Posted by: Lee Thomas
Time to read: 4 minutes
People say that the internet is forever, but try finding a Tumblr post from circa 2012.
I don’t remember it exactly, and it’s quite possible that I’ve sort of mentally Frankensteined it from a few different posts, but I remember it going something like this:
Of course you have seasonal depression. Look outside. Nothing in nature blooms all year round. Human beings are meant to spend the winter months curled up by a fire telling stories with our loved ones, not trying to perform the same amount of work in December as we do in July.
I’m sure it was phrased better by the original author, but you get the gist.
It impacted me a lot when I first read it. Not enough to change my behaviour at the time, of course. But enough to remember it over a decade later.
“February is a hard month for me” is a phrase I have been hearing a lot recently. And every time I hear it, I think about that post, and I feel the unsettling feeling creep over me that what we’re doing is deeply unnatural.
I’ve become really interested in birds over the last couple of years. Extremely millennial of me, I know. And in one of the bird books I read, they talked about how when migrating songbirds are kept in a cage and not allowed to migrate, the birds get distressed. This is true even if the bird was born in a lab, even if it was separated from other birds its whole life, even if it was kept in a location where it couldn’t see the outdoors to get any seasonal cues from nature. All of its other needs were met. It was warm, safe from predators, and had plenty of food. But it could not migrate, and so it did not thrive.
It didn’t learn migration from its peers. It didn’t see the weather changing. It didn’t need to leave to find food.
And yet, its body was clearly telling it: something isn’t right.
I think it’s easy for us non-birds to look at this situation and be like “yeah, no shit, that’s what this type of bird does, so of course it’s going to be stressed when it can’t do it.” We see a tiger in a cage with plain concrete walls and think “no wonder it’s not thriving”. It’s not rocket science.
…And then we feel exhausted and we shrug our shoulders and we say “February is a hard month for me.” And we go back to work.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways we’re taught to distrust and dismiss the things that our body communicates to us. When we’re exhausted, we don’t look at our agenda and see where we can do less. Instead, we berate ourselves for not doing as much as we think we should be able to. When we’re “overeating” we look up strategies for eating less, rather than noticing how our body is communicating that we need to stop restricting. We exercise before we’re fully recovered from injuries or sickness. Instead of getting more sleep, we drink more coffee.
We feel shame about our hunger — for food, for rest, for companionship — and we try desperately not to need these things. The worst thing we can be is needy. We call babies “good” when they don’t inconvenience us too much with their needs, and we keep telling them that for their entire lives.
I am still haunted by Brandy Jensen’s observation from her 2020 advice column Ask A Fuck-Up: American culture has always been allergic to need. We despise it in ourselves and recoil from it in others. So, it’s not particularly surprising that your question is not “how do I find this vital thing my life is currently lacking” but “how do I learn to stop needing it?”
I wonder about how differently we might react to our February exhaustion if we saw our bodies as legitimate sources of information. When we say “why am I feeling this way?” it’s so often a condemnation — usually what we’re really saying is “I shouldn’t feel this way.” But what if that question was from a place of genuine curiosity? What if we we saw our bodies as an equal partner, with their own wisdom and insights? As a friend worth listening to?
Lately I’ve been referring to my relationship with my body as an “ecosystem.” In an ecosystem, it’s okay to need. Trees need to shed their leaves. Bears need to hibernate. Birds need to migrate. I no longer believe that my human body is the exception to these natural rules.
And if we can accept that, and meet those needs? Maybe February won’t be such a hard month for us.