Winter is marked for many in the United States (estimates are 10 million) by the “winter blues” or its clinical cousin, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression with roots in long dark nights, coldness, post-holiday melancholy. Technically, the sun is simply lower in the sky in these winter months, creating lengthened shadows, reduced hours of daylight and extended nighttime. But this is also a fragile emotional time of Long Shadows. Greek physician Hippocrates (460-369 BC) encouraged the doctors of his time to study the obvious effects of the seasons on health.
For us, looking forward to Groundhog Day (February 2 every year), doesn’t help too much. Nor really does escaping South or taking pills. It just delays the inevitable: winter blues are an invitation to explore more about Darkness and Shadow, maybe our own. Winter has a blending of light and shadow that adds a sense of texture and depth not usually available in other seasons. It confronts us with nuance and complexity, often unsettling in a culture so comfortable with black/white, right/wrong. We, the People, like our light: “the dawn’s early” and all that.
This is pretty much cultural. Our Scandinavian neighbors, with far less winter light than ours, don’t seem to medicalize and complain about the dark and shadow quite as much. These countries, according to the yearly United Nations World Happiness Report, score the highest! Least winter light, most happy.
.It’s a lot about perspective or attitude. Yes, winter blues does likely involve vitamin D and serotonin levels, so eat fatty fish, look for moments in sunlight and exercise, but try a new attitude. What happens when winter blues is not seen as a disorder, but an opportunity to develop and explore winter resilience; an opportunity to play with that light and those long shadows, in snow and ice. It’s an invitation to be with conflicting desires and fears. That same fleeting sunlight that creates those lone eerie shadows also warms, soothes and heals us. Go play with shadows. Look at Pinterest boards on shadow; Google my few pages, “Daniel Mack shadow.” Let me know what happens.