Our new president has promised Americans “a dark winter.” Whether he’s simply noting a hard truth or whether he and his administration intend to make it so, the next few months will likely bring hardship and discouragement to a nation already beaten down by a year of pandemic, months of rioting, and the ugliest presidential contest in our history.
Combine these tribulations with wintertime’s Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and our mood may become as bleak as the brown Virginia fields near my house. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes SAD as a type of depression, afflicting in its most extreme form about 5 percent of all Americans. Some symptoms of SAD include eating too much, particularly carbohydrates, sleeping too much, and a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.
As I read this list of symptoms, I wondered whether the good doctors might not add PAD (Pandemic Affective Disorder) to their list of ailments. Many afflicted with PAD show the same symptoms as those suffering from SAD. Even in regard to the milder cases of either disorder, this past year has left many masked and isolated Americans down in the dumps, and the coming months show no signs of bringing relief from these conditions.
Left to our own devices, we must devise ways to stay mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy throughout this ordeal.
I would suggest starting with our homes.
The 400-year-old dictum that “An Englishman’s home is his castle” meant that no one could enter a private home without a clear invitation.
The same holds true for Americans.
Whether we live in a mansion or a five-floor walkup studio apartment, we should make that old adage our motto, banishing not only unwanted persons from our castles but also any poisonous mood we ourselves may have picked up in the public square. Once we arrive home and close the door behind us, we should make a conscious effort to bring light and cheer into the place we live, turning our backs as much as possible on the wintry season and leaving its present discontents outside.
If we have children, if we are married, or if we share a house with friends, we must attempt to bring optimism and happiness into those lives. By doing so, we not only buck up the morale of our loved ones, but we also do the same for ourselves. If we live alone, this task is often more difficult, but still doable.
Here are some suggestions to put this idea into action.
Don’t turn on the evening news. Either watch it later online, or better yet, go to sites like The Epoch Times and read the news. Why spoil your evening as soon as you arrive home?
Offer compliments and a listening ear to your children, spouses, and apartment mates. If your 6-year-old rushes you with a crayon drawing she finished that afternoon, pause, really look at it, and give her a smile and a pat on the back. Thank your spouse for the day’s hard work. These little gestures of affection and appreciation add up.
Enjoy your evening meal. Whether you are alone, as I often am, or with others, take pleasure in the food at supper, no matter how humble the fare. Mealtime is an especially appropriate time to feel gratitude for this blessing of nourishment in your life, and the evening meal in particular is for many of us a signal the day is winding down. We can make these meals occasions for reflection and celebration.
If you live with others, try playing board games, cards, charades, or some other games. These will often take your mind off your troubles and bring some needed laughter. If you live by yourself, chess, solitaire, or other games can be played alone. Right now, for example, I play solitaire daily and am, I believe, on the longest losing streak in the history of that game.
Consider a family read-aloud. Like games, books can divert us from the events of the outside world, and a story shared forms a bond among the listeners. (I’ve tried reading aloud to myself a few times. Not so good, though the slower pace does force me to more deeply appreciate the author’s cadence and word choice. )
Watch older movies: “The Thin Man” series, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” “Casablanca,” “Chariots of Fire.” These and a hundred other films show adults behaving like grownups, and are free of the violence, cynicism, and obscenities of so many more modern films. Classic Hollywood cinema generally aimed to inspire and cheer up its audiences rather than depress them, and movies such as these still possess the ability to rouse our spirits.
Invite friends into your home for drinks or a simple meal. Keep in mind that the purpose of these entertainments is not the food but the fellowship, so take a relaxed approach to the cooking and the housecleaning. Your guests may bring the woes of the world with them, the national news of the day, but in this case, a lively discussion along with some laughter may act as a blessing rather than a curse.
Practice prayer and meditation. Several families I know pray together just before the kids go to bed. These few minutes of quiet and thoughtful reflection, which sometimes includes spiritual readings, create bonding and unity.
Readers will likely think of another dozen ways to find some peace and distraction from our present troubles: baking cookies, sewing or woodworking, taking up a new hobby.
In my own case, I find one source of pleasure in tidying up and cleaning, particularly the kitchen. Every couple of days I remove everything—books, newspapers, and magazines, mail, pencils and pens, bottles of vitamins and wine—from my kitchen’s island table. I put all of these items in their proper place and then wipe down the cleared table with Windex and some paper towels.
Although I performed this task just two days ago, already that island table is once again piled with all those items I mentioned. So today I’ll again spend half an hour cleaning it off, take satisfaction in the job, and make the vow I always make and always break to keep that table free of junk and clean.
I have to smile at those broken vows and that ever-resurgent mound of clutter. Maybe subconsciously I need to keep repeating this task to help keep my sanity.
In the 1971 movie “The Omega Man,” Charlton Heston plays an Army colonel and a doctor who injects himself with an experimental serum and survives a plague caused by biological warfare. While believing himself the last healthy survivor of this pandemic, he fights against “the Family,” mutants who have also survived and who are determined to kill him.
At one point in the film, Heston returns to his fortified home after a day of doing battle against his adversaries, changes into a ruffed shirt and jacket reminiscent of the 18th century, begins cooking supper, pours himself a drink, turns on some instrumental music, and sits at a table lit with candles to play a solitary chess game with a bust of Julius Caesar opposite him.
Without saying so overtly, the director and the writers for “The Omega Man” show us the heart of any civilization: the home.
We all need some place of safety, some moat and drawbridge separating us from the troubles of the world, a fortress behind whose walls we may rest our weary bones and even if for just a little while, find some peace from the disturbances and clamor beyond our front door.
This winter, let’s make our homes sanctuaries against the forces of darkness.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.