In the bleak midwinter…when a hot water bottle is your best friend
By Jennifer Lipman
I am an extremely cold person, as my husband likes to say. An ice queen. Not emotionally, you understand, but physically; I am constantly freezing and my extremities turn to ice on a nightly basis. As a result, from November to March (or even longer, when the British spring does not deliver), I hibernate as much as possible, avoiding socialising for fear I’ll have to leave the comfort of my centrally heated home.
I spend my days bulked up like Heidi in dozens of layers, and have a not entirely healthy co-dependent relationship with my hot water bottle (he’s called Pedro, and he’s a penguin). As you read this, I’ll probably be wrapped in a scarf that might possibly have been intended as a blanket. Going out with me in the winter months is like preparing for an expedition up Everest, such is my need for additional jumpers, hats and gloves.
Naturally, then, I detest the season, dreading the onset of sub-zero temperatures. But even more than my abhorrence for the climate is that fact that I loathe the lack of light. For half the year, I think longingly of the days when the sun streams in through the windows – such bliss to wake up to a bright morning – and the period when I am warmed not by electricity but by the natural world.
Sometimes I worry that I spend half the year mourning the onset of the other; six months revelling in the warmth and light, six months desperate for time to speed up. Yet for all that I try to put a brave face on it, I can’t escape the fact that the January blues get me every year.
There is no joy to be had in not only leaving the house for work in dim light, but returning at the end of the day in pitch blackness. I dread those weeks when darkness reigns supreme, when even at noon the skies are grey and bleak: a reflection of my winter mood. Those weeks when venturing outside seems pointless; the benefits of fresh air so far outweighed by the prospect of facing the gloom.
I am an outside person, living in an inside country. For me, a summer evening’s walk is one of my greatest pleasures; I’d take sitting in the park, reading, over watching a film inside or browsing the shops any day (to be honest, I’d take just running an errand without the need for a car, cardigan or coat). There are few things I appreciate more than feeling the sun on my face.
I remember waking up on my wedding day – in deep February, a week after snowfall – overjoyed that the sun was shining and the world was light and bright. (The photographer’s suggestion of going outside for pictures was, however, a step too far for me in my sleeveless dress).
On those rare winter days when the sun does push through, I am a changed person; happier, more relaxed, eager to get out and enjoy the wider world. I lose my blues. Whether or not Seasonal Affective Disorder – defined by the NHS as a type of depression that recurs on a seasonal basis – is a genuine condition or not, I know that without light and warmth, my mental health is poorer and my outlook on life less optimistic.
Maddeningly, my husband does not share my coldness. At most he’ll need two layers in the winter, maybe a pair of slippers. He actively looks forward to months where the day turns swiftly into night; invariably he sits in the shade if we are anywhere sunny and rushes to put on the air conditioning.
On the upside, he acts as my radiator; the drawback is that he just does not get how much winter affects me and my mood. When, every October, I am sad that the clocks have fallen back, he looks at me bemused. For him it’s the start of the cosiest period of the year.
Not so for me. For me it heralds the January blues – the time of the year that is dark, grey, cold, and downright miserable. In fact, I can see only one positive about winter. With every passing bleak, grey day, we get nearer to the start of summer.