It was a tough winter.
Not Valley Forge tough, or Donner Party tough. I mean, I wasn’t beaten down by hunger and illness to the point that I had to resort to cannibalism or anything. But then again I’m not fighting a war against the British, or trying to cross the Sierra Nevada in a covered wagon either, so by my standards, it was a tough winter.
In our neck of the woods, no two winters are alike. That’s all part of New England’s unique charm and it’s what makes its residents so pleasant (note the bit of sarcasm there. New Englanders can be a bit ornery, but ten months of winter will do that to you). Up here, one year you’ll get buried under tons of snow and temperatures stay below freezing all season long , then other years it will be warmer, with just enough snow to officially qualify as winter. During these milder years, everyone comments about how much worse winters were when they were kids and they’ll act all concerned about climate change, but deep down, we enjoy it, and we’re all kind of happy we didn’t get the eight feet of snow we had the year before.
This year seemed different. It was warm at first, then it got freezing… below zero for days even. Then it got warm again, turning all the snow and ice into mud, only to freeze again a few days later. It would snow like hell in some spots, rain in others and the worst part about it was, it just didn’t seem to want to end. It’s May for God’s sake and some of us just got snow last week.
It was so bad that on February 2nd, Our local groundhog popped out from his den and didn’t see his shadow. So the groundhog officials declared winter was over! Then we got pummeled with eight more weeks of snow, sleet, freezing rain and every other type of nasty precipitation you can think of. Local folks, pushed to their limits from the miserable weather, came for the groundhog with pitchforks and torches, but somehow he was able to escape before they could get him. I doubt we’ll see him again next winter, Thanks to climate change, there’s no money or glory in a groundhogging these days, so there’s no real reason for him to come back.
Alright, I admit I made up that part about the groundhog, and I know this isn’t supposed to be a weather blog. So you may be wondering why I am going into the description of this winter in such great detail. It’s because physically and emotionally, this winter kicked my ass.
That’s right, I said emotionally.
I’m not entirely sure when it happened or why for that matter. Like I mentioned earlier, I have been through tough winters in the past, and on paper, this shouldn’t have been that bad. As a matter of fact, I started out great, embracing the weather by doing some snow shoeing, cross country skiing (story coming soon) and even publishing a blog post in December about having a positive state of mind and gratitude.
But sometime around the middle of January, I began feeling a sense of depression coming over me. I lost all my ambition to exercise and I couldn’t muster the energy to get up and do anything. Even this “Filthy Fifties” project, which I was so excited about when I first began, seemed like a dumb idea to me. I started to believe I was too old to change, and trying to get in shape in my fifties was a stupid idea. I tried real hard to stay upbeat and push through this funk I was in, but the dismal weather made it seem easier for me to come up with excuses to stay indoors, and it got harder (so l wanted to believe) to make it to the gym. Then to make matters worse, I got hit with the flu and I was out of action for a couple of weeks.
It felt like forever before I could shake this off, but once I did start to feel better, I realized how much weight I had put on and a twinge of motivation hit me. I decided I needed to lose weight and was going to start exercising again, So one cold February day, I stopped by a local globogym and joined, just to get 24/7 access to cardio equipment in an effort to fit workouts into my crazy schedule. But that very same day I joined the gym, I was walking up a driveway and I slipped on possibly the smallest sheet of ice anyone has ever slipped on in the history of people slipping and falling on ice. I didn’t think much of it at the time, being as how it was a Saturday night and I may have had a few beers in me, but in a split second, my moment of bad luck had caused a severely sprained ankle. You wouldn’t think that such a small slip would cause so much damage, but 220 pounds of fatness slipping on a sheet of ice and hitting the ground like a sack of… well let’s just say I hit the ground like a sack… does awful things to an ankle. Just like that, any ambition I had to get moving again was gone.
I was unable to do anything, or so I led myself to believe, and I had lost all motivation to try. So I sat on my ass in the middle of the coldest part of winter feeling sorry for myself and began to grow a little fatter every day. I didn’t care either. Having totally given up, I decided that being old and fat was my destiny and my wife would just have to get used to being married to a human Buddha statue.
What I didn’t realize was I wasn’t just suffering from a sprained ankle or the flu, but there was a very good chance I was dealing with something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD as it’s more commonly referred to (you know they named it that just for the catchy acronym). I first got a clue that this was an actual thing when I had stumbled on an article about it online. I began to wonder if this was a real thing or if this was just some made up excuse to sit on your ass and get fat in the winter. But if this was real, was this the thing I was wrestling with?
I was due for my annual checkup not too long after I had read this article so I brought it up at my appointment. My doctor confirmed it was a real thing, and after hearing my story, he believed there was a good chance I could be affected by it. Of course I was just there for a physical, so without running a detailed series of tests, he couldn’t officially diagnosis me, but given my symptoms and behavior, it wasn’t a that far fetched of an idea to assume that SAD was kicking me in the ass.
Now what exactly causes SAD isn’t known for sure, but it’s generally believed it is due in large part to the dramatic changing of daylight hours between seasons. So it would make sense that us happy folks in the northeast would be more susceptible to it. Everything I was feeling: lack of energy, loss of interest in things I enjoyed, chronic fatigue, and so on, were all tell tale symptoms. Had I elected to have a complex series of tests run, I would know for sure, but I had heard enough. I mean if I’m outdoors and getting wet, I don’t need a weatherman to confirm it’s raining out. Everything I could see at this point made perfect sense to me.
The good news is that Seasonal Affective Disorder is very treatable. There are a number of treatments for severe cases like light therapy, antidepressants and psychotherapy, and had I pursued a formal diagnosis, these would all have been options that I would have considered. But since this was a somewhat informal conversation and we were approaching the spring, I opted to start with some of the easier treatments and see how I did with them Two of these easier treatments are… you guesses it… get outside and exercise. What are the odds that the two things I stopped doing were the very things I needed in order to get back on my feet. Funny how that works. It makes me wonder how many other answers to my problems are right in front of me, and how many of those answers are as simple as get outside and exercise? Probably more than I know.
So now we have finally made it to springtime and we’re all just starting to feel warm again. There is even a glimmer of hope that we may just finally be through the crappy weather, that’s if the rain ever stops of course. But even if it doesn’t, at least the summer rain is warmer. I’m optimistic that better days are coming, but at the same time I’m not gonna let my guard down, my winter coat is staying in my car just in case.
I started writing this post more than a month ago. Is that nuts or what? That’s how hard it has been for me to get back on track. My ankle is still giving me issues and I got hit with another nasty cold, both of which have made it difficult to start working out again, but I’m not giving up. I’m determined to get back to where I was last summer, before the Winter Blues hit me, and I intend to take The Filthy Fifties project farther than ever this year. So for all my readers (all three of you) keep your eye out for new content from the Filthy Fifties Project. When I first started this endeavor, I said I’d chronicle the highs and lows of my attempt to get in shape, well we just went though one of my lows. But you can watch my Instagram account and Facebook page to see if I can get moving again, or just keep an eye on this blog. I promise, I won’t wait another six months before I post anything. Now that I know SAD is a thing, I’ll be prepared for it this year, and I’ll find a way to beat it before it gets me.
Finally, for anyone out there who can relate to this, and experienced their own battle with depression last winter, don’t feel bad about yourself, and don’t think it’s all in your head. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real y’all! Now that you know it, get outside and get yourself some sunshine, and keep moving forward!