Collected Solutions for Winter Blues

I am low. Low, low, low. Lowwwwwwwwwwww—no, that looks like “ow” with an L. Talking about being low is one of the things that can help fix being low, so here we are.

First, it is so boring to be someone who would be talking about this again. I cringe on your behalf. As the decades of life roll past, it seems as if this would stop happening, but no. At least it gets easier to recognize as A Low Time which is MASQUERADING AS a Ruined Wasted Life of Doing/Being Everything Wrong, and therefore has become somewhat easier to deal with. When I’m lying awake thinking of every way in which everything I’ve ever said or done has been in the very NICEST interpretation stupid and clueless, I can think, “Okay, there is no point thinking about this, now just stop it” before I continue thinking about it, instead of thinking I OUGHT to think about it, or that it is HELPING to think about it.

Second, I continue to find it useful to pretend someone ELSE is saying/thinking the same things, and deal with it THAT way. I am by temperament a Fixer, one of those people it’s good to prime with “Now, I just want to VENT to you about this, I don’t want SOLUTIONS.” If I pretend someone else is saying the floppy, discouraged things I’m thinking, then my mind immediately switches into Fixer Mode instead of cycling back around uselessly into more discouraged flopping.

Third, I continue to find it useful to ask what would make it better, even infinitesimally. Big things are too big, and too difficult: if a big thing is what it’s going to take, I can’t do it. But little things add up to a big thing. Drinking a glass of water is not too hard, and maybe helps a little tiny bit: one point for the actual inputting of the water, plus a second point for feeling like you’re doing something good for yourself, plus a third point for feeling like you’re making some progress on feeling better. Wiping a little spill off the counter is not too hard: one point for the actual wiping, one point for the improved household view, one point for not seeing that spill and feeling bad every time you walk past it, one point for feeling like you’re making a difference. Sending for a course catalog is not too hard. Eating a baby carrot is not too hard. Writing something down on the list is not too hard. Filing one piece of paper is not too hard. Turning on the radio isn’t too hard. Petting a cat or dog isn’t too hard, if you have/like a cat/dog. Peeing is not too hard, and can help considerably.

Fourth, I continue to find it useful to dabble / DO something. I picture it exactly like when someone in a movie is trying to start a fire, and they get the teeniest little glow and they immediately put all their energy into encouraging that little glow to survive and get bigger. QUICK, GIVE IT OXYGEN!! Any flicker of interest I feel in anything, I try to pursue it before it goes out. As I drove sullenly through town the other day feeling as if life were nothing more than a neverending cycle of pointless, tedious chores punctuated by pointless, stressful chores, I saw through the window of one of the shops a rack of what looked like postcards. I felt a flicker of interest. A feeling of “What’s the point? I have too many postcards already, and barely ever do Postcrossing anymore” threatens to put it out; a feeling of “It’s probably just greeting cards anyway” is the next threat, followed by a feeling of “It’ll just be awkward: I’ll go in and there won’t be anything I want or they’ll be greeting cards or they’ll be postcards but overpriced, and the owner will keep talking to me and I’ll feel pressured and the whole thing will be a bust and I’ll have wasted my time,” which needs to be shoved HARD away from that little glow. I will go to that shop today, when it opens. One point for satisfied curiosity; one point for getting out of the house; one point for a mission; one point for probable social contact, however brief; one point for feeling like I’m making progress on feeling better.

32 thoughts on “Collected Solutions for Winter Blues

  1. heidi

    Yay you for all the work you are doing to lift yourself out of the LOW. It is so hard but so worth it. And that is where I usually get stuck. The worth it thing or the I have no right to feel better about myself thing because I am just so awful. Neither of those things are true. If you (I) don’t feel better I can’t be there for those who need me and am just making their lives harder. Self-care is the best thing we can do for others.

    And now, I am DYING to hear about the trip to the shop. Please update!

  2. PiperG

    I love this. I am also a fixer, though I’ve learned over the years from my husband that my job is *not* to actually try and fix his Low Issues, but to listen. So although my first instinct was to offer suggestions on how you might feel better, I’ll put a sock in it and hope that leaving a comment might help in the same way. Plus, it sounds like you already have strategies that work for you. I do find that understanding things like this, and recognizing them as a Low Feeling rather than The Way Things Are, is really a nice benefit of getting older.

  3. Kathy

    I know this is about YOU and not ME (which makes me think about the Lionel Ritchie song “Say You, Say Me” which my sisters and I always sing “Say ME, say ME”) anyway…….*I* always feel better when I see a post from you in my inbox, even if it’s complaining. Or maybe especially if it’s complaining because I like the way you complain so so much!
    Feel better, Spring is almost here! And the chocolate holiday is in 2 days!!

  4. allstarme

    SO, this is in no way me trying to sell you anything but I recently got into these Young Living oils and they have some that – not even kidding – really pick me up, even when I feel awful. They balance hormones and just make life so much better. I think they might be voodoo but they’re voodoo that works.

