Finding sunshine in a cloudy life - Mental Health

You can’t change the weather

How to navigate unwanted change

This past Monday autumn officially arrived in my part of the world. People fall into two camps when it comes to autumn. In one camp, people are breaking out their cozy sweaters, enjoying pumpkin spice everything, and planning trips to view the colored leaves.

Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.

Emily Brontë, Team Autumn

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m weeping and wailing. I’m pulling my hair and gnashing my teeth. We’re talking full-blown lamentation. Welcome to my camp.

Autumn is a season followed immediately by looking forward to spring.

Doug Larson, Team “This-Is-My-Opinion”

I might be exaggerating just a little. It could be that I’m only sighing heavily and going on micro-rants. The point is, I am in major resistance to a change in the seasons. I mean, is there anything more futile to resist? It happens every year. All of them! (There was one notable exception, but I was living in Florida. None of the Florida natives were even aware that the combination of shorts-weather and Christmas decorations was in any way surreal.)

I know resisting doesn’t change a thing yet here I am — resisting. I don’t like this time of year. It’s dark in the morning, the weather is increasingly overcast, and WINTER is edging not-so-stealthily closer.

The turning of the seasons is inevitable so I’m trying to enjoy what I can. I’m taking note of the parts of autumn I do enjoy, but it’s an uphill battle. When I catch myself railing at the injustice of it all, I make myself switch tracks.

It sounds like this:

“It’s so freaking cold this morning! Buuuuuuut I’m glad there are fewer mosquitoes these days.”

“Where’s my sunshine? A month ago the sun was fully up at this time of day! Buuuuut at least we have fresh air in the house instead of running the air conditioner.”

Actual snap in which I whined to my friends on September first.

I know, it’s not pretty. Go easy on me, though. It’s hard to be graceful about the transition from an experience you have loved to a historically difficult one.

When faced with an unwanted change that is completely out of your control (*cough* weather *cough*) you are simply doomed to misery.

Okay, not really. I’m here to tell you how to cheat fate, forge your own destiny, and escape certain doom!

You’re not going to like it, though. Despite the adventure and excitement evoked by that last sentence, the first step is pretty mundane. The rest of the steps are not terribly romantic, either.

The first thing you have to do is to stop resisting the inevitable.

Resistance is useless!

Vogon guard, Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Resistance is futile

The Borg, Star Trek

Resistance is R = V ÷ I

Ohm’s Law

Letting go of your resistance is rarely as easy as declaring that you are not resisting. (Is anything that easy?) Yes, you must decide you are not going to resist, but it doesn’t end with that decision. You have to follow through with actual acceptance. Accepting the undesirable is much easier when you have a plan to smooth the edges off of it.

Ask yourself why the change you’re experiencing is hard. Something about it is making you feel bad. Take the time to figure out what it is.

The very act of identification is a transformative one. Random stressors floating around your mind tell your body that you are in danger. Once you know what the “danger” is, your body can come off high alert. You don’t have to run from a grizzly bear (which is a good thing because these apex predators are devastatingly fast).

Once you know what challenges you’re facing, you can look for ways to make the change less difficult.

In my case, my mood is heavily affected by fewer hours of sunlight and overcast days. In the winter, it’s harder for me to get an energetic boost from being outside because my asthma is triggered by severe cold.

I calculated the amount of control I have over sunlight and the outside temperature and it is exactly none. Despite my best efforts, I haven’t discovered a way to enjoy day after unrelenting day of overcast skies. As for breathing, it’s really not optional. This is clearly a situation where I need to accept that it is what it is. What, then, are my choices?

We have already ruled out doom. Check.

We have moved from resistance to acceptance. Check.

The next step in dealing with something outside your control is to discover what is in your control that might help you feel better..

Pro tip: if nothing reasonable occurs to you at this stage, start with wild ideas to trick your brain working on it.

For example, I could pack up and move. In south Texas, to pick an entirely not-random place, it never gets cold enough to cause an asthma attack and cloudy days are a welcome break. Don’t think I haven’t considered it. Clearly, moving there would solve the specific challenges I face this time of year.

This is a viable solution for some people. For me? Not so much.

To begin with, my husband would have to be willing to relocate.* If and when he agreed to this plan, he would have to find a new job. Then we would have to sell our house, which is a giant undertaking. After overcoming all those hurdles, we would then be moving away from both of our boys and the first long-term home either of us has ever known. (Plus, there are fire ants in Texas. If there were such a thing as an evil insect, fire ants would probably qualify.) All in all, it’s a pretty drastic solution.

At this stage in my life, moving creates more problems than it would solve. What I’ve done instead is to change my indoor environment. When the mornings become noticeably darker, I start using a therapy light daily. The wall in my office is decorated with joyful images and a string of flashing lights. I also make sure the room is brightly lit.

I haven’t come up with a good cold-weather substitute for spending time outdoors, but I have some ideas I’m going to try this winter.

This basic plan can apply to any situation you are finding difficult. First, you identify what the problems are. Next, you brainstorm potential solutions. Finally, after setting aside the ones that cause more problems than they solve, you start testing what’s left.

There’s an addendum to the last point, and it’s monumentally important. If you try something and it doesn’t work, don’t stop trying. Tweak your idea until it works or try something totally different. Your well-being, emotional or physical, is worth vast amounts of effort.

I can’t promise there will be anything you can do that will mitigate the actual issues you have. Yet, even if your wildest brainstorming session turns up nothing more realistic than being rescued by aliens, all is not lost.

Image courtesy of NASA

You could spend your nights in a cornfield waiting for that alien in shining armor; actual mileage may vary with this tactic. Perhaps — just maybe — a more reliable option is to look for ways to maximize comfort in other parts of your life.

Use the fluffy guest towels instead of the ratty ones you hide from your company. Take fifteen minutes to enjoy a cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa. Make it a pumpkin-spiced one if that’s what you like. I’m not judging.

My only two criteria are that what you choose makes you feel better and that your choice must not cause any harm (heroin is out, folks). When you feel better in any area of your life, you become that much better at handling the rest of your life.

Change is going to happen and often we can’t control those changes. My challenge to you is to do what it takes to care for yourself through them.

Brightest blessings, Sunny

*Before anyone decides to school me on being a strong, independent woman, this is not about dependence or independence. I have the honor and privilege of having the most amazing partner ever to walk the face of the earth. Feel free to disagree, but the only acceptable grounds for disagreement is believing that YOU have the most amazing partner. You won’t change my mind, but I’ll still be happy for you.

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