for just a moment always helps me put one foot in front of the other and stir up some gratitude. 

Best quote: "I smile at her, and fight the urge to say something wise and all-knowing like, 'Don’t worry, it gets easier.' She isn’t frazzled. Her hands are simply full, much like mine had been one year prior. I was just her. One year ago, I was the mom with the tiny baby and a potty training toddler. I was the one carting around a snap-n-go stroller taking up entire bathrooms while helping my oldest kid on and off toilets big enough to practically swallow him. Oh how far we’ve come."

Faith

"Off Brand" by Sarah Bessey

Sarah Bessey explores how the story we tell ourselves about who we are can become a straight jacket. I particularly relate to her stories about how motherhood forced her "off brand," and her message is freeing. 

Best quote: "A brand isn’t exclusive to corporations or non-profits. We often embrace a certain 'brand' for our lives as regular people, we have a story we want to tell with our lives and we expect everything in our life – our food, our worship, our budget, our homes, our friends – to all reinforce that story. This isn’t always bad but it can be restrictive. We are often unconsciously thinking of what our choices communicate to the world about who we are and what we value and what our purpose is in this life... Sometimes the story we tell ourselves about our own lives can become a prison, it can keep us from the real life that is waiting for us."

Politics

"10 SIMPLE FACTS TO MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT THIS ELECTION" BY DAVID WONG IN CRACKED

If you're feeling like most of America in the fevered days leading up to the 2016 election, you could probably use this article. This article made me laugh out loud and genuinely made me feel better about the crazy parade 2016 has been. This piece includes gems like "Elections Are What We Have Instead of Wars," "They're Your Neighbors, Not Monsters," and some hilarious 1800s political cartoons. Warning: this article sports many well-placed swears, which ups the humor for me, but if it's not your thing, maybe click on another link here. 

Best quote: "Those people lining up to vote for [insert candidate you're most scared of] would, in the vast majority of cases, call for help if they saw you wounded in the street. Some of the ones with the most ignorant slogans on their T-shirts would dive into freezing water to save you from drowning. They're your neighbors, your co-workers, your customers. In the last month, one of them has probably offered you their spot in line at the grocery store and struck up a pleasant conversation about sports in the waiting room at the dentist."

"The Governing Cancer of Our Time" by David Brooks in The New York Times

David Brooks' defense of politics is succinct and smart. Don't read it if you're election-weary, but do read it, because it's important. 

Best quote: "The downside of politics is that people never really get everything they want. It’s messy, limited and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal. But that’s sort of the beauty of politics, too. It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way."

Marriage

"How my fantasy of marriage settled into the reality of marriage" by Annabel Monaghan in The Week

Monaghan's look at "the reality of marriage" is enjoyable and thoroughly relatable. It made me grateful again for my husband, and reminded me of the days when we argued over petty stuff. Real life makes you stop worrying about squabbles and instead realize the goodness of what you have. 

Best quote: "When life starts to happen, you learn a lot about who your partner is. It's no longer Saturday night all the time. Adulthood can feel like a string of Mondays. Once you've moved through a patch of real life with someone, you learn a lot about the depth of their kindness, the strength of their integrity, and the staying power of their sense of humor. It's then that you stop sweating stuff like the ice trays."

"Some Days I Just Don't Want to Show Up for My Marriage—But I Do, Anyway" by Christine Suhan on Babble

This article is a good reminder that "fake it 'til you make it" can be decent advice when adult life gets tough. There's something to be said for balance here—where not acknowledging your own fears or frustrations can be seriously damaging—but sometimes, biting the bullet and "acting like it" could be the solution to genuinely "feeling like it." 

Best quote: "Today, I act my way into feeling, instead of feeling my way into acting. I show up when I don’t want to show up. I cook dinner for my children when the sight of my kitchen repulses me. I kiss my husband and tell him I love him even when I feel like he owes me the world’s biggest apology. I stay when I want to go, I act as if I’m all in. Because I am."

Other Stuff

"Why I Don't Think We Need to 'Be More Real' on Social Media" by Jen Wise 

Jen Wise makes a great point here: sometimes our calls for more "realness" on social media is really just another way to compete (again). Peoples' honesty on social media has encouraged me more than once, but we don't owe our friends or followers a daily gut-spilling in order to be acceptable. 

Best quote: "The thing is, we’re right in thinking this is only part of the picture. Of course that friend with the gorgeous house and endless wardrobe has problems. Or course your co-worker who is out with friends every weekend struggles in her own way. But why should we demand a public display of their weaknesses just to feel ok with their strengths?"

"Here's How I Keep My Boy Safe-ish Online" by Glennon Doyle Melton

Here's the thing: you should follow Glennon. This isn't her best article of the year (by far). But here, have a Glennon Doyle Melton article, and read about internet safety—because really, this is a great piece. 

Best quote (in response to her son's question): "Well, honey. Requesting privacy on the internet is sort of like requesting privacy in the middle of a baseball stadium during the World Series. Both the internet and baseball stadiums are—by very definition—very public places. If you say things on the internet or in a baseball stadium, people are free to hear those things. Your mother is one of the people who are free to hear. This is true for many reasons—not the least of which is that she has undoubtedly purchased your tickets to both the internet and the baseball stadium."

"Why Can't We See That We're Living in a Golden Age?" by Johan Norberg in the Spectator

It was the best of times, it was... well, actually, it's just always the worst of times. At least, that's what you'd think if you read the words of humanity from basically any era. It seems we have a tendency to believe the bad to the exclusion of acknowledging the good. Norberg's piece makes the case for optimism. 

Best quote: "In almost every way human beings today lead more prosperous, safer and longer lives — and we have all the data we need to prove it. So why does everybody remain convinced that the world is going to the dogs? Because that is what we pay attention to, as the thoroughbred fretters we are. The psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown that people do not base their assumptions on how frequently something happens, but on how easy it is to recall examples. This ‘availability heuristic’ means that the more memorable an incident is, the more probable we think it is. And what is more memorable than horror? What do you remember best — your neighbour’s story about a decent restaurant which serves excellent lamb stew, or his warning about the place where he was poisoned and threw up all over his boss’s wife?"

Now it's your turn. Share some words with me!