I, Like Superman, Am Solar Powered
As I sat down on the bus one morning this week, I noticed that I had dripped coffee onto my coat. I pulled off my gloves and tried to brush the droplets off of me, only to find that they were frozen. In the thirty or so seconds between the drops of hot coffee hitting my coat and my sitting down on the bus, the coffee froze.
Welcome to Cleveland. We love it here.
Clevelanders love to say all kinds of things about the local weather, like “Don’t like the weather? Wait an hour!” and “35 degrees? That’s not cold! Around here that’s beach weather!” Talking to most native Clevelanders will reveal the same thing that is true of just about any native Midwesterner: They think that their city has the market cornered on weird and/or cold weather. Yes, Cleveland was one degree colder than Moscow earlier this week. Yes, we did once have a freak snow storm in May that dropped almost a foot of snow on to our driveways, roads, and parking lots. No, we are not the only city in the Midwest that has these issues. That being said…
It’s really freakin’ cold outside, and the weather here is very strange.
It’s been an odd winter so far, even for us. I can remember several days in December when I walked from where I work over to Zoup in my polo shirt, without my sweater or jacket, because it was 55 degrees outside. In December. (But, you know, global warming probably isn’t real. Anyway…) I think we allowed ourselves to be lulled into believing that this winter just wasn’t going to be all that cold.
The current temperature in Cleveland Heights is 15 degrees, by the way, but it feels like 5. So there’s that.
When I was a kid, I, like most kids, loved the winter time. Sledding, snow days, snowball fights, Christmas, my birthday, these were all things that could only be found during those coldest of months. As I got older, my appreciation of wintertime changed. I got to the point where I found snow beautiful, and still enjoyed a snowball fight from time to time, but got pretty tired of the wind and cold and snow by about January.
The winter before last, things changed for me. In a previous entry, I mentioned the bronchitis that confined me to my house for a week. At the time, I was living with my brother and sister-in-law, staying in their basement. Not a nasty, dirty, wet basement, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell (Sorry—I’m reading The Hobbit. Couldn’t resist). But seriously, it was a nice basement. Big TV, couch and chairs, carpet. Kind of bachelor pad-esque. I enjoyed living there. But one thing the basement did not have was (big surprise) an abundance of sunlight.
Many of us have taken Psych 101. If you have, you may remember a little condition called seasonal affective disorder. If you’re like me, you learned about it, went “Yes. That is a thing that exists,” and promptly forgot about it for the next several years. So that winter, after spending a week in the basement, I emerged only to not see the sun for the entire following two weeks. (Welcome to Cleveland. WE LOVE IT HERE). Throw in a lot of unpleasant crap that was going on in my personal life at the time, stir, place in a cold, dark area, and voila! A whole lotta SAD.
The trouble with mood-altering conditions like that is that they tend to shut down the mechanism for figuring out that we have a mood altering condition. So every morning I felt like instead of getting out of bed I’d rather curl up and sleep for a thousand years, and I just assumed that it was because of my complicated relationship situation, and would therefore last forever. (I know, I know – the faulty logic of being mired in a bad situation). It was a really rough few months. I was at school one day, walking over to the administration building, and the sun burst through the clouds. When the sunlight hit my face, I literally almost cried because I was so relieved. And that’s when I remembered about seasonal affective disorder and simultaneously felt so happy and stupid that I laughed out loud.
Anyway, I spent the following fall terrified of the coming winter. I was afraid of getting SAD again, but by this time I had already lost a lot of weight, so I was also afraid that fewer opportunities for exercise would mean gaining a bunch of the weight back. Well, the winter came, the sun left, my bike went into storage. And I survived. No depression, no significant weight gain. Nowadays, I regard winter with caution and respect, but no longer fear or hatred. Also, snowball fights will always be fun, and snow will always be beautiful.
A good takeaway from this blog entry would be that seasonal affective disorder is a real thing that does not just happen to “other people.” I heard somewhere that the Midwest (I think the statistic actually said northeastern Ohio, but I suspect that’s more of the Midwestern belief that one’s own city or area has it the worst) was one of the easiest places to get seasonal affective disorder. In any case, it can be prevented:
- Spend as much time in sunlight as you can.
This is difficult if you work during all the sunny hours of the day, and it’s made even more so by the fact that the sun is often scarce in the winter, but do what you can. Take a walk. SAD is triggered by a vitamin D deficiency, and we get vitamin D from sunlight. Failing that,
- Get a “HappyLight.”
It produces full-spectrum light, which simulates the effects of natural sunlight. I’ve never used one myself, but I have heard excellent things about them. Also:
- Take a vitamin D supplement.
Or just switch to vitamin D milk. Or eat foods that are high in vitamin D. The vitamin D thing is just really important.
This one is tricky in the winter, too. You can’t ride your bike, and going for a run would be miserable, or rather, even more miserable than it would be in the summer. Find an indoor sport you enjoy. Basketball is good if you don’t hate basketball. (I hate basketball). Racquetball is my sport of choice. Intense physical activity is a great way to keep the blues (and the belly) away.
- Take joy in the pleasant things.
This is going to sound trite and cheesy, but I absolutely mean it: life is full of rays of sunshine, and not all of them come from the sun or a HappyLight. During the darker months it is really easy to forget the good things in life and just focus on how crappy it is outside, and how poorly you feel inside. Find something in your life that makes you happy and let it make you happy. (You remember happy, right? It’s that thing that happens during the sunny months).
Yes, it’s cold. Yes, the roads are bad. No, winter does not have to be horrible. And even if you absolutely hate it, spring is coming. You remember spring. That’s the one with the flowers and (usually) less snow.
Welcome to Cleveland. We love it here.
Thank you for reading. More to follow.