  5. Alyson

    Oh, I feel you. I feel you + 70 inches of snow outside ,with inadequately shoveled sidewalks, 2 children, and a car parking ban (we don’t have a driveway). This post is keeping me from curling into a ball under the table for just a little bit longer, so thank you.

  6. Shawna

    I think of this as “eat the damn power gel”. See, I used to run an annual 10K event with my dad. I would almost always take a couple of kilometers to settle into my pace, then I’d be mostly okay… until about the 7.5 km mark, when I’d just start hating everything about what I was doing. And everything everyone around me was doing. Why all this RUNNING? Running SU-U-UCKED!!!

    It took me an embarassingly long time to realize that that was the point at which I’d run out of energy reserves and it was a chemical, need-fuel issue. The next year I was prepared; I had a power gel with me I was going to open and eat when I needed it.

    Here’s the most embarassing part: I hit the hating wall and just kept running. I finished with the gel unopened in my hand. Apparently it was one thing to realize what the problem was in retrospect, but a whole different thing to recognize it while it was happening and do something about it.

    So what I’d say you’re doing is a step beyond where I got (it turned out my dad’s knee couldn’t take any more running so that was the last 10K I ever did) – you’re recognizing the need for your metaphorical gel, at the time that you actually need it, and eating it. Congrats!

  7. Cherie

    I love this. It is a Low Period. It is. And that’s what’s kind of been helping me this year. This was the first year where I felt completely exhausted and, instead of being annoyed with myself for wanting to sleep all the time, I realized that my body is smarter than me. Of COURSE I want to sleep all the time. It’s been in the single digits for weeks and there’s 18 feet of snow and no sun. It only makes sense that I want to sleep! I evolved to want to sleep 18 hours a day at this time of year. Duh. It’s only modern life that prevents me from doing this.

    Anyway, that’s been helping. It’s not my fault; it’s evolution’s fault. I am not to blame here!

  8. Sarahd

    I hate January and February is only slightly better because it’s shorter and closer to Spring. Hang in there! You are NOT the only one!

  9. Adah

    Sometimes when I’m out driving from Point A to Point B, I let myself turn off my route very spontaneously and drive nowhere or somewhere else. I eventually go to Point B (which is usually home), but I spend a little time exploring or stopping somewhere else, too. I get a little adrenaline spike because I’m doing something I didn’t plan.

  10. Kate

    Me too. I’m embracing “fake it til you make it (or in this case until spring/sun/longer days arrive)” and going through the motions of the things I usually like to do. Some days it works better than others. Good luck to you in your low!

  11. Jesabes

    I have a hard time remembering who knows about what, so perhaps you already use this, but I have an app that’s been incredibly helpful when I feel both depressed about the state of my house (will never get better) and about my skill as a housekeeper (I suck).

    I got the recommendation from Ashley at Our Little Apartment, who I think you already know, but maybe a second endorsement will be good. It’s the UFYH app. Un-‘F word’ Your House. You can either select tasks or have them randomly generated, based on how much time you want to spend (5, 10, 15 minutes) and it’s silly but when an app tells me to clean the outside of my washer I suddenly enjoy it and appreciate having it done.

    1. Jesabes

      Reading that back it suddenly sounds like it’s not quite related to the post :) When I read the “Do something” paragraph it reminded me how much better I feel if I have the app generate a random 10 minute task and do it!

  12. Sarah

    I get low a lot this time of year too. And I thought I would tell you when I went on to your baby name blog, saw the update and read through the question, your advice and the resolution, I thought- I have been reading this blog for several years now because Swistle seems to really listen well to the namer, give advice based on their style and preferences, and hone in on the actual problem in the naming question in addition to what the person asked. She is really good at this (which is why I still read the baby name blog despite having named all my children and not having any really long established or pressing interest in names.)

    I know your post wasn’t looking for affirmations, but I thought you should know that your work contributes to a lot of people’s happiness, and you do things well.

  13. Bethany West

    Oh, Swistle, I have loved your blog ever since my sister forwarded me your post about the .33 vs 1/3 argument. I giggled over the whole post because it was just the sort of thing that I care about, silly as it is. So now I’m practicing faith and believing you when you say that Low Times might not define lives. I believe it. I will keep reminding myself of this when I have to feed the baby and toddler AGAIN. Or clean up or wake up and wake up or carry the baby or help the potty trainer with pants.
    Thanks for the ideas. I’m often not aware enough to realize that I can change my mood.
    …..I was going to try napping, but the baby just woke up a second ago.
    1 point at a time!

  14. Julia

    my low period is November and December. I am a fixer and cannot fix it. I do not look forward to the holidays. now, in February, I think “oh next Christmas will be so fun”. Why is it not possible to recognize that I am in a low period when I’m in it? only when I’m past it and feel better can I see it. I think I will mark it on my calendar this year. Caution: what you are feeling may be a low point and it will pass. Be patient with yourself.

