Acceptance initially feels like admitting defeat. Acceptance feels like you are throwing your arms up in the air and shouting “Okay fine, have it your way!”. Acceptance is often misunderstood, as it’s not saying you don’t want to change your circumstances. Acceptance is admitting that there are things outside of your control, and to let go of any resistance to what is. I wouldn’t expect to stop a stream flowing with my hands and yet I have spent most of my life resisting the stream of my negative thought patterns and feelings that come up and that are beyond my control. Thoughts and feelings of doubt, loneliness, inadequacy, ambiguity, and sadness have always plagued me, but they plagued me in a much larger way because of my relation to them, my resistance to them.
I used to think that life would slowly get better if I shifted to a more positive outlook and learned to maintain a perpetual state of happiness, or at least contentment. I absorbed guru and self-help videos seeking answers to the woes and turmoil of my mind. I finally started therapy about 5 months ago and I initially thought therapy was just slowly acquiring a set of mental skills to be used to ensure that I could always maintain a certain level of fulfillment and satisfaction. And that is just not reality. Life is sad. Life is heart-breaking. Life is stressful. Life is confusing. Life is lonely. Life is uncertain. Life is suffering. Yes, life is still worth living and there can be many reasons to continue existing and loving and growing. But life is hard. Life is pain. Dreams get shattered. Loved ones die. And the one element that is getting to me now, winter, inevitably comes creeping around every year and is cold and dark and often depressing.
I think the winter has especially affected my mental health, more so this year as I am working from home through the pandemic. My home has become not just my living space, but my work space. This conflation of spaces creates quite the conundrum when needing to decompress after work while still residing in my work space. When 5 o’clock hits, the last thing I want to do is remain inside my house. I often frantically leave to get out and go walking at my local park in order to absorb the last hour of daylight from the fleeting sun. This time of year is hard. There is no way around it. But what makes it worse is attaching the same expectations of the bright summer to the cold, dark winter months. I love nature and sunlight and hiking and sitting out on my deck and these things just aren’t available like they are compared to other times of year.
A big part of my mental health journey with therapy has taught me the importance of acceptance. The winter is cold and dark. This is the reality. There is very little sunlight available to me throughout the week, as I work indoors. This comes with frequent moods of low energy and depression. This comes with lack of inspiration. There are elements at play during this time of the year that I simply can not control. So why am I trying so hard to force positivity, to force motivation and inspiration when it just isn’t there much of the time? A flower would not force itself to bloom in the dead of winter. It knows that it is a time of dormancy, of conservation. And I, like the flower, am a part of nature too. I am riding this beautiful blue-green ball that’s spinning around a giant nuclear furnace in the sky, along with everything else. I am simply chugging along for the ride.
Each season brings its own challenges, but it also brings its own specific joys. For me, I will choose to dance in the dark and the light. I will take this time to accept how powerless I am to control all of the aspects of my life that I think I should. I can rest my shoulders, loosen my stance. Mental health is all about acceptance and adaptability. My dreams are not out there somewhere, my contentedness and warmth are not lost to me in the cold winter forests, they are right here. My mind, while largely uncontrollable with its pesky stream of thoughts and feelings, has a part to it that is mine. Mine to hold and bare and cultivate. And that is the part that can choose to see the beauty in every moment and make the most of a dark time. That is the part that can accept the darkness as part of the whole experience and incorporate this shadow into the family of my mind and who I see myself as.
While it may be dark and gloomy and cold outside, the winter for me does one thing that I absolutely love. It transforms the home into a warm refuge against the stark contrast of the cold and the desolation outside. Sitting under a nice warm blanket with the love of my life, cooking a hot meal and slowly savoring the joy of creation, reading a good book by the fire that’s playing on my tv because I am too lazy to make an actual fire most nights. The utter silence of a winter night has always been enticing to me as well. And when snow does come to Southeastern Tennessee, it is all the more precious and striking, not just in its transformation of the landscape into a glistening alabaster heaven, but in its rarity. These simple things can bring so much inner peace, and so when I do have moments of quiet joy and bliss, I can take a deep breath and know that this is good. This is a good moment, and I can simply just be in it. And accept it like everything else. Fully and wholly. Here and now. It is okay to relax and to slow down. It is okay to feel uninspired and tired. As I sit here typing this, I am looking out of my office window at the layered, expanse of naked trees, their sharp branches piercing the grey, overcast sky. I am reminded that they are beautiful in their own way during these gloomy months. They survive because they adapt, and so can I.
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