“God, I.Am.Ornery. I’ve had enough sleep. There are no sinister hormones at large. There is nothing awry on which to hang these feelings. I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I’m irritable, edgy and I feel like I have no skin on. The facade remains falsely intact—smile plastered on and voice controlled—but I feel short-fused and scary on the inside, biting my tongue to near metaphorical severing. I hate all of our animals with their furniture-scratching claws and floor-muddying paws. I hate dishes in the sink. I hate melting, dirty snow with dead grass peeking through. I hate germ-ridden, coughing humans. I hate fifty thousand events on the calendar. I hate random, dirty socks tucked behind couch cushions. I hate appointments running late. I hate ALL OF THE THINGS.”
Sorry, is that not what you were expecting? Ha!
I believe that God knows my every thought and feeling before I’ve even thought it or felt it, so I’m safe and can be 100% honest about everything. Which means that, sometimes, I’m filled with soft words and flowers and butterflies, and sometimes, venom. He accepts all of it. He loves the gentle, thankful me and the complaining, messy me.
A few lines later, I had a moment of awareness. “Wait a minute. This sounds familiar…didn’t I write this exact same thing last year? And maybe the year before that? OH! I’ve got a case of “the Februarys!”
No offence to February. Maybe February is lovely where you live (if so, insert your own dreary season here). On the North-Eastern coast of North America, February is gross. It’s a trickster, acting like the shortest month of the year, when really, it feels like the longest. While some of you may have birdsong and daffodils, we have slush, dirty snow and freezing cold temperatures. We are still approximately one hundred years away from springtime.
“The Februarys” leave me feeling foggy and burdened. Even if I’ve miraculously had enough sleep, I wake up exhausted and counting how many hours remain until I can crawl back into bed. I long for sunshine and warmth and suffer my jealousy quietly as others discuss vacation plans South for spring break.
I can often recognize a case of “the Februarys” in that vague sense that something isn’t right. While I usually agree with Julian of Norwich that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” February finds me embodying the antithesis: All is not well, and all will not be well, and all manner of things will NEVER be well. Delightful, right?
The melancholy onslaught actually took me by surprise this year. Normally, I’m prepared for it. I hunker down, hibernation-ready, determined to power through this dark, cold season of ours. But we’ve had such a wimpy, haphazard winter by our regular standards, with temperatures vacillating drastically, that I’m convinced I was thrown off my game.
Extremes make me ready and alert—but the middle ‘non’ place puts me to sleep. With less snow and warmer temperatures, I became apathetic and didn’t notice “the Februarys” drawing near.
But now I see you, blah February feelings, and I’m re-calibrating. I’m waking up and I’m back on course. I may have lagged in the middle, but I’ll be finishing strong!
How do we finish strong when we’re winter-weary, dulled and over-wrought? When the usual things of life feel exhausting? When the fog is so pea-soup thick that the path disappears? What then?
First of all, we simply recognize “the Februarys” for what they are: feelings. Dreary, tired, slogging feelings. And feelings are not the boss of us. We can feel all of these things and still get out of bed. Still go to work. Still love our people. Still love ourselves. Acting kinder than we feel does not make us inauthentic—it’s NOT faking, it’s choosing. (Seasonal depression would fall under a different category of treatment than what is being suggested here).
Next, we keep going. We stick to the plan. We don’t deviate off course or adjust the coordinates or apply major changes. While minor course corrections are inevitable as we move toward a set goal, it’s dangerous to completely alter our plans based on a case of “the Februarys.” If your plan was to sail from point A to point B, keep working that plan. Clear weather is a better time for “re-calculating.”
And finally, we do the next right thing. This precept of Alcoholics Anonymous and myriad other counselling and self-help programs invites us to adopt a manageable, step-by-step approach to overwhelm. Instead of seeing the whole, massive list of things to do, complete the next right thing. Instead of fearing the mountain to be scaled, look for the next safe foothold.
Sometimes the next right thing looks like turning off Netflix and going to bed a half hour earlier. Sometimes it means pouring another cup of coffee and lounging reflectively for ten more minutes before the rush. Sometimes it means sitting your butt down and writing that hard email you’ve been avoiding. None of this is earth-shattering revelation, but with “the Februarys” in play, we sometimes forget. We risk choking if we attempt to swallow the proverbial elephant whole.
My journal entry ended that day with a prayer of gratitude: “God, thank you for helping me to name this; for helping me to recognize it for what it is, so that I don’t give it more power than it deserves. Help me now to do the next right thing; to keep putting one foot in front of the other until, suddenly, instead of dirty snow and a half-hibernated brain, I feel warm sunshine and clarity.”
No offence, February—you’re beautiful in your own way—but I’m happy your turn is almost over for another year. Soon, the darkness will lift and we’ll enter a new season, literally and metaphorically…and I cannot wait.