  15. Another Heather

    Whenever these posts pop up I feel compelled to comment despite having nothing in particularly illuminating to say. But oh, I feel you on all of this. The spending hours of the day and night running through “things that were said/typed that shouldn’t have been said/typed at all because they were stupid/wrong/embarassing/awkward…etc.” It really does help to just do temporarily distracting things sometimes. And when I can’t make myself clean or accomplish something productive, I make tea and sip it very slowly, munch on a cookie between sips, and successfully pass half an hour without feeling too bad.
    At times like these, I really really wish I was religious. Just once I’d like to have that George Bailey moment during one of the lows…but even now, my cynical brain is like “LOL you’re funny, Heather. Go eat a cookie.”

  16. Alice

    I really like your points system! This winter has been very different than previous years (Zoloft is a life-changer), but even with pharmaceutical help, the days in which Everything is Awful still require little tricks to get through. One of my favorites is singing “Everything is awful/ everything sucks when _________” to the tune of Tegan & Sara’s “Everything is Awesome.” Something about a peppy tune with really crabby lyrics helps to make things a tiny bit better.

  17. katie

    YES. I am low every January through March. Yesterday I was up, and fully dressed and had makeup on and everything. And I just laid in bed staring at the wall. Just BLAH. Ugh. Just can’t help it this time of year. Its like being bored and uninspired and low and BLAH. I spend HOURS frantically searching real estate in warmer climates. Your “blow on the spark” is about like my mantra. It is “Wait for Inspiration. it will come.” If I am not inspired about something, i don’t force it during these months. And deep down I know it will return. So I am just waiting for it. Waiting for inspiration. It is perennial. It will be back. And it will hit me like a ton of bricks little by little as spring appears and i will wonder why it took so long. For now, I’m with you–just any little inspiration I feel I follow the hell out of it. Right now it is cooking. I am cooking like a crazy person. I just live for the next meal. Its probably not the best….

  18. katie

    Can’t stop thinking about this since reading this. So. They say music helps. But sometimes even that seems too hard. Trying to find music, downloading it. blah blah. Just too hard. But I have noticed if I ever do find some new songs I’m into it makes a total difference. So I’ve been listening to Pandora and just trying to find inspiration there. Also, I have found buying spring stuff helps–bathing suits for kids, towels, Easter clothes, shorts….ahhhh. Makes me feel hopeful. And totally helps. I KNOW all the things I need to do to feel good: get up, get dressed, exercise, eat right, stay engaged with people, etc BUT OY VEY! That all sounds awful and too big and too hard. So, a small thing I love is getting hooked on a new show that I can binge watch. Totally takes my mind into that show and out of my world and makes me feel so much happier. Worth every cent on netflix! Breaking Bad, Lost, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black, the Blacklist. Makes me look forward to something SMALL and something that will happen SOON. Rather than something big and far off–whole change of seasons, etc.

  19. allison

    I just walked very slowly on the treadmill for not quite thirty minutes under the very banner of making it better infinitesimally, and then came up and read this, so I feel like you’re patting me on the back retroactively. Crappy winter fist-bump. You are wise.

  20. Alma

    If you can manage it, do something nice for someone else that you normally wouldn’t. It helps so much. Like making cookies for a neighbor – just random stuff. Also, finding any purpose for the day. Volunteering for Meals on Wheels is a good one.

  21. annettek

    My normal go-to thing when I feel low is to go for a walk and take pictures of pretty nature-y things but now I have Achilles tendinitis and my PT has forbidden my long walks for the time being. I was feeling particularly about it low last week so bought myself grocery store flowers and took a ton of photos of them and I felt SO much better.

  22. Rbelle

    Folded a massive stack of children’s laundry and pulled literally thigh-high weeds today. Yesterday I was sobbing while giving the baby a bubble bath (this is very difficult to do, as a toddler in a bubble bath is a.dor.able.) Today seemed like yesterday could not possibly have happened. My low periods tend to come in chunks of days rather than weeks or months, but they’re always surprising, even when I expect them. And I’m also surprised when I go do something small and it makes me feel better, and I wonder “Why am I not ALWAYS out pulling weeds? I will start pulling weeds regularly, our lives will be SO much better.” This won’t happen, but it’s good to have goals in life. Good luck getting through your low.

  23. el-e-e

    This brilliant post and its brilliant comments will require me to study it again and again. Mostly in late July/August, which is my Low Time. I’m in the south, and the stupid oppressive heat, plus working full-time and having to shuffle my kids around for a still more weeks before school starts, plus not being able to just go to the pool everyday, = Really Low. So I’m going to try to remember some of your strategies.

    And I hope you DO go to that postcard store, and find postcards. Or something else surprisingly mood-lifting!

  24. Lindsay

    Oh, this helps. Feel better swistle. I have been feeling so irritable lately. Not liking this version of myself but also not succeeding at changing. Today DH is in valentines day mode, and I just want quiet and alone time. And then I feel terrible. Ugh!

    Jesabes- I am going to get that app.

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