By Bonnie Hutchinson
Are you wintering?
Are you wintering?
A friend sent a link to a book called Wintering by Katherine May. I haven’t actually read the book, but I loved its message: “Embrace your winter.”
By “winter”, the author means not just the cold dark season, but “a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of outsider.” What flashed in my mind was a woman I once knew who grew up in Japan–among the more crowded countries on earth–and married a man who lived on a farm in East Central Alberta. She looked out the window on miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles covered by snow. “Loneliness” and “outsider” were two of her realities.
I couldn’t quite imagine how she managed to adapt.
***Back to Katherine May’s book. She describes a recent time she went through a personal winter. She hit a storm of woes. First, her husband’s infected appendix burst while awaiting surgery. When her own stomach pains escalated, she first thought it was a sympathetic reaction or a case of nerves. But after months of waiting for tests, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Then her six-year-old refused to go to school. Because she understood the misery he felt, she chose not to force him.
She understood her son’s misery, because it wasn’t May’s first winter. “As one of the many girls of my age whose autism went undiagnosed, I spent a childhood permanently out in the cold,” she writes. She suffered a major depression at 17, but was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, “I saw the chance to make myself new again,” she says.
Because she’d been through a personal winter before, she knew what to do. She now says it’s her duty to share some strategies. Wintering, she says, is a way to get through tough times by chilling, hibernating, healing, regrouping. “Doing these deeply unfashionable things–slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting–is a radical act now, but it is essential,” she writes.
May has become convinced that, “The cold has healing powers…after all, you apply ice to a joint after an awkward fall. Why not do the same to a life?” This led her to take up ice swimming, a teeth-chattering, but invigorating exercise. She and a swim buddy plunge daily into frigid water without wetsuits, gradually building up tolerance. “We let the cold unburden us of our own personal winters, just for a few moments,” May writes.
Other areas of exploration are less extreme. She looks into the preponderance of snow in fairy tales, and researches the history of wolves. She considers the fascinating cold weather survival tactics of bees, which shed their wings to take turns heating the hive. She quotes Wintering, a poem by Sylvia Plath, who didn’t survive her winter.
“I recognized winter,” May writes. “I greeted it and let it in. Nature shows that survival is a practice.”
***And here we are in the midst of a pandemic that is forcing us to hibernate!
Not everyone is having a quieter time. Health care people, for example, may be more pressured than ever before in their careers. Parents trying to work and home school in a home environment not set up for either of those activities are not exactly having their spare time expand.
More hours of daylight and the promise of warmer temperatures feel like easing of the external winter. Our internal winter might be lasting longer. By now, eleven months in, many of us are past the edges of our previous coping strategies. But many of us are adding some new perspectives.
We could relax into the possibility of healing and regrouping and creating new realities emerging from the darkness–a whole new perspective on winter.
***I’d love to hear from you! If you have comments about this column or suggestions for future topics, send a note to Bonnie@BonnieHutchinson.com. I’ll happily reply within one business day.