Like a good part of the country, we experienced abnormally cold temperatures early this week. The coldest we felt was about -17F with the wind chill, which doesn’t compare to a good part of the rest of the country, but is cold enough for your breath to get your scarf wet enough that it will freeze to your face.
Ask me how I know.
I struggle in the winter months. I’ve been in New York long enough that I’ve learned to cope with temperatures of 20F as a normality, but anything below that literally terrifies me. Each year, I dread January and February, which are the coldest months here, because I spend so much time just trying to survive. There’s very little energy left to do much of anything else. I am very much a homebody, so you would think that the plummeting outdoors temperatures wouldn’t matter so much, but the house and my office are drafty and I spend two months a year shivering everywhere I go. I walk two miles each day as part of my commute and figuring out how to survive that involves a lot of strategy and planning in my clothing selection. That — and my actual fear of the cold — is distracting enough that it’s easy to allow myself to slip into apathy as life becomes a fight with the outdoors.
In yoga class on Saturday morning, my excellent teacher told a story about what we think we can and cannot do and invited us to push the envelope of our definitions of ‘can’t’. Obviously, she was talking about the more challenging yoga poses; the focus of the class was an arm balance that I did not and have not ever attained. Certainly, one of the best ways to move along in challenging poses in yoga is to ignore your brain’s laughter at the idea that you might be able to contort your body into that of an acrobat and to just keep on trying them until you can.
Yet I found myself thinking about the weather instead; about how this week’s temperatures had pushed my own definition of what I can and can’t deal with. In my brain, I think, “oh yes, I can thrive when it’s 20F or warmer outside. I’ve done that now often enough in the decade since I’ve moved here that I’ve nearly gotten used to it. No problem.” 20F? Can. When we saw the weather reports for -17F, my brain immediately said, “Panic! Can’t.” As a result, I was exhausted on Tuesday and Wednesday, not because the weather was so terrible (well, it was really, really awful but never mind that) but because my brain got into this exhausting panic state and put me into fight-or-flight mode. This is not a useful reaction to have about the weather. The weather is non-negotiable. It’s going to happen regardless of my feelings about it. What I did have a choice about was how much I was going to let the weather affect my spirits. I admit that I lost badly. I can’t. I can’t.
My eyelashes did freeze with all the tears from the wind in my face. That’s got to count for something.
It warmed up and by Friday and Saturday I found myself able to go outside in my favorite uniform of jeans, loafers-without-socks and a cardigan. My entire being thrilled with the warmer weather. I got out on my scooter and left the house no fewer than three separate times, which is pretty remarkable for me on a weekend. I danced through the house, throwing open windows and pulling down Christmas decorations. I was filled with the energy that I find so difficult to find at this time of year and it was glorious.
But I had to wonder — would I have enjoyed the 50F day on Saturday if I hadn’t experienced the -17F day on Tuesday? Maybe, but probably not. We learn by contrast, by comparing our experiences with those of others, but mostly with our own experiences. There was a time where I thought a 20F degree day would be too much to survive, but it’s become normal. I can’t turned into I can. And every year I get a little better at still being able to function when it’s freezing outside, but this is definitely still a pretty low time of year for me. For those of you that thrive in cold temperatures — how do you do it? How do you keep your energy up when the landscape is bleak and the air is painful and cold? How do you still find the energy to create? I want to try your secrets. I want to turn I can’t into I can.