winter-dayThe twinkly lights are gone. The tinsel is packed away in the attic. It’s that time of year when the year stretches alarmingly in front of us with more work on our schedules than entertainment. We’ve made resolutions to avoid all of those yummy but unhealthy foods that we secretly love so much and find ourselves munching on raw carrot sticks and celery. The days tend to be dark and dreary with winter storms popping up again and again. Here in my hometown a series of training storms dumped several inches of rain yesterday leaving roads flooded and impassible in many parts of the city. The memories of the recent holiday seem to be in the very distant past rather than just a couple of weeks ago. It’s back to the routine with a vengeance and for some of us it’s the time of year when we have the most difficult time being enthusiastic.

We have taxes to pay and have to face those bills that we accumulated over the holidays. We get notices that our heath insurance premiums will rise once again. We wonder if we will even have health insurance with all of the arguing in Washington D.C. We hear of layoffs in businesses near us and watch the price of gasoline rising again. Some of us look forward to the inauguration of a new president with the same level of excitement that we would feel in undergoing a root canal. We dream of hibernating like a bear until the sun returns in April. Even better are thoughts of escaping to a tropical paradise.

In the schools so many teachers are noticing that their students have seemingly shut down. They arrive unprepared and listless. Their grades are tumbling and they appear to not even care. Motivating them is sometimes a Herculean task. Frustration abounds.

What is it that causes us to become so lethargic and sometimes even depressed each year as January rolls around? Only days after making all of those noble promises to be better so many of us lose interest. It feels as though we are in our sophomore year of high school once again. The best part of the year feels so far away and seemingly endless piles of work loom ahead. Why is it so ingrained in our natures to hit the doldrums in the grey days of winter?

We’ve all heard about people who become so despondent in January that they are said to have SAD disease, seasonal affective disorder. It is the tendency of some individuals to suffer with deep feelings of melancholy at the same time each year. Notably there appear to be more cases of SAD disease when the days are short. It is often linked to a surfeit of sunshine and one of the recommended treatments is to spend time under lighting that mimics the rays of the sun. Somehow this therapy actually works in many cases because we need a certain amount of daylight to feel balanced. As with almost anything, some of us need more than others.

I suspect that most of us experience particular days or times when we don’t feel as energetic and enthusiastic as normal. We feel a certain sense of dread when we face tasks that appear to be almost insurmountable. We have a difficult time envisioning how to break down our demands into doable chunks. We are often overly doubtful about our abilities to maintain the strict routines that we need to ultimately lead to successful conclusions. When the days are long and we have opportunities to end our work days with rewarding relaxation in the sun, we feel a bit better about our responsibilities. When our days begin and end in the dark it is less likely that we will be able to shake the feeling that life is filled with drudgery. We get low and just want to crawl under our blankets and wait out the long winter months.

The trick to finding the happiness that we seek is to keep moving forward, one step at a time. Each of us has more power within ourselves than we have the capacity to imagine. We just have to push ourselves enough to free the talents that are always there. We also need to accept that true achievement is rarely easy.

I saw a news item about a young man who was born with no arms or legs. He has pushed himself to overcome his disabilities from the time that he was a young child. In the process he has mastered a number of athletic skills. He runs with prosthetics. He learned to use the stubs that should have been his hands to type and catch and throw. The one thing that he most wanted to do was climb a mountain. It at first seemed to be an impossible goal but with the help of skilled adventurers who had reached the summit of many a peak he began to practice moving over rugged rocks. He had to literally crawl using the four stumps of his appendages. He wore specially designed leather covers to keep from tearing his skin as he slowly pulled himself along. Because of his disabilities it took him four or five times longer to cover the same ground as his fellow climbers. Even with the protective gear that he wore his skin became raw and excruciatingly painful. For many it seemed as though he was embarking on a hopeless task that was far too dangerous to even try but he was insistent that he only needed to concentrate on making one small bit of progress at a time. With a will of steel he not only made it once but has now climbed multiple mountains and has no intention of stopping. Instead of drowning himself in sorrow and regret he has constantly pushed himself to accomplish his dreams by realizing that all that it really takes is a willingness to face each day with a spirit of can do optimism, rather than wasting time worrying about what he lacks.

My husband’s famous words to our family have always been, “Stick with the plan.” That doesn’t mean that there will not be delays or that our routes will never change direction. It simply implies that we need not give up in frustration when things get really tough. Realistically we can all expect to have some days when our energy wanes and we just don’t have the oomph that we need. There is nothing wrong with giving ourselves a mental health vacation now and again. Sometimes that may take the form of sleeping in and staying in our pajamas all day long. The important thing is to get back on the path again and follow our individual yellow brick roads. Happiness really is to be found inside ourselves and nothing makes us feel better than overcoming our fears and realizing that we are capable of far more than we had imagined.

We’ve all experienced the elation of a wonderful moment when we manage to tame the voices inside our heads that hold us back. For me it was connecting a bat to a baseball and watching it soar over an open field. I have known that feeling of elation when I managed to bring true understanding to a struggling student. Getting to the end of a difficult road is as wonderful as the merriment of Christmas. As we begin our journeys anew each January we need to remind ourselves that it will be spring before we even know it so there is nothing to frown about in the dreary days of winter. Instead, embrace the moment. Enjoy the diversity of the year and never forget that there will always be fellow travelers to help us as we crawl along. We’ve all got this no matter how difficult it may seem, so don’t grumble with a “Meh,” just smile.