“I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell, I know right now you can’t tell, but stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see a different side of me.” (“Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty)
I played the song for my teammates because it explained my melancholy state of existence in a way I couldn’t. I don’t even remember which winter it was, but does it matter? It happens every winter here. Sometimes not as bad, but every time, the struggle to stay balanced on the edge catches up with me. I’m not talking about walking up to the edge of a cliff and looking over, I’m envisioning the precipice of Mt. Everest…the edge climbers tight-rope walk to the top where they take one misstep and disappear off the mountain for good…it’s a clear drop to destiny on either side.
I try to hide it by being brave and plastering a smile on my face, but usually by January (when the temp is below zero Fahrenheit, the wind-chill is even worse and my very soul is frozen over) if someone asks me how I’m doing all I can do is grunt and say, “Fine I guess.” Or on occasion I’ve been known to tell someone that a small piece of myself has died inside of me, a sacrifice to winter…and I’ll never get it back. Or that I’d like to grab my passport and get on the first plane outta here.
Some mornings I wake up with new morning grace on my side and winter seems magical. Those mornings never last. There’s an undeniable ache that accompanies the entire cold, dark season.
Maybe living on the edge is a blessing. I’ve not fallen into a deep depression (so far by God’s grace and his grace alone), but looking down and yearning for a freefall is tempting when I’m caught in the middle of a dark season. The experience has given me a bit of understanding for those fellow sojourners who’ve fallen off the mountain…or in their hypoxic state chosen to just let go.
I know…it’s just winter. It’s not a life-threatening disease or sudden tragedy, but it is my challenge. Girls who grow up on cotton farms in West Texas are not cut out for this type of frozen tundra life. We choose to leave it up to the Minnesota girls if at all possible. It’s a cruel joke if you ask me. But I dare not complain too loudly or I’ll find out I’m moving to Siberia. There actually is a place on this earth colder than Northeastern China. Those poor penguins.
So what helps me walk the edge and not fall off? I stay clipped into my fixed rope (Sorry…I can’t help the Everest talk because when I think cold and miserable, well…it’s the perfect metaphor). Fixed rope for me is community, margins and celebration.
My friends (including my husband) help a lot, even though they probably get tired of hearing about how much I hate winter and don’t really get it because they seem to be bouncing along like snow bunnies on vacay in Vail. Even though they don’t understand, they allow me to vent. I don’t complain all the time, but enough that they know I hate winter. And when I play them my crazy song, they empathize. I’m so thankful for friends who stick it out with me when the fair weather has passed. And when I say, “I’ll be okay. I’m just cold and it’s winter and I’ll be okay.” They don’t press on and make a big deal.
I become a gigantic introvert in the winter (which confuses my warm-weathered extroverted heart). Staying warm sucks all the extroverted energy right out of me, and I find that I’m a lot happier if I keep my “bask in the sun” hour scheduled every afternoon. Vitamin D is a real need, y’all. I used to feel guilty about my hibernation, but now I see it as my battle plan and make sure my schedule has plenty of space for it in the margins. Winter is the time to read books, drink coffee and play indoors!
To my complete joy, there are holidays in the winter: Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, an anniversary and my birthday. Celebrating these special days with friends and family and creating traditions for each has been essential to my winter survival plan. I’ve found that if I fail to plan, I’ll fail to thrive during these holidays, so they are priority. The beautiful lights and decorations tossed up around the neighborhood and city help keep me out of the dumps as well.
As I share this with you today, it’s no longer winter and I’ve survived again. Little by little I’ve felt the fog lift and found my old self waiting there for me. Since the season is over, I’ve wondered if there’s any point in sharing this now.
The thing is, I don’t know what you’re going through out there. My annual rough patch is over, but yours may be just beginning. I want to encourage you to cling to Jesus and His word while you’re walking the edge. Daily living by the daily bread he gives may not look like a victory, but after you get through this hard spot you’ll look back and realize God has been teaching you and preparing you for the next thing right in the midst of the hard stuff.
If you aren’t currently in that hard place but see it coming from a distance…get ready! Make a plan and think through the lifelines you can clip into when the storm hits. Stop feeling guilty about your feelings and start living honestly in spite of them…even if living looks like hibernating for a while!
And if you’re right in the middle of it, hang on and let others know “just wait awhile and maybe then you’ll see a different side of me.”
Do you have a particular season that’s just plain hard for you to bear? What are your lifelines during that season?