Seasonal Affective Disorder
I hate writing about the weather and talking about the weather and hearing about the weather, but it feels strange to attempt to avoid the weather when you live in the middle of the country. I didn’t so much move to the Midwest as I fled, and when I got there I made a silent promise to myself not to complain about anything, especially the weather.
Quietly and slowly I compiled a list of items I believed I’d need for when the temperatures dropped. A coat, warm scarves, gloves, thick socks, boots for rain and snow. I read articles online and paid close attention to what girls in the ads were wearing and what people in close proximity to me were talking about.
Before fall arrived I had created a closet that seemed prepared for the brutal winter I had heard so much about. But truthfully I had never experienced any kind of winter in my life, so I tried to enjoy a world that felt almost annoyingly familiar until the change came.
In Southern California where I’m from people believe that pretty much anything can be cured by sunshine. If you have troubles or fears or doubts or deep dark secrets, they can be washed away by smelling the salty ocean or riding a bike or watching the sun go to sleep. Things like anxiety and depression are not so much conditions but a state of mind, one that occurs when you haven’t gone on enough hikes or taken a yoga class in a while.
I watched the grandfatherly trees on my block change color as October bled into winter. I began to pull on my warm socks and throw a scarf around my neck as I made my daily ritual to the train. I was satisfied by the way the wind felt and the way my boots sounded on the concrete.
There is this thing that San Diego does when we set the clocks back. It’s an oaky and crisp and burning thing and I know that it is fall. But it’s more internal, I can only feel it.
The seasons in Chicago are more than a feeling, they are real. There is the bright sun, then the crunchy leaves, the white snow, and the rain. Bunnies and light blue flowers are Chicago’s April, every dream I’d ever had of a snow day is Chicago’s winter. Joy is Chicago’s summer.
That’s what I think about a lot: the ones who travel, uproot, and sacrifice for this promise of constant joy. There are so many transplants in the city of San Diego that the ones who were born and bred in the city are often referred to as unicorns—widely discussed but rarely seen. I am a third generation unicorn and likewise know a lot more unicorns which certainly makes them feel less magical, but I know that my experience is a different one.
I grew up watching families who in my mind look so different from my own in a way that I still can’t place, as they tumbled out of overpacked vans and scampered to the beach. The sand slapped off their brand new flip flops. I watched people steal photos of the red-orange sun as it disappeared behind the shoreline with this look of amazement like they’d never seen a sunset before in their lives. It always takes me a moment to realize that they haven’t.
California doesn’t caress your cheek with its warmth. It roughly shakes your shoulders and musses your hair and yells at you to be grateful. San Diego to me is a tanned, gruff father like my own with his hands on my childish forearms gripping so hard that red spot appear. Don’t you see how lucky you are California screams at me. Can’t you see how good you have it?
I don’t drink caffeine and I don’t really like being outside unless I’m making a specific task to go somewhere or accomplish something so my habits feel more primitive and animalistic than others. I wake up when I’m done sleeping and I fall asleep when I’m tired. My body moves when it needs to and it stays in stasis when it feels safer. When the sun comes out, as it does virtually everyday, I don’t feel a burning need to rush out and experience it. My days and my concept of time just melt from one moment to the next. For so much of my life I couldn’t understand why I was being pulled outside and redirected to spot to better watch the sun move. I knew then and I know now that the sun does this everyday and will always do this, at least until it burns out. In my mind the sunset looks the same every time, but to Californians new and old each sunset is a baby being born, it’s a miracle.
In Chicago you can’t see the sun setting, at least not like that, and you can’t always go outside. It’s true what everyone says: it’s cold, it’s very cold. I have a winter coat and fuzzy gloves and boots and socks and ear muffs and sometimes I am still very cold. It’s hard to walk or breathe or think when you’re that cold.
I was an impatient child and became an impatient adult. But I have somehow found this peaceful slowness, a gift from Chicago’s winter. I am almost meditative in the way I put my layers on and take them off. No need to rush, Chicago’s motherly voice coos to me as I get ready for work in the morning. It’s better to be warm and cozy for your walk to the train!
Chicago is a tender brown-haired woman with pearl earrings and a ruffled apron on who is proud of me. And she is right, it is easier and smarter to layer with care and take my time, and step ever so gently and with purpose when I walk on the icy streets.
On the first official day of the spring equinox the animal inside me feels the most alive. I can see the trees and even though they’re still bare I can tell they are starting to wake up from their sleep. I can sense the promise of a warm summer and for the first time I feel ready for it. Everything is coming back, including me, even though I don’t know exactly where I’ve gone.
The rain is falling lightly and I can smell it. There is a quietness in the early morning hours where things feel different, when no one has complained to me about the weather yet. I think that I am becoming new, too.