S.A.D.

The one redeeming quality of a heavy winter is the chance to unwrap a new conquest from his coverings of winter clothing in anticipation of the surprise underneath. Yesterday, on the train, I finally spoke with the man I’ve been making eye contact with for months. He boards and disembarks at the Chinatown stop, leading me to believe he’s an inhabitant of the South Loop where all the up and comers live. He’s got a football player build and a shaved Foucault head. He always carries his briefcase and gym bag. On my way home last night, I was engrossed in the book I’m reading when I looked up at the end of the chapter. The guy was looming over me, staring intently at my book. I initiated conversation about the book. By the time we reached Chinatown, he asked if I’d like to grab something to eat. Defensively, I answered, “I’m allergic to MSG. Another night, though?”

Seasonal Affective Disorder hits me differently every year. Sometimes, I feel it right away at the October time change. Other years, I’m fine until February when it feels like all of nature has turned against me, locking me in a freezing white box. For years, I would overcompensate by keeping the temperature in my apartment at 90 degrees. Culturally and genetically, I’m ill-equipped for winter weather. Both nature and nurture agree that I’m built to live in hot converted deserts.

I was born in upstate New York, but by the time I was three, my mother, baby brother and I moved to El Paso, Texas. From there, to Los Angeles where single mothers worldwide flock to escape. My first memorable encounter with snow occurred when I begged my mom and her boyfriend to drive us to the mountains. When we got there, I stuck an ungloved hand into the snow to make a snowball to hurl at my brother, and felt like I’d burnt it. I retreated to the car, groping with my hand, trying to find some way to warm it. Imperiously, I demanded we leave. My first winter in grad school, on New Year’s Eve I flew back from New York where I was visiting Dat. It hadn’t snowed yet, but that evening, Chicago was struck by a record breaking blizzard. Stoned, in my apartment, I didn’t notice a thing. New Year’s morning, I smoked a joint and went to get some groceries. As I took a step off the porch, I landed face down in three feet of snow. I wiped my glasses clean and looked around. The whole neighborhood was blindingly white. It took two days for the street cleaners to get to us.

This year is a relatively bad year. My reaction to the weather was immediate. I’ve been ignoring emails, blowing off blogging, not taking phone calls. I delete evites as they arrive. Spending nine hours a day in a dimly lit artist’s studio can’t be helping. Every day, it’s a struggle not to order dinner when I get home. I fight with myself to cook at least one hot meal a day, to remind myself I’m alive (a coping strategy I learned from Peter Hoeg). I try to go to the gym every day. In my apartment, I resist submitting to my general depression: I keep active and clean the place; I light up my $300 sun lamp; I make piles of books and then read them. This weekend, I decided to force myself to do something for the holiday season. A friend came over and we baked two dozen double chocolate pot cookies to celebrate winter. Once high, I breathed a sigh of relief. “That really hit the spot. I just needed to slow my brain down.” My friend, a social worker who treats substance abuse, was equally high: “Do you think you have a tendency to self-medicate?” Proudly, I said yes. As the discussion progressed, a realization hit me. “Are you using self-medication with a negative connotation?” She stared at me and nodded affirmatively. “I feel so stupid! I thought you were using it in a 90s D.I.Y. sense, like changing your own tire or cooking homemade cat food.”

After three days, we had each eaten our share of the cookies. I face this winter day without a crutch. Longtime readers know that I consider December 17th the worst day of the year – the most heinous of anniversaries. Part of me regrets not grabbing dinner with Mr. Clean, but the guy radiated pure heartbreak. I also know that if I can get through December 17th on my own, I can get through any winter day.

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One Response to “S.A.D.”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Oh man, you totally crack me up. Just what I needed before I bundle up to dig my car out of the snow.

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