The weather in London has been, frankly, lovely. In fact, I’m certain that anybody who lives here would stick their tongues out at us, since the past summer was by all accounts beyond tragic. Still, in spite of the fact that the sun has made at least a fleeting appearance on virtually every day since we arrived, there are only too many reminders that summer is making its way steadily toward the exit, sheepishly in these parts, perhaps all too aware of its less-than-impressive performance this year.
I love the sun. Lovelovelove it. I think I knew I had Seasonal Affective Disorder before the seasons ever had the chance to affect me in a negative way. Barefoot has always been my fashion statement. I never feel more radiant than when my hair is streaked with blonde and my shoulders are peeling just a little from forgetting to put on sunscreen a couple of days ago (I’m getting better). When the days are longer and hotter, I feel solidly more optimistic about all of it. Future, present and past just all seem more the way they should when one can go outdoors after dark in nothing more than flipflops, shorts and a tanktop.
Here’s something else about me: I have Future Dread. This is the thing I totally get about being present. I worry. A lot. I distinctly remember my second trip to Disneyland (I was too little to remember the first) – I think it was for some kid’s birthday. I remember just before lunchtime coming to the realization that it was lunchtime. Ergo, time was passing. Ergo, this perfect moment (I was a big fan of Disneyland. Sue me.) was going to end. That distinctive sense of dread filled my every pore, and I can honestly tell you, Gentle Reader, that I spent the remainder of my day, on the People Mover and Tron and even on It’s a Small World, exerting every ounce of my energy to push that dread back, to force an enjoyment of this thing I knew was going to end. That knowledge was, for me, so sad.
Why on Earth can’t something gold stay?
Fast-forward a couple of decades. There was a whole lot of drama surrounding my move to London, but underlying all of it was that I would be leaving Southern California. Home of skaters and surfers and scantily-clad everybody. Home of health-Mex and Viet and curry buffets on Sunday mornings, complete with complimentary mimosas. Home of the occasional late-night clandestine swim in the ocean, sometimes in November.
And, okay – let’s be honest…home to a whole lot of other things that broke my heart and my soul and ultimately meant that I couldn’t call it my home anymore. But that’s not the point of this post.
The other side of me leaving SoCal was that I’d be arriving in damp, cold, grey London. This city that was incessantantly rushed, impossibly expensive, and linked together by a public transportation system that made my eyes bleed just looking at the maps. Where the streets constantly curved hither and thither such that pathetic Californians like yours truly could never make sense of which direction they were going and onto which street they’d end up.
There are a million wonderful things about this town, but I was worried about coming, and didn’t have time at any point, it seemed, to do any positively-charged research. Excuses, excuses, I know, but that’s all I can say about it now.
Around about a year after I arrived, I was finding my rhythm. I was going outside, even when it rained, because that’s what you have to do when it rains every day. I was learning the transport and building my confidence and really doing rather well with all of it, when I broke my leg in three places. It was February.
Consequently, I spent the remainder of the winter indoors. I went back to work in June and that was fine – with the crutches and 2 hour commute both ways to work, I was keeping quite fit and getting out into the sun pretty regularly. But when the crutches came off, I entered into a world of pain and rehabilitation. Walking sucked. I gained weight, and walking sucked worse. Cold weather exacerbated my pain. After an hour of walking, I would have to limp. I grew tired of constantly making excuses, and grew increasingly more comfortable spending any and all social outings sitting in a pub drinking cider.
If the winter in which I broke my leg was bad, the two that followed were moreso. My fear of all things winter, from the icy ground on which I fell to the impenetrable layers of gray that seemed to weigh down directly on my soul, became increasingly debilitating. The thing is, this wasn’t anything new. No matter how much fun we’re having, or how much we dread walking through the exit, Disneyland simply has to close.
But here’s the thing: Disneyland is illusion. It is a multi-billion dollar construct, intent upon creating an experience reality cannot penetrate. From the buildings along Main Street USA that become progressively smaller as you enter to create the illusion of a longer street, to the candy shops pumping the scent of vanilla out into the road, to the anonymity of the “cast members” so guests will only remember the park and not the human beings working in it, to the all-singing, all-dancing-ness of it, to the great finale, after the last parade of the day, after the fireworks have finished, when your weary feet bring you to its exit (which, incidentally, looks far closer than it is, owing to the reverse effect of that first illusion), absolutely nothing about Disneyland is real.
Equally unreal is the murky, cold, grey sadness that my childhood self envisioned on the other side of the entrance. From friends’ visits to vacations to entire seasons, I have spent an unreasonable amount of time in my life dreading the end of good things. But what about the beginnings that follow?
Here it is – the thing I get intellectually but not spiritually – that the illusion is both the past and the future, but never the present. Never the part I wasted.
It is as perfectly unreasonable to fear the other side of those gates as it is to idolize the moments we’re not even really experiencing. Equally unreasonable is looking back upon an experience as being somehow better or worse than the ones in which we’re currently immersed. (There are, I’ll allow, exceptions to this notion. Entering into, or coming out of, a state of violent conflict comes to mind.)
Winter is coming. This is what I’ve learned:
- People who say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothes,” are full of shit. Still, dressing warmly and staying dry greatly increases one’s ability to not be miserable all the time.
- We must-must-must go outside. Every day, if only for a few minutes, unless the weather is just really too dreadful. Aside from the vitamin D (about which I’ve only just written), the very act of breathing in fresh air is invigorating and energizing.
- Adjusting to the change in hours is about 20% listening-to-my-body and 80% telling-my-body-what-to-do. Because, to be honest, my body’s all like, “Hey, it’s dark and gloomy. Let’s just lie here a bit longer, shall we?” If I spent the winter listening to my body, I would go days without leaving my duvet.
- Exercise becomes far less appealing during winter. But it is, in fact, even more important when we’re prone to feeling low. Endorphins feel good. ‘Nuff said.
- Booze becomes way more seductive during winter. But it is, in fact, less of a good idea, owing to the fact that getting out of bed is already difficult, that exercising is already difficult.
- Winter doesn’t last forever. Neither do the holidays, which, while a little bit annoying, also include pretty lights and lovely music and nice scarves and Chris’ dad’s French version of mulled wine (recipe to follow – I promise!). Spring will inevitably follow, and if I spend the whole of winter anxious for spring, it’s entirely the same as spending the whole of summer dreading the fall.
This post is as much an open letter to me as it is a post for all you lovely readers out there – these are things I’ll need to remember as the upcoming months progress…and for the rest of my time on this life journey. In all likelihood, I’ll still be at least a little bit moody come February, but here’s hoping I’m getting better at being where I am while I’m there.