Reconsidering the Darkness
a reversal of seasonal depression
There are two specific trees on my block that I use to mark the passage of time. They are the first trees to change colors; their greens turn to gold and red in mid September, beating out all the other trees by a month. Their branches all point skyward, making it look like the trees are getting swept up in a vacuum. When the leaves change, the look is one of nature on fire, a breathtaking view every time I turn down the block. Because they change colors so early, the trees are also the first to thin out and lose their dressing, baring thin, gnarly branches. When these trees are naked, I know. The darkness has arrived. The dreaded part of the season is here. Frosty mornings, 4:30 sunsets, feeling like you need to be in bed by 8pm. The trees have spoken this into existence.
The sun will set at 4:43 today. That is usually a harbinger for me, a sign that my seasonal depression will kick in and I will be sad and lethargic on top of all the sadness and lethargy that compromise my entire being most of the year. I spend most of my winter listening to sad music, feeling lost and antsy and longing for April and the promise of longer days. I curse the darkness, crave the light, and crawl into bed at 8:30 just wanting the day to be done with. But something different is happening to me this year. I am looking forward to the dark.
This year has been an emotional ride, to say the least. I spent most of it grieving my marriage, running through the stages of grief in zigzag order, the anger and denial and depression vying with each other to take center stage. A searing loneliness set in, and the days seemed to go on forever, nighttime and the relief of sleep always taking too long to get here. I’d sit on my loveseat, my only company the empty space on the couch next to me, and I’d wait and wait for the sun to go down so the day would end, so I wouldn’t have to hear the shouts and laughter of happy families walking their dogs down my street, riding bikes together, enjoying each other’s company. If I could chase the sunlight away, I would. It only served to make the length of the day agonizing to me. The minute the sun would set I’d gather my things and go to my bedroom, turn on the air conditioner to drown out any residual street sounds, and hope that sleep would come. The act of putting another day to rest was a relief to me. I grew to hate the 8:45 sunsets. I grew to hate the daytime.
There is something appealing about the darkness to me now. It’s comforting, it’s enveloping. It wraps me in a cloak of silence and peace that the light does not afford me. I like the quiet of nighttime, even if that time is now coming at the expense of driving home from work in the dark. The early sunsets mark a change in the atmosphere; we are now in holiday mode. I am listening to Christmas music and planning Thanksgiving dinner and thinking about my end of the year albums list. There is a certain joy to be found in this time of year that I don’t find in summer with its oppressive heat and too long days.
This is such a drastic change for me, to embrace the coming darkness. What of my seasonal depression? What of the sadness and lethargy? Oh, they’re still here, and they’d honestly be here no matter what time the sun sets. But the feeling of settling in on the couch at 5:30 instead of feeling like I should be outside doing something, anything, other than wallowing in my living room is good for me. I hate the summer now, I hate the long days. This has been a big year for change in my life so it doesn’t feel like much of a surprise that my mental and emotional needs have changed as well. I need the darkness. I do not need the light. Sure, when the holidays are over and January digs its teeth into my skin, I’ll feel the bite of a long winter and start wishing for baseball season and a warmer sun. But for now, while the weather is still mild and I have holidays to think of, I’m going to be thankful to not be feeling the dread of winter just yet.
I drove down my street this morning and was once again stunned by the majesty of those two trees. Leaves of red and orange and gold cling to the bottom branches, but the tops of the trees are bare already, a timely reminder that the dark days are now here. For the first time, I didn’t despair at the thought of a 4:40 sunset. I am one with the darkness now, the night sky my company, the onset of evening a comfort. I don’t know how this change happened, I don’t question it, I just embrace it.
I have to say, I'd never looked at the darkness of winter quite this way. Cool reframing.