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Outdoors/Adventure

Hello darkness, my old friend. I will play outside to survive you.

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: December 21, 2019
  • Published December 21, 2019

If only rearranging my mind were as easy as redecorating a room. I would pick up these thoughts and place them over there where they fit better, paint the walls, donate some stuff to Bishop’s Attic and add a mirror to bring in more light.

But my actual mind is trickier than the office I need to renovate. My brain forms the lens through which I perceive the entire world. Right now this brain is brimming with a thick, sugar-and-darkness induced sludge. My thoughts move slowly, bumping into each other and not always connecting. I feel heavy. It takes me extra motivation to do things. Anything.

Seasonal depression, yes, I know — thank you. I don’t have it so bad, so I feel funny applying that label to myself. But that’s the problem with talking about anything knocking around upstairs. Many people, myself included, don’t tend to talk about it until it’s a real problem.

But just like with physical health, mental health takes upkeep. Ignoring the flashing yellow lights as darkness really settles in doesn’t make me somehow magically immune. It makes me like the rest of the country — unaware that losing daylight affects me, and I must adjust accordingly.

It’s something I’ve always admired about Alaskans. Where I grew up on the east coast, when the days got darker the people descended further into grumpiness and shortness, heading right home after work to click on the news in the comfort and isolation of a solitary living room.

Up here people tend to get closer. Potlucks, hikes, skis and bonfires abound. We know that as the winter weirds set in, we need each other.

On my very first visit to Alaska as a wide-eyed teenager, I was impressed by the offhand comment that people check in on each other during the winter. In the middle of that summer in Juneau, as the rain came down sideways and the thickly forested mountains emerged in clouds of fog, I learned that it would be much darker in the winter. The collective mood would take a turn. And it would be more important than ever not to let anyone get too far out of a group’s little orbit.

The antidote to the winter weirds is to stay active and go outside. Even though it presents a monumental effort this time of year, a proven mood-booster is play.

In the middle of the winter I’ve arrived at a trailhead and wondered if I really wanted to be there. I’m an adult, I think in a very adult-like fashion. I could turn around and go home. Cozy up with my book, inside and warm.

There are so many excuses, and many of them are perfectly reasonable. For one, it’s cold. Sometimes it’s dark. The steps to pull on all of the appropriate gear are enormous. Then there’s the exertion of the actual activity. Can I do it?

I hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head.

“Honey, this is meshuggenah. You’re biking?! In the winter?! Oy.”

That’s usually the turning point, though, because there is something glorious and incredible about simple survival in this place at this time of year. Not to mention the glory of forcing myself to thrive. I tell myself that by doing the meshuggenah — Yiddish for crazy — thing, I’ll be exposed to a kind of extreme beauty that many people will never see.

Once I can coax myself out the door and my wheels are moving or my feet going, I find a rhythm. I start to notice more around me. My breathing settles somewhere between labored and routine. Snow dusts up around me; I feel like a tiny moving part in an enormous Alaska postcard.

Ultimately it brings me back into myself. It’s like the furniture is slowly knocked back into place, where it always should have been.

My mind isn’t a physical room, no. But at least I can physically air it out — and that seems to help.

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