As the leaves fall and tree branches stand bare and exposed, so too does our emotional skin thin as we descend into the depth of winter.
I think it was five Decembers ago that I finally focused on and named a phenomenon that had plagued me for years. Before consciously calling it out in my own mind it had wreaked havoc on my life year after year, but now I plan for it before it happens, recognize it when it rears its ugly head, and have tools in place to deal with it.
It's the thinning of my emotional skin that happens every year as fall deepens into winter, with invisible nerve endings recoiling in pain at every perceived (or real) social slight. Every non-invite, every unfollow, every relationship that fades away, and every awkward interaction sears my soul in ways that just don't happen when the trees are full, the river is raging, and the sun is strong.
I remember 10 years ago this December sobbing on the phone with a friend, who happened to be a 70+ year old man with keen astrological/cosmic cycle insight, about the relationship I was in (and by "relationship" I mean the yoga teacher at the studio I attended who was twelve years older than me that I was fucking who wanted nothing deeper than that while I was desperately craving a baby), saying to him "I just feel so... permeable. Like there's nothing, no layer of skin, separating me from the world." He helped me make sense of the situation (der, I was obviously setting myself up to be hurt and sharing sex with this man was a total mistake) and also reflected to me that this was the season to go in and settle within myself, rather than extend myself outward in relationships that weren't serving me.
Ah, had I but listened. Winter after winter I was knocked off center by unexpected feelings of hurt that came from social situations, until five years ago when I finally remembered to remember that this happens every year and started to take steps to lessen the impact of this sometimes debilitating seasonal affliction. I think I've got enough of a handle on it now that I'd like to share with you my...
Wintertime Woes Skin Thinning Self Care Tips:
Physical Care- Sleep as much as possible, occupy your bed as often as you can, hibernate like your mammalian cousins, drink as much hot tea and as little head-spinning, gut-wrenching, anxiety-inducing coffee as possible, stretch, walk, steam greens every day and roast root vegetables once a week to keep you grounded.
Okay these are all basic health tips and can be applied to every/anything, but they really are the foundation for everything that follows and when I let these go, especially if I get sick because I've neglected my daily physical self care, I can forget being able to navigate social situations or handle my emotions.
Emotional Care- Journal, write, journal, write, transmute the big feelings by getting them on paper. It always works. And, as time goes by, you can refer to old writings to help you identify larger patterns. Take baths. Cry until the tears run dry, don't dam the flow with rational thought or beliefs about what you should or shouldn't be feeling. Know the person or people you can share any feelings with, without worrying that you sound petty or PMSy or overly emotional.
You ARE overly emotional, and that's okay. Everything you're feeling is real, it's just heightened. Don't share these feelings with anyone who might dismiss them or make you feel stupid for having them; the last thing you want is another layer of your papery-thin skin painfully rubbed off by a callous person. If you talk to the right person and are totally honest and bravely vulnerable about what you're feeling, you will take a very real step toward feeling better. An example: I sobbed to a few women friends the other day about my daughter & I not being invited to a birthday party, and then admitted that it brings up all of the hurt I'd stifled from social media unfollows from real life friends lately and the fact that none of my childhood friends like me anymore and some show outright aggression toward the person I've become (a much happier and more expanded person, but a different person than they used to know nonetheless). Because I dove into the depth of my fear and shame and pain in front of the people I love and trust the most, I was able to move through my feelings in a safe space and to receive helpful reflections from my friends.
Social Care- Stay home! If you want to. Give yourself permission to turn down invites. Fuck feeling obligated. Your only obligation is to your own health and happiness. Watch your social media intake and, especially (cause I'm not gonna tell you to get off Instagram, cause I'm sure not), watch your reaction to what you see. Observe your feelings honestly so that they can be properly dealt with. Recognize that this may not be the best time to pursue new relationships, and also that most of us can really only give proper attention to a handful of close relationships at a time. Meditate on the second of The Four Agreements, "Don't Take Anything Personally", so that the truth of it will permeate your consciousness even if, like me, you have a hard time actually putting the belief of it into practice ;-)
Actually, here is an excerpt from that part of the book. A welcome reminder for this time of year:
Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.
Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds…Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators, the black magicians. They can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up….
Amen Brother Ruiz. Maybe if I learned to take that to heart I wouldn't have to look like this as often. I took this photo of myself in bed last December. I wasn't crying about anything that had happened socially, but because I was having a Pelvic Inflammatory Disease flare-up, which was definitely worsened by all the parties and gatherings I was attending and drinking too much wine and eating too many cookies at.
It's truly backward and verging on tragic that the time of year when we most need to pull inward and focus on what is closest and most essential is also the time that we have collectively scheduled the most social activity. No wonder so many of us have such a hard time during the holidays- we're going against nature in order to fulfill our cultural obligations.
To elaborate on what I skimmed over in Emotional Care- everything is heightened right now, as the nights lengthen and the cold and the holidays creep in, but that doesn't make it not real. Winter is the seasonal equivalent of a woman's bleeding time, another period (ha) of thin, permeable, porous emotional skin. At neither of these times do we overreact to something that isn't really there, rather we react honestly for the first time to something we've been overlooking, ignoring, or stifling. And yes sometimes, once we've expressed it and talked it out and maybe worked something out with someone, we realize that it wasn't as bad as we thought. But we never would've found that out if we hadn't felt the feelings and followed them through the murkiness and hurt toward a solution. The feelings are real and are pointing you toward what wants to be healed.
When I started writing this post I hadn't been invited anywhere for Thanksgiving this year, which is just four days away, and it was yet another thing was compounding the social hurt I've been feeling lately. Not that it was anyone's intention to hurt me, I'm sure people just assume we've all got plans with our peeps! But my family are all working this year. So, rather than feel sorry for myself and wondering why no one likes me, like I might have done in the past, I reached out. I took preventative measures to stop myself falling into a pain spiral and recognized that it'd feel a lot worse to be sitting alone on Thanksgiving than to gently invite myself to someone's house. It took two texts, and now my daughter and I will be spending Thanksgiving with dear friends.
I'm so glad I've learned the lessons that past winters have taught me and can consciously approach the coming season with compassion for myself (and everyone else too!), and can arm myself with my tried-and-true Self Care practices. If you have any stories or your own tips to share below, I'd love to hear them!
(I see this post as being in line with my post this summer about the Spirit Weavers Gathering and dealing with the social media aspect of such a large and, well, social gathering of women. I post on Instagram about these things quite a bit too, and from the survey I had up on this site last month I know that almost all of you are also interested in exploring these issues, so I plan to write more about them- you can sign up for my mailing list below to be in the loop about that- in the future and, again, would love your input and stories).