Is it depression or just recognition of reality?

It is such a cliché to be depressed around the holidays that I couldn’t admit it. All week I’ve struggled to maintain my characteristically optimistic view on things, such as the sub-zero temperature (at least it’s not North Dakota!), the rain-on-snow (great for the drought!), the traffic (!), freezing fog (it’s pretty when it crystallizes!) and Copenhagen (isn’t that great—Tuvalu finally got the attention it deserves!). But then along came Joe Lieberman’s Deputy Dawg grandstanding over health care, and my cheerful façade shattered like icicles hitting the pavement outside my front door.

It’s hopeless! All these months of wrangling over healthcare “reform,” and in the end the insurance industry gets exactly what it wants because the Senate simply can’t rise above sandlot partisanship. Same basic idea on the international front with climate change. And though it looks like some kind of jobs-relief bill might be coming forward from the feds, it’s an open question as to whether it will be the size or quality that will actually create real, long-lasting jobs. Certainly it won’t happen in time to save mine, one of many victims of last year’s bloodletting thanks to UNR’s budget cuts.

Yes, like millions of Americans, yours truly is about to go “on the dole,” as it were—for the first time in my adult working life. It’s a scary prospect, but one that I often contemplate with a kind of detached curiosity, as in, “well, won’t this make interesting material for my columns?”

So, yes, thanks to our buddy Joe, I finally faced the reality of my own mood this morning—cynical, cranky, and downright fed up.

Somewhere I read a theory that humans are actually programmed to shift metabolic gears in the winter, to kind of hibernate in the coldest months. This long-forgotten source told a story of traditional cultures in the far north of Russia, where whole families did in fact hibernate. But the main point of this theory was that we are biologically programmed to slow down these days, espressos and electric lights aside.

Decades ago I would have scoffed at this idea, but as I shift gears in midlife, it makes more sense to me. Once I was a night owl, now I start to yawn as soon as it gets dark. So I wonder how much of my crankiness, and the widely-documented phenomenon of holiday depression, is at least partly due to the contradiction between the pace of modern life and our circadian rhythms?

I really don’t like to dwell in thoughts of bitterness and “could’ve should’ve, would’ve” thinking. So, as the sun started to break through the clouds today, I was reminded of my grandmother’s “worse things have happened to better people” philosophy, and began listing things to be grateful for, lighting a few internal candles against my midwinter darkness:

• I’m pretty healthy. My children are physically and mentally healthy and thriving.

• I have a roof over my head.

• I live in a community surrounded by astonishing natural beauty. Today I had occasion to view the snow-covered mountains that surround us several times, but I never get bored by that vision.

• Speaking of community, ours has a lot going for it, even in this time of economic crisis. We have a cool and vibrant cultural sector and a lot of really smart and effective folks working to make this place even cooler than it already is.

On that last note, I am, finally, incredibly grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had to work with some of these people—and look forward to continuing that work. I know that there are a lot of folks out there with far bigger challenges to surmount than mine, who are doing so with dignity and grace, and that reminder is enough to snap me out of my Lieberman-induced self-pity.