How to Enjoy a Dark and Rainy Pandemic Fall and Winter

Photo of a dark city street at night where it's raining. Two people are walking with umbrellas. There are red paper lanterns in the foreground.
Photo by Jack Finnigan.

I hate autumn. If you've been around this blog for a long time, you have been hearing about it.

The reasons are simple: while everyone else is getting excited about sweater weather and pretty leaves and pumpkin spice everything, I am watching the world grow dark, cold, and die all around me.

Seasonal depression is one of my mental squatters, so even though I do love some of the beautiful things that come with fall, I dread the fact that the external darkness and symbolic death of the world is mirrored by darkness and despondency in my brain.

The end of summer always feels like a wake, with a chill not only in the air but in my very soul, as the first horseman of my emotional apocalypse approaches.

The past couple of years, my reaction to the weather got pretty extreme as I tracked sunrise times and weather daily like a map to happiness, desperately dreaming of summer. (Shockingly, this approach did not help me feel better about my situation.)

This year, I decided to try a different approach. After all, research shows that people are happier when they are in the moment, even if "the moment" includes something unpleasant.

Two things influenced me to approach autumn (and its big, bad brother, winter) differently:

At work, we talk about circumstances versus problems. A problem is something you try to change. A circumstance is simply there. You can work with it, try to make the best of it, or just let it be.

The seasons are circumstances.

I have also been thinking about seasonal living, in general, this past year. What does it mean to live in a way that embraces the change seasons bring? I don't know the whole answer to that question, but I do know that seasonal living must, by definition, accept the circumstances each particular season brings.

Then comes the question: what are the circumstances of fall and winter, and what do I need to feel good given those circumstances?

Here's what I came up with:

One: It's cold and wet and I need to be, at the very least, warm and dry. But why stop there? Why not shoot for cozy? Other people seem to get a lot out of the coziness of the season, and don't I deserve that, too? In the past, I have really discounted physical comfort in my self-care and now I think it might be the most important thing.

In order to get there, I audited my closet and made a list of what I need to warm my heart by way of warming my body. On the list: some of those cozy "reading socks" from Chapters, new rain boots, and a nice umbrella that opens and closes at the push of a button.

Two: It's easy to isolate during the cold, rainy, dark nights and I need friendship. Time with friends is easy in the summer as everyone flocks outdoors. During fall and winter? (And a pandemic winter at that?) Not. So. Much. But it's so very necessary.

For this one, I have been working out plans with friends for how we will do regular visits while keeping COVID-copacetic.

Three: I need some kind of project or purpose. Something I want to do, work on, improve, or create. It doesn't have to be fancy or have any splashy result, just something to do that adds some focus and thus, a sense of meaning. (I am currently overthinking this one, but have given myself a deadline to just pick something by the end of the week.)

The other thing I am trying is a good old fashioned attitude adjustment. I am making myself notice the things that I genuinely like about this season.

For example: because it gets dark earlier, I get more opportunities to see the glory of the moon. I love looking at the moon, but in the summer I rarely see it because I also love going to bed early. In fall and winter? The moon is there for me, dark and early.

A few weeks into fall, it seems to be working. I wouldn't say I love (or even necessarily like) the season, but I am feeling muuuuuuuch better than I have at this time in past years.

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