Thank goodness January is over! However, judging by the sound of rain and wind outside, not much has changed! I don’t know about you, but if you live in northern climes like I do, January is wipe-out month. Those January Blues hit me every year. In Narnia terms, “it’s always winter but never Christmas.” The decorations and holiday cheer are long gone. Instead of the heightened anticipation of family gatherings and gift-giving, the beauty of carols by candlelight, and the awe and wonder of shepherds keeping watch in an ancient field, we have gray, featureless days over here that chill you to the bone, aches and flu bugs, and the inability to do anything more than just slog through it all.
Mother Nature has been particularly cruel this January, and not just here in Great Britain. Winter storms have wreaked havoc just about everywhere. I watched with increasing anxiety attacks as mudslides destroyed hundreds of homes and took over twenty lives in Montecito, California, causing my children to evacuate their college campus a second time after evacuating from the Thomas fire four weeks previously in December. I’m always affected anyway by their going back to the US after Christmas break. But after getting them safely home from the fire, it was a shock to see them once more surrounded by danger so far away from home.
Chris and I decided to join a gym to boost our spirits and energy levels as well as do something positive together. Now, we have sore throats and are sipping honeyed tea together, staring out at another cloudy, wet, miserable morning. Is there no escape?
The British really do complain about the weather a lot, but then there’s a lot to complain about. It rains…all year. July can be just as wet and damp as January. Wet and damp. That’s the worst part. You’re never dry and you’re never warm. So, how do the British cope with such misery? Well, first thing they do is get a dog. Two are better than one, and the more energetic the better because in this country, they are taken for long walks every day. In fact, usually twice a day, rain or sleet or mud. MUD. Don’t forget–rain and damp create mud. It’s everywhere, and dogs love it. In fact, the wetter and muddier they are, the happier they seem to see you, shaking and flinging showers of mud all over you. I know dogs give a lot of people a great deal of comfort and companionship. But no, we have just never been able to take the muddy plunge and get a dog.
What else do the British do to beat the weather blues? A Camelot tune starts up in my head…“What do the simple folk do,” sings Guinevere to Arthur, “to help them escape when they’re blue? When all the doldrums begin, What keeps each of them in his skin? What ancient native custom provides the needed glow? Oh, what do simple folk do? Do you know?”
They whistle and sing and dance, but it doesn’t work for poor Arthur and Guinevere because their hearts aren’t in it. Guinevere glumly asks, “What else do the simple folk do?”
And Arthur says, “They sit around and wonder what royal folk would do.”
I can tell you exactly what royal folk do. They go for long walks with a pair, at least, of highly energetic, water-and-mud loving dogs, like all other British folk.
But, what else do the British folk do to help them escape when they’re blue? Let’s see, I know they drink a lot. But surely there’s more to beating the winter blues than hanging out at the local pub. Or is there?
The British pub has been at the heart of every village community for centuries. It’s a place to meet neighbours and friends, share a meal or a pint, and in winter, sit by a cozy fire and feel warmly content. I have a tendency to hibernate come January, to withdraw from social gathering until the spring thaw. But isolation only adds to one’s blueness. I need social interaction, particularly in winter when it’s more of an effort to go out. For me, this doesn’t mean a party, but rather time for one-on-one get togethers, meeting up with a few close friends, or re-connecting with someone I haven’t seen in a while.
It actually helps to make a list. It may or may not be what the British folk do, but here’s how I got through the January blues.
1. Meet an old friend at a new place–Cherish or renew a friendship by discovering somewhere you’ve never been together before.
2. Do something new and fun with your spouse or a good friend–Join a gym and make some fitness goals you can work on together. (Just don’t get sick! If you do, brave it out — you’ll get better.)
3. Go see all the Oscar-nominated films!–January/February is a great time to go to the movies in the run-up to the Oscars. Here’s a Must-See list: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Darkest Hour; The Post; Hostiles; All the Money in the World; I, Tonya; Lady Bird.
Go out for a meal or coffee afterwards and have a great conversation about the film.
4. Read!–Nothing says “curl up with a good book” like a wet, rainy English day in January. A good biography is always a heart warmer for me. I’ve discovered Katharine Graham’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Personal History on which The Post film is based. A good chunky novel like Donna Tartt’s art thriller The Goldfinch is also a good winter read.
5. Change one thing in your house–Once the Christmas tree is down, take advantage of the sales. We recovered two armchairs, changed the cushions, and bought a new rug. A simple redo transformed the look of our seating area off the kitchen. A real mood lifter!
6. Study a book of the Bible you’ve never read before–This is a real challenge and has probably anchored my January more than anything else. My study group has taken on Job. Quite possibly the most liberating book of the Bible I have ever read. I thought I knew its story, but I never really understood it. It’s about a wrestling match with God over suffering. It doesn’t get more real than that.
7. Forget the diet! Eat cake and make soup!–It just doesn’t work to deny yourself food when you’re freezing cold! A special treat goes a long way to warming the cockles of your heart! Bake a cake and warm someone else’s heart by sharing it. Make your own soup–there’s something incredibly comforting and therapeutic about homemade soup. My favourites are lentil and vegetable. They’re easy to make and nourish both soul and body.
8. Pray regularly with and for someone–I have been praying with a small group of women for a year now. We came together as a response to a friend who lost her son in a tragic accident. Since then, we have also been praying for two of the women who have been diagnosed with cancer. Our prayer group has been especially strengthened this past month. I think it’s because January has few distractions. But also, friendships deepen from praying together.
9. Write a letter–So, who writes letters anymore? How will future generations know anything about us? Take time to write a thank you card, a letter of encouragement, something funny to make someone laugh. Making the effort to lift someone else’s mood will inevitably lift your own.
10. Be thankful for the present–I get a great deal of joy from planning for the future, especially if it involves being with my children. But life doesn’t happen just in the future. I need to also learn how to live better in the present, especially when it’s January and it’s cold and dark and my ears are hurting. I can complain and believe the grass is greener–and the sun warmer–somewhere else (which it is). Or I can make a list like this one and think, “I have been blue about a lot of things this past month. I miss my kids and they have been through a rough time. But there is a lot that has given me cause to be thankful as well.”
What about you?