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Staying Afloat Through the Winter Rain

At The Root Of Things

Thick grey clouds hang low in the sky, cloaking the sun in a way that chokes me.  Stagnant sky trapped under the weight of so much winter rolls into my nose each morning like an acrid injection into each nostril. Dulling the green of the trees, the wind blows hollow through my bones like a rattling corpse caged in a casket.

I hide under layer upon layer of thick, rich red blankets that my mind sees only in memory; inside, florescent lights bounce back an echo.  Minutes stretch into hours as I read, type, check Facebook, email, avoid getting up for a cold drink to moisten my mouth, now tacky from my lips to the back of my throat.

Dozens of little men with pickaxes tap into my lower back from all sides. My ankle joints stiffen in my socks, and my hips freeze in their sockets. I need to get up, to stretch.  This weight on my body and mind will only grow heavier. But darkness outside pushes me down. There’s not enough light inside to lift me up out from under the book or the computer.

“Why don’t you just get a light therapy lamp?” everyone asks.

Why don’t I? A million reasons; probably none of them good. I already take three different prescription drugs and three supplements for other aspects of my mood disorders. Each day I try to exercise—running, Pilates, zumba, boot camp, yoga, spinning or body sculpting (you’d think I would be a fitness goddess, wouldn’t you?), and I seek sunlight because I know it helps my mood. So, why not light therapy?

Flood

I have an irrational aversion to fluorescent lamps. They lined the rows from above—sometimes flashing before they blinked out—at the cheap department stores where I would spend my allowance; the plastic toys would snap at the seams before I got home. Much later, I sat under sunlamps at tanning salons and covered my eyes with tiny protective goggles before the prom and spring cotillion—when I went with the wrong men instead of having the guts to break up with them—fifteen years or so before my skin cancer diagnosis. Do I truly think I’ll get skin cancer from the light therapy lamp? No.  And even now, I’m not even always so careful in the sun. I just can’t completely give up its glowing warmth, the universe cradling me in its arms like a child. But the idea of buying artifical sun is more than I can bear. Like I said, I know it doesn’t make sense.

We live in California now, and thanks to global warming I guess, this year the sun shone unusally strong and warm until February.

I’m usually a mess by my birthday in early December. I remember one Christmas, I left my kids and my husband in the living room, smiling and fighting with those twist ties on the backs of the Barbie doll packages and eating all the chocolate covered Santas from their stockings. Crying under a mountain of covers, I called my sister from my bed, asking her what was wrong with me.

“But, when have you ever enjoyed Christmas?” my sister asked.

But this year, with our record-breaking seventy degree days in sunny California right up until the 23rd, I was out there by the tree on Christmas morning, scarfing up cinnamon rolls and slicing my fingers on toy packaging with the rest of them.

Even though I thrive in the light, by January even this sun-worshipper recognized how desperately we needed the rain. Walking under the leaves, I tried to pretend it was summer—to live in the moment and appreciate the sunshine. But a burnt quality filled the skies, stealing the ease from each breath. The singed leaves just hung from the trees, panting, begging for moisture in the air. Clumps of weeds screamed back at me like they were on fire, suffocating in the winter heat. The painted-on impression to the blue, blue sky formed a backdrop to the faintest chill that hid behind this otherwise balmy day. As if the weather knew it was out of place somehow.

Meanwhile, all winter in Chicago, my sister’s family is drowning in record-breaking snowfall, along with the rest of the country. Kids miss school because of dangerous subzero temperatures. The world definitely feels like it’s tilted off its axis.

But, around the second week of February, the inevitable steely-grey clouds loomed over my horizon, rains pelted the roof, and try as I might to be grateful for the long respite, winter slammed me down under water like a loud clap of thunder.

The upside is that rain is good for my writing. The darkness hold me still, snug, and content in one place. Yesterday I finished an article, submitted it (with an acceptance a half hour later!), worked on another one, promoted two blogposts on Facebook, learned to tweet (and retweet), and entered a blog article in a contest.

The downside?  Apart from getting increasingly out of shape from not going to the gym, my fuse has shrunk to a mere millilength, frayed to the edges. Unnoticed most of the day when I’m, working away. But if my trigger gets tapped, I snap louder at those around me with all the force that’s usually released with physical exertion. While the rain clouds still the surface of my inertia, underneath I’m still spinning—coiled like a snake in a way that writing alone cannot release.  If I don’t continue a pattern of physical endorphin release, I will bite.

So, I text my spin bike partner, equally buried in her own blankets and books. Sloughing off the pjs, we squeeze back into the spandex and gradually ease back into the habit of moving our bodies again in a rythym that’s klunky at first, pedal by pedal stroke as the joints creak and ache and gradually smooth out minute by minute, day by day.

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About Amy McElroy (20 Articles)
Amy McElroy is the Essays Editor for Sweatpants & Coffee. She is a writer, freelance editor, writing coach, and yoga instructor. In a former life, she worked as an attorney. She has published her non-fiction essays in various print and online periodicals, and on KUSP radio in Santa Cruz, California. Visit Amy’s other cyber-home at amyjmcelroy.net. Amy is currently working on two books: Yoga for Writers and a book of essays linked by a tree theme. She now lives in yoga pants near San Jose, California, with her husband and two daughters.
Contact: Website

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