Cope Not Collapse: My Strategies for Surviving Midwinter This Year

December 6, 2018


I know I am not alone in finding both difficulty and comfort at the end of each year. The holidays bring us together, for better or worse, and have the potential to remind us both of our greater humanity and our staggering inequality. As this season of lights arrives, so do the darkest days. My husband and I see only an hour of daylight together during the week as the year draws to a close and the solstice approaches.


The physical effects of lack of light are compounded as the weight of another year passed inevitably settles upon our shoulders.  At least for me, before the promise of New Year's resolutions comes the somber involuntary inventory of personal shortcomings in the year that has passed. In short, this time of year would be difficult even if I didn't already live with depression


As my inventory has begun to tick away, I have been forced to notice one important shift I made this year; I have stopped asking what's wrong with me, and I have started asking what works for me. This small change is bringing a new steady, slightly more sane feeling to midwinter this year.


In previous years I've lost jobs, damaged relationships, had nervous breakdowns, and even gotten evicted (that one wasn't all on me, but I did my part) due to how hard it is for me to cope with this season.  So for me, it's a huge accomplishment that this year I'm coping instead of collapsing.


There's a few basic commitments to myself that are keeping me on even footing as I do the serious work of my end of year sort-out.  On my best days I hold to all of them and at the end of the day I climb into bed satisfied with my perfectly reasonable day, and on my worst I grumble at myself for dismissing their importance and end my day as a crabby ball of unshowered blanket on the couch. 


1) No second cup of coffee until I've had breakfast.

It's very easy to attempt to replace the life-giving energy of the sun with a steady flow of caffeine.  As tempting as this coping mechanism is, The sort of energy it affords is brittle and unsatisfying. I may not be able to fall asleep, but I also can't engage in a meaningful way.  Real food early in the day, and a glass of plain water or herbal tea, changes the tone of my day. I have more patience, more brain power, and more emotional stability. I rarely feel like eating first thing in the morning, but when I make myself it makes all the difference, and setting the concrete boundary at my beloved second cup of coffee makes it much more likely to happen. 


2) Vitamin D gummies are delicious and helpful.

In northern New England, where I live, 85% of people tested in 2007 were deficient in vitamin D, and large swaths of those people were severely deficient. Many studies have linked this deficiency to depression, and at the darkest time in particular when we aren't getting our vitamin D from the sun,  it can be important to supplement. More is not more in this case though, be sure not to take too much. I am a big fan of the gummy option, because they are delicious enough that in a house without candy I never forget to take it. I find myself craving something sweet at some point in the day, and I remember about my vitamin D gummies. 



3) My house is much cleaner than usual. 

About a month ago I stepped up my daily to-do lists. I more than doubled the basic cleaning and household maintenance tasks I had been checking off each week. Little things like scouring the stovetop and sink frequently, changing my bedsheets at the start of each week, and setting an ambitious mopping and vacuuming schedule all relieve some anxiety and give me a sense of satisfaction. By having a full schedule with different tasks relegated to different days, I am able to look at a pile of laundry and say to myself " I don't have to worry about you today!" and know that it will be taken care of when the time comes. On a good day I can admit that the discontent of sitting in a dirty house is much more exhausting than actually cleaning. My house isn't Martha Stewart clean, or house showing clean, or childless responsible adult clean, but it's not embarrassing, and it doesn't make my long days inside feel gross, and that's an achievement in and of itself. 



 4) I'm (trying) to say yes to time with friends.

I tend to let my anxiety and inertia keep me at home alone, and generally I weasel out of social engagements or even having a single friend pop by. Realizing how much my isolation impacts my overall vision of myself and my mental health, I'm working to say yes to friend time when it pops up, the same way I committed a few years ago to never turning down a glass of water when it's offered. Time with friends is intimidating and often ultimately exhausting to an introvert like me, but it gets me out of my head, and despite my introvert exhaustion, it nourishes me. I still freak out and find a reason to bail half the time, but that leaves the other half the time that I don't, which is better than my usual stats.



5) I'm trying to make time for self-care rather than depression naps.

If you're not familiar with depression naps, well, they are a thing, I promise; just check out #depressionnap on Twitter. Getting rest can be a great form of self care, but for me depression naps easily take over my free time. It's an escape. Often when I'm depressed I want to do nothing, be nothing, and feel nothing, and the best option is to nap myself away. This midwinter season I'm pushing myself to do other forms of self care and relaxation instead of napping, like taking a bath, watching a show I enjoy, writing, or talking with a friend. This leads to my next bullet point of midwinter survival;



 6) I've committed to no nighttime scrolling.

It's fine if I want to quickly look something up, or even watch a show, but I've forbidden myself from nighttime scrolling, whether phone, tablet, or laptop. Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, all of them can suck me in to enough scrolling I wake up with a neck-ache, and I miss the chance to relax and connect with my husband in the evenings, and I tend to stay up too late.  I actually took Facebook off my phone so there's no temptation to check or scroll when I pick up my phone to do other tasks. Forbidding nighttime scrolling helps me get enough sleep so I don't have a way to rationalize the depression naps from #6. 


I'm not thriving, I'm not a #bossbabe, and I wouldn't claim to have my sh*t together, but this year I'm doing better than the last. When you already struggle with depression and anxiety, the end of the year with it's short days and big feelings can feel too heavy to bear.  By focusing on how I can make things work for myself, instead of looking to label my problems in hopes they have some prescribed solution I can fix myself with, my life feels grounded, and I feel far from any kind of crisis. I don't feel great, but I'm not falling apart.


I have no clue what I'm moving toward in the next year. What I do have is the reassurance that in the coming year I'm going to be able to keep building my "what works for me" list, and to be honest, my greatest hope for 2019 is that I find enough of those things that I can finally start diverting energy from coping into building some new skills and adventures. 


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Hey, I'm Jillian, and I'm creating an extraordinary life on an ordinary budget. 

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Hey Jillian features articles on self-care and mental health, budget beauty, parenting, recipes and meal planning, DIY home improvement projects, and product reviews relevant to people who are interested in those things. xoxo Jillian
Jillian Kirby | Burlington, Vermont | Email me at