I have to admit that I’ve struggled with what to write for the Winter Box.
People talk about winter like it’s a magical wonderland. But this winter hasn’t felt magical to us here at HavenTree. The dark days trigger seasonal depression for Tresa. My autoimmune disorder makes cold intensely painful. Our children get sick more, which means we’re always hypervigilant to avoid more severe complications with their special needs.
And I can’t think of a time when so many people I know are struggling as much as they do right now— and so many members of the HavenTree community have reached out to tell us how they or someone they know are hurting. Paying bills, affording our meds, getting our kids into the right therapist, trying to remember what it felt like to not be so goddamn tired, even getting out of bed is a struggle. Some of us are only just starting to breathe again after surviving holidays marked by loneliness, abusive family members, or hard memories.
We’re grieving, too. Since fall, I’ve watched parents bury children, and watched children ache in ways old and new as they live to milestones their parents never reached. We’ve grieved through the first holidays after divorce, the first time a parent with dementia didn’t recognize us, headlines, lost jobs, lost energy, lost hope.
And many of us — so many of us — are walking and talking and getting through each day with anxiety buzzing in our chests, or trying to complete a thought with worries relentlessly interrupting every word and breath.
We want you to know that we see you.
We see you over there, being tired and brave and awesome.
We see the hundred times each day that you are brave. And we’re not going to tell you that everything will be okay, or that it’s not as bad as you think it is, because it makes us twitchy and ragey when well-meaning folk say that to us. Let’s be honest — it’s as bad as you feel it is. Hell, you’re probably under-exaggerating how bad it is and how tired you are. The struggling, grieving, and worrying add up, and they take a huge toll.
My favorite feature in this issue is the poem “Weariness,” on page 6. The poet, Eva Willes Wangsgaard, was my mother’s grandmother. Eva had a gift for revealing and validating the pain she knew other women carried around each day — because she carried so much of it herself. “My heart has need of patient gray and white,” she says, painting a picture of a real and a metaphorical winter season that I feel so much closer to than any winter wonderland. And, like Eva, I want so desperately to say, “Come, Winter, wrap my weariness in peace.”
I don’t have a magic formula for creating that peace — not for myself or for you. But what Tresa and I have learned is that when the manic episodes come; when the c-PTSD triggers abound; when we’re doing whatever is the Spoonie equivalent of stealing handfuls of sporks from Wendy’s because our spoons are so damn gone gone really gone pawnedandmelteddownforscrapmetalGONE and they ain’t coming back, noooooosirrrreeeeee — that’s when our self care has to be focused on little things. We find small self care activities and tools that don’t take a lot of energy, but collectively add up to more minutes of