Seasonal Affective Disorder, or seasonal depression, is well-known among many people. For those who encounter it consistently, the slow departure of summer can be met with dread and fear of what is looming in the distance.
For me, I do well until January. Then, after all of the family gatherings have ended and the Christmas cheer is put away in boxes until next year, I am itching for springtime colors and the warmth of the sun on my skin. But, it’s several, dreadfully long months away.
No matter when it hits, it can feel helpless when it feels the only solution is the changing of seasons.
I sometimes wondered if this deep longing in me for spring was me overreacting. Does the first time I step outside and feel the warmth of the sun really feel like a thawing of my soul? Does the sight of blooming flowers really feel as though I’m seeing colors never seen before? Does the sight of so much green really cause as big of a smile as it feels?
But Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass,” mentioned research that has shown breathing in the fresh air of Mother Nature causes the release of oxytocin. This is the same hormone that promotes bonding between parents and children, or between lovers. So, in viewing it this way, the departure of much nature around us for the winter months is similar to sending a loved one off for several months.
And that’s going to hurt. And, of course, its return will bring a wealth of joy and excitement.
But, Kimmerer also said something else that struck me. She said that during these winter months, nature is resting. And through the weight of the sadness and deep yearning for spring, empathy begins to emerge. I understand wanting rest. And I understand wanting my loved ones around me to be rested and cared for. So, when I lean into the idea of nature being a living being and give it the grammar of animacy, then I can embrace that nature needs to get its much-deserved rest, too.
It doesn’t take all the sadness away, as beautiful fall trees turn to bare limbs. But, I’m a lot less angry. Because I no longer feel as though nature is betraying me, rather it’s getting its much-deserved rest. I no longer sit in bitterness at feeling the only solution is waiting until spring. Rather, I lean into other coping skills I know to use and hold space that I’m letting nature rest and rejuvenate and it’ll beautifully awake in a few months. I feel a lot less helpless because I know this time is productive for nature because rest is productive. I look at the bare trees and instead of feeling abandoned, I imagine them in a deep sleep, dreaming of the sweet springtime when it will bloom in all its beauty again.
So, to the trees, flowers, shrubs, bushes and all other nature around me that fills my soul come spring, may we pause and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of you this fall, in all your spectacular colors. And then may you rest, and may I be patient in knowing that you’ll awake again come sweet springtime.
Kylie Larson, MA, LPC