I have a friend who loves cold dark northern countries. Alaska, Iceland, Norway – for him they’re heaven. He’ll take off and live in the miserable cold and dark for a month and it’s his idea of a holiday. Coming from the reasonably mild south of England, he took a post at a Scottish university – in rainy old Glasgow, where we met – and then he moved on to Tampere in northern Finland.
I don’t really get it. Although I can see the drama, the grandeur or beauty, or perhaps the glamour of cold and dark, of snow and glaciers, of swirling stormclouds and driving rain I’d rather see them on film than live with them. I lived in Scotland for 20 years. I had enough of cold and dark. Give me light and heat!
Which is perhaps why my low point in the year is October. I have a wholly untested and unproven theory that most of us have a month we particularly dislike. My ex struggled with February. After a long winter, he found the last lap before spring almost unbearable some days. For me, February is fine. By February we’ve turned the point in the year, the new year’s begun and we’re heading towards spring. One of my neighbours says he can’t stand December.
December..? December’s OK. December’s Christmas and socialising and log fires and celebration… But no. He detests it.
A red-haired pale-skinned friend of mine can’t stand August, for obvious reasons.
Another friend can’t cope with January, the month in which her son died. In my own case, my father died in October when I was a child. I’m sure some of the ‘chill’ I feel in October echoes the bleak grief of those days.
But mostly, to me, October signals that point in the year when summer is well and truly over, autumn is in full swing and a long winter lies ahead before the days warm up again.
Many people report low moods, flagging energy and depression – or a full range of seasonal symptoms with Seasonal Affective Disorder – during the autumn and winter months and no wonder when there’s little light in the sky and no warmth in the air. Seasonal illnesses like colds and flu take a toll too. Painful conditions like arthritis often seem to worsen.
October represents an unwelcome transition for me – between the free and easy comfortable days of summer and the more restricted less comfortable days of winter. Once November comes, I’m usually back on form. By November you have to accept that winter’s on its way and get in the swing of it. There are, after all, mushrooms to search for, olives to gather in, Halloween recipes to research, Christmas to prepare for. Suddenly, once November arrives, winter begins to look like a party season packed with interesting things to do.
Halloween is great excuse to organise a celebration filled with light to lift the spirits as the days get shorter, colder and darker. Christmas is clearly an important religious festival for christians but for many of us cheerful heathen it’s also an important occasion when we take time and special care to let people know we care about them.
Whatever your low month in the year, if you have one, it’s possible to get through it without too much distress. Recognising that partiular time of year consciously is a first step. Trying not to “resist” it is a second. It’ll arrive anyway.
Looking forward helps. Give some thought, and if possible preparation, to events coming up in the next month or two. Having something to look forward to during the low month is helpful.
Take steps to diminish the aspects you dislike about your low month. For example, make sure you have clothes that help – really light clothes if you have trouble with summer months, warm comfortable and comforting clothes for colder months. Prepare your home so that it cocoons you, either against the heat and light or the cold and dark.
Settle on one or two activities you really enjoy and make a point of finding time for them. Though I have trouble with October, especially late October, it certainly helps to light a big log fire, put on a huge comforting jumper and settle down to read a really good book. Equally, though you may not feel like socialising, it helps to make the effort and invite friends round even if you don’t feel up to cooking and just offer drinks.
And if all else fails, grit your teeth and wait. Whichever month is your low point in the year, it’ll pass. And then you won’t have to worry about it again for another – oh – eleven months.