For me, February is the cruelest month. On the calendar, it looks deceptively short and pleasingly svelte, but for those of us who are not fans of winter, this month has a tendency to drain, drag, and depress.
There are several reasons why I find February a bit tough to take. Unlike March, which provides hints of warmth and (in recent years), has been downright spring-like, February offers four weeks of cold, wind, and snow, along with fluctuating temperatures tailor-made for colds, flu, and a plethora of other illnesses.
In addition to the wicked weather, this month features one of my least favorite occasions. Valentine’s Day, or the lovers’ holiday (as I think of it) reminds me of my single status. I practice creative avoidance and do my best to distract myself, to look the other way when I see the schmaltzy commercials for Kay Jewelers and the eye-catching ads for romantic dinners at fine restaurants –- establishments I rarely if ever visit, since I don’t like to dine at tables for one.
Typically, I have two strategies for getting through the month of February:
1) Keep busy: Though my body seems to crave sleep and wants to curl up on my couch with my cat, I force myself to meet friends –- at least on weekends –- and maintain a regular workout routine, (a combination of depression management and my habitual vanity).
And 2) Get out of town. Several years ago, I came up with a plan to ease my mid-winter blues. By organizing a warm-weather vacation for the last week in February or the first week in March, I created a new dynamic, one in which I looked forward to February, counting down the days until I’d be sunning myself on the Gulf Coast beaches of St. Petersburg and Sarasota. With my annual trip looming, I could even handle the minor trauma of another birthday –- as my younger brother reminds me each year on February 27, “It beats the alternative” --- and focus on gathering my beach attire. By the time I returned to Boston in March, Daylight Savings Time was history, and once I could walk outside after work and watch the sun set in the west, my mood naturally improved.
But this year, I got caught up in #1 –- busyness –- and filled my schedule so that my birthday escape is impossible. Looking at the current landscape of my life, I’m starting to realize that getting involved in life, and dealing with the reality of what is –- I live in Boston, it is cold here in the winter, I need to deal with it –- might be a more effective way of living than running away to warmer climes. A temporary escape is fine, but the focus on living in the future or dwelling on the past is not.
Last week at the barber’s, (or seeing my stylist at the salon, which is pretty much the same thing), I mentioned that I was counting days, hours, and minutes until the time changed. The stylist, who’s about to turn 50, asked me my age. When I told him –- I’ll be 56 at the end of this month –- he said, “You need to stop wishing your life away. It goes too fast already.”
I couldn’t argue with that. Looking back from this vantage point in middle age, it seems I’ve spent much of my life fretting over things I could or should have done better or worrying about things that ultimately never happened. In other words, I often live in the past or the future, and miss what’s going on right now.
The days tick by. This year, I’m going to a writers’ conference in Boston in early March, and performing my one-man show about life in middle age at a gay men’s retreat in Western Massachusetts in mid-February. I’m doing my best to stay engaged, and to appreciate the cold beauty of a February snowstorm.
I’m reminded that the seasons -- like the bitter times, which alternate with the sweet –- are part of life. I’m trying to make my peace with February, even when I can’t escape to the land of warmth and sun.
Besides, I’m heading down to Florida in April.