Gird yourselves, kraken lovers! Here in the UK the clocks go back an hour on the weekend, marking the start of the darker months. It also marks the start of me shitting myself about my mental health. You see, since my breakdown, avoiding the winter blues has become a military operation. That’s because while I’m OK up until and during Crimbo, in January and February I feel low, weepy and unmotivated. In short, it’s a pre-spring shitstorm (say THAT after a glass of festive sherry).
In recent years, though, I’ve actually managed to keep these feelings at bay. Picture The Exorcist’s Father Merrin holding aloft his crucifix at a vomming Regan and you’ll get an idea of how I now approach winter. Setting in a motion a whole shopping list of preventative measures, Jan and Feb are now no different to any other months (apart from the fact that I employ stereo heating and thick woolly socks in my sewing shed). So, for your delight, delectation and (hopefully) lack of depression, here are my tricks for avoiding the winter blues.
SAD Light box
It’s not the box that is sad, you tit. It’s that it helps to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have one on my cutting table and you’d have to prise it out of my cold, dead hands. In the sewing shed it’s on through the winter, spring and autumn because it mimics sunlight, weaving some sort of magic on my noggin. You can see which one I have here but there are loads to choose from. I now can’t imagine getting though winter without one and not just because it relieves my fevered brain but because it means I can see every stitch of my sewing. I’m like the Icarus of the embroidery world, careening towards the sunlight before being destroyed by the heat from my own French knots.
No, I don’t mean melting them down, forming an effigy of Trump and sticking pins in it until I feel better. I mean actually lighting scented versions in my sewing shed to evoke memories of better days. These are my faves because their retain their scent to the last flicker and sometimes so much that I only need to light them for an hour or two to fill the shed for the day. I either go for really zingy niffs, with limes and gingers, warming niffs, with lots of cinnamon or floral niffs for heady reminders of summer gardens. They’re now part of my arsenal for avoiding the winter blues and I stock up on them like the Khaleesi stocking up on dragons.
Well, Ok, so I have the radio on all year round but I find the constant chatter from it deeply comforting when avoiding the winter blues. When I feel low in Jan and Feb I get all up in my own head so the babble from the radio reminds me that there is a world beyond my lunatic thoughts. I also have a shed-based rule which is that I MUST get up and dance whenever a fave tune comes on. Sometimes I give it large, sometimes I slouch about like a doped-up Boo Radley but I never, ever regret shifting my arse. I shit you not, there’s nothing like a random blast of Let’s All Chant by the Michael Zager Band (I know, I know) to have the same impact on my brain as a fistful of prozac.
Thanks to the configuration of my garden I rarely venture into it in the winter. That’s why I bling up the pots outside my shed with winter plants and bulbs, so even when I’m scuttling betwixt house and shed I get a blast of colour. This year I’ve gone for yellows, reds and purples, lots of variegated foliage and a rosemary so I can rub the leaves on the way into the shed for a snout-full of summer. I’m nothing if not horticulturally thorough. Natch, all of this has been underplanted with spring bulbs. That’s because when I’m avoiding the winter blues I become obsessed with spotting the first shoots of spring. In fact I root for them every day from mid Jan onwards. So the bulbs I’ve chosen this year all bloom in Feb and March which means even if I don’t see the flowers until then I certainly see the leaves. All you have to do then is stand back and watch as I do a little jig when I spot my first leaves. I’ve scared the postie several times with my fevered bulb-based twerks.
I live in a house that looks as if it’s been shat out by Santa. That’s because every Crimbo we hang outside fairy lights from the part of the house directly opposite my shed. The thing is, we never take them down until the end of spring. It means that when the afternoons are dark and grey I can see the lights twinkling as I work in my shed. We set the timer for them to go off as the dark creeps in and they always remind me that beauty is never far away (feel free to make a vomiting noise at this stage). It’s a small thing, I know, but that’s the stealth of my method: fill the days with enough small yet gorgeous things and there’ll be no room for the large yet shitty things.
Not just any old coffee though. I mean coffee with treats! During Jan and Feb I make a point of stopping slouch bag work to make a good quality ‘proper’ coffee at 3pm each afternoon (I know, I love a schedule). Even better I sling something lovely in it, like one of those teeny pots of liqueur. It doesn’t just feel like a huge and warming hug but it feels good to do something lovely for myself. On the other hand, it could feel lovely because I am essentially drunk for the first two months of the year. That’s one way of avoiding the winter blues although I wouldn’t mention it to any liver specialists.
No, not from the spirit realm although after that last point they could certainly be from the behind-the-bar variety. I mean messages on the walls of my shed. I have a fave Elizabeth Edwards print that never fails to remind me to adjust my sails but more than that I have the little patch of wall directly below the heater that I switch on every day. Here I tack up letters and things I’ve downloaded from t’web that remind me to keep going. In the pic you can see my faves by Caitlin Moran and Neil Gaiman. There’s even a lovely note from my facial surgeon in there. They jolt me from the moments when I’m so busy beating myself up that I’m starting to look punch drunk.
Now while I despise new year resolutions (because who needs the pressure to be a size 10 by Feb?) I never go through Jan and Feb without a business plan. It’s about avoiding the winter blues one Apprentice-like move at a time. That doesn’t mean being an alpha male twat. It means having a reason to be motivated every day. So in the weeks leading up to the new year I make a list of the products I want to design over the coming months. This’ll invariably inspire me to not just get into the shed but to – gasp! – actually leave the premises, visiting fabric shops. And, natch, none of these trips happen without coffee and cake somewhere lovely. You call it porking up, I call it self-care. My arse might be the size of the moon but at least my winter blues are disappearing into the distance.
So do you suffer in the darker months? And how do you go about avoiding the winter blues? Let me know in the comments below.