It’s that time of year again. The holidays are over. The guests are gone. The kid’s back at college.
And I’m back at my desk. It’s gray and cold outside (21 degrees Fahrenheit today). My basement office is cozy, almost too cozy, since I renovated it last year and put in electric baseboard heating. It’s dark and warm, the kind of place where I can really hibernate through the remainder of the long dark winter.
But bills must be paid, and there is work to do. So, rather than curl up for a long winter’s nap, I dive into several projects.
And that can be a recipe for depression.
One of the challenges of the freelance life is balance. When you work where you live, it’s easy to work all the time. When you can do your job quite well by phone, e-mail and Internet, you can end up staying home all the time. In spring, summer and fall, I’m able to keep my balance. I’m a summer person. I love the heat and the humidity (which means I thoroughly enjoy the sticky, sweltering D.C. summers). It’s easy to get outside and walk, go to the gym, go swimming, break up the day with errands and lunch dates, and then go out in the evening as well.
But when the whistling of the wind through the trees reminds me of how unpleasant and cold it is out there, it’s hard to summon the energy to bundle up and leave the house. When the air outside is so dry that it makes my skin itch, I’d rather turn on the humidifier and sit at my desk.
We freelancers tend to be loners by nature, and we can do some of our best work alone. But too much isolation is dangerous. Trapped in our own heads, we can battle demons that aren’t there. It’s in the dead of winter when my evil inner editor emerges, whispering confidence-crushing comments in my ear. She tells me my thinking is clouded and my writing is crap. And this story I’m working on? What a mess. That stack of bills from the holidays sits accusingly on my shelf, reminding me that I don’t get paid until I work. And the more I work, the more money I make (theoretically, at least), so I should just work all the time until I get everything paid off.
Holed up in my basement office by day, and huddled near my living room fireplace by night, I’m a perfect candidate for a mild case of seasonal affective disorder. My social life slows down. My critical alter ego tells me that it’s because no one likes me, when really it’s only because I’d rather sit home and stay warm.
This year, I’ve prepared an antidote for the winter blues. The ingredients aren’t too taxing, because I know myself all too well. I’m hoping, however, that by publicly committing to it here, I will actually stick to it:
1. One 20-minute walk in the cold, cruel world every single day
2. At least two hours of additional time outside the house every day or evening – visiting friends, volunteering, shopping, working out at the gym, whatever
3. Meals that feature more greens, less sugar and fewer carbs
Will this help me make it through the long winter? I’ll report my results in March, just in time to start battling spring fever.