Regarding Seasonal Affective Disorder
One year ago, I had the worst anxiety attack of my life. One year later, I cut down a tree and it was good. I’ll elaborate.
Sam, Adam and I felled a dead tree down at Adam’s house in the Sierras. Sam did the sawing, and I did the pulling. Adam held the camera. We did this at the behest of his mom, who rightfully figured that we were precisely the kinds of morons to take up such a task with great enthusiasm -- because any excuse to fart around with axes and chainsaws is appealing to city-slickers, such as us. The process basically went like this:
- Sam, thrilled that he finally had an excuse to do so, bought a chainsaw one morning while Adam and I watched the early football games.
- Back to watching football.
- Adam grilled a hunk of meat.
- We spend an hour arguing about what movie to watch.
We combined the tree-felling (and various halftimes) with the creation and organization of firewood and kindling for the upcoming snowy season. Yet another thing Adam’s mom should be pleased with.
Now I recognize this is in no way interesting to the many people who do not live in buildings with central heating such as I, folks that must do this lest they spend the winter in an environment in which the milk won’t spoil if left out of the fridge. Much like shoveling snow, I assume this chore to widely be considered a tremendous pain in the ass. So, I do not blame you for being unimpressed by my boastful tale of novice woodsmanship, which is totally a word because I say so.
I mention it, at all, to make the following point: in the simplicity of the task, I felt beauty. Beauty being outside in the crisp, fall air. Beauty seeing the oranges and reds of the turning leaves. Beauty in the company of people who I love. Beauty in the laughter at our amateurish, yet successful methods. Beauty in the participation in a chore done by our ancestors since the time of stone tools. Beauty in the cuts and scratches on my forearms. Beauty in the soreness in my back and shoulders from using unfamiliar muscles. Beauty enough that I felt a twinge of unexpected sadness when the job was done. And that segued to sudden fear that the previous year’s anxiety attack was destined to return.
As a person who is often affected by a mental funk that generally coincides with the sun setting earlier in the day, I have before lamented greatly the passing of summer and felt significant worry about the prospect of storm-clouds taking hold in my head. Yet, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be this way. I know that there are many things I love about the fall and winter, like the woodcutting experiences listed above, the solstice-related holidays, the decorations, the ice skaters in Union Square, the opportunity to wear a cap and leather gloves comfortably, the food, the goodwill towards my fellow humans, and the mulled wine. I love the annual screenings of Scrooged, Die Hard, and The Muppet Christmas Carol. I love the work parties. I love seeing my breath in front of my face as I walk the Embarcadero.
There’s beauty in all of it, in sunshine and darkness, in mountains and tropics.
Those of you who follow my Instagram might have figured out I’ve been reading a lot about Stoicism over the past year. The core concepts of it repeatedly ring true to me in my day to day existence. One such concept, I lean on the most when I feel the Winter Blues, or the Whenever Blues, anxiety, anger, fear, dissatisfaction, and/or frustration coming my way: Amor Fati, the love of one’s fate.
I now accept that I am going to feel how I am going to feel, and that’s just dandy.
I love the beauty and the ugliness. I loved the clean splits with the axe just like I loved the ones that sent pieces of the log skipping into my shins. I love that I can feel the range of human emotion, to experience joy and pain, laughter and tears, all of it.
In all circumstance, there is opportunity and something to be learned. The act of love is the important part. In it, I find strength and peace.
Strength, peace and love to all of you too.