I hate February.
OK, I don’t really “HATE” February. My Birthday’s in the month. So’s my sister’s and I’m grateful that both of us are alive. It’s Black History Month, about which I still gain a sense of pride. And though Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark Holiday, it’s kinda cool that I now have a wife to spend it with.
But February has always been a very dark month for me. I tend to become very down and depressed this month. The worst, most incredibly sad month of my life was in February 13 years ago. I can also count several other times in my life where I have spiraled into a really sad place during this month. For several years, I dreaded February’s arrival. I didn’t know if I was cursed by the month, or if it was just some sick coincidence that made it my worst month of the year. And I really didn’t care. I just knew that when February came, my good disposition could turn sour, and a bad mood could become painfully worse.
See, I have this voice inside my head that is constantly spitting out vitriol and misery of some kind or another. And the voice seems to get louder in February.
“Dude, why even try. You’re not gonna do it.” “Do you realize exactly how miserable of a person you are?” “You are wrong! Shut up and f you with your excuses, cause you are wrong and you will always be wrong!”
Sometimes, instead of merely talking to me, I’ll get visuals. I’ll be happily listening to a song, when out of nowhere I’ll have a flash memory of a wildly embarrassing moment in fifth grade when I was chastised by my teacher in front of the entire class. Or I’ll be innocently watching a baseball game when suddenly I’m reliving my best friend’s tragic death and the overwhelming grief I felt. When a visual is done, I am viscerally affected, as if I were just yelled at or had just returned from the funeral. Sometimes I’m “merely” saddened by the memories. Other times, I’m completely deflated and defeated.
Cognitive psychology calls these Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). The Landmark Forum calls it “my character”. The core of Buddhism even speaks to the spinning negative monolog that cycles in our brains, saying that (among other things) life is suffering. On my good days, I barely notice that the voice is there. I’m able to function and to thrive. During tougher times though, the voice is more like an abuser who won’t leave the back of my head. He is there all the time. He is unforgiving, and he is relentless.
In February, this abuser seems to go from the back of my mind to the front of my face, glaring down at me.
So why does this happen more often in the “dead of winter”? It’s all about the energetics of the season. Winter is the time of very low energy. Plants have died back. Animals have migrated or are hibernating in dark places. We humans are even forced by weather to stay in our homes and become more sedentary. It is the darkest, quietest, and most still time of year. In every way, it is like going to a very quiet, solitary place where all that you are left with are your own thoughts. And if a lot of those thoughts are negative, it is very, very hard not to listen to them. And to believe them.
Thankfully, I recognize much more that this voice exists and that it is very pervasive. I also acknowledge that I must constantly be aware of it, especially during this time of year. While the voice can be blunt and obvious, it can also be very tricky and devious. I may think that I’m ok, but deep down I’m not. (“The devil’s finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.” – Charles Baudelaire) This has been such a February. My head (ie the voice) said that I was fine. My Heart knew better, through. I have not been thriving the way I know I want to be. I’ve not been happy the way I know I can be. It just took me a month to hear my Heart over my head.
Now, thankfully, I am aware again of the voice’s shouts and its whispers. I recognize the lies that I had been telling to myself and to others about my mood. I see more clearly how it was that I fell down and how I can get back up. I’ve begun to make the necessary changes in my life to strengthen myself and find my peaceful space. One of those changes is to simply breathe deeply. I’m also talking more with my wife and friends. Slowly but surely feeling the weight lift from my shoulders and am feeling better.
As I’ve said in previous posts, being happy is a choice. Some days that choice is effortless. Other days, it is a struggle. During this dark month, it has been damn hard for me to believe that the sun will again shine and warm my cold soul. And still I choose to believe in the light and joy, eventhough right now I feel more dark and cranky. In spite, despite, and because of the voice, I choose to breathe. I choose to smile. I choose to give love and more importantly to receive love.
The darkness will pass. The sun will shine.
Just three more days to go…….