Winter Dark

Winter Dark January 17, 2018


This is the time of year that I don’t sleep very much.

It happens every January. I have the post-Christmas fibromyalgia flare, and I don’t sleep very much, or not at the right time. I can’t drift off before seven in the morning, and then I either sleep until afternoon… or I don’t. I get up to the sound of the neighbors shoveling their sidewalks at eight o’clock and try to get through a day on one hour of rest.

I’ve already got a doctor and my Vitamin D levels are fine. Sleep medications don’t touch it, except for the ones I can’t take because they make me sleepwalk and have panic attacks. Lavender, chamomile and melatonin don’t help either. A full-spectrum therapy lamp is already coming in the mail, but it won’t get here for a few more days. There’s not really anything I can do, except wait it out.

I do a lot of waiting.

I wait for morning so I can doze off. I wait for the black of the night to turn into the gray-white of a snowy day. I wake up in the afternoon, and watch it turn black again far too soon.

I go outside and dig in the snow with Rosie.

I come inside and try to take a nap, but I don’t sleep.

I’m too tired to read.

I’m annoyed by people who think insomnia means you’re not tired. I’m exceptionally tired. I get more and more tired, useless, eyelids drooping, then I lie down and sleep slips away. I get up to pace, but I’m too exhausted to pace so I lie down. I drink cold brew coffee “to reset my sleep cycle” as early in the day as possible and it knocks me out for a nap of a few hours, or does nothing. I do my exercises as close to Noon as possible  because it’s supposed to make me drowsy by evening, but I’m already drowsy. I just can’t sleep. It’s maddening to be drowsy when you can’t sleep.

My productivity suffers. It irks me that I can’t put out a blog post a day when all I do is sit at the computer.

I talk to my icons.

Spring is coming soon. For all I know things will get much better before Spring, but at minimum, Spring is coming soon. In about a month, the sap will start flowing and my friend Rebecca will tap her maples down at the farm. She’ll boil the sap and set the jars of syrup on her windowsill– some nearly black, some amber, some barely darker than clear. The Fast will begin, and we’ll eat vegetarian soup on Wednesdays at church before liturgy of the pre-sanctified gifts.  When we start going to pre-sanctified Liturgies we’ll need our coats, but toward the end we’ll be in jackets. Then it will be Pascha, Easter, time for Resurrection Matins and blessing of baskets; we’ll eat chocolate, cheese and smoked sausage in the car on the way home.

Maybe we’ll even have begun the long anticipated move to West Virginia by then, the one that keeps getting put off through one disaster and another. If we’re at our new house, I’ll plant perennials: a grape alley behind the garage like my beloved grandfather had, a lilac bush by the porch, a climbing rose to honor Saint Therese who led me this far, a Rose of Sharon to honor Theotokos. If we’re stuck here a few more months I’ll plant snap peas and bush beans, things that have a short growing season so we can leave at any time. I’ll plant peppers in pots to take with me.

The sun will come back.

The colors will come back.

I’ll be able to  sleep at night again. Night will actually give way to warm days with nice things to look at, birds to listen to, the smell of soil and petrichor.

But it’s not like that now.

The worst part of life, being human, the cycle of things, is the dark night when you can’t sleep, when there are no colors to distract you. The time when all you can do is wait. I’m told by people much wiser and holier than I that this isn’t just a physical, earthly phenomenon– the mind and the spirit go through dark winter too, periodically. Every part of us does. Everything that’s human experiences bright times and dark times. Sometimes there are steps you can take to make it better faster, but often, the suffering of the dark times can’t be relieved on our schedule. All we can do is wait until the bright comes back. We can’t bring it back with therapy lamps or medications, not with distractions, not with coffee, not even with prayer and fasting, not til the time is right. And just when you thought you couldn’t stand any more, or perhaps a long time after you stopped being able to stand it, the bright returns. For some people the dark is deeper and longer than others, and I’m told their brightness is much brighter as well. Sometimes you go into that winter dark and you can’t imagine that it will ever end. I’ve had winters like that– winters where I didn’t feel like I could make it til Spring, or worse, that Spring wouldn’t make any difference. Nights that felt like dawn was already hours late and would never break– or worse, that daybreak and the birds’ song would return but provide no relief. That Pascha would never come to end our fast– or that its coming would somehow turn out to be another false hope that changed nothing.

I’m not going to say I held on during those times, but Something held on to me.

This time around, this year, I am confident that the dark will come to an end.

It doesn’t make me feel well, but it makes me feel better.

(image via Pixabay) 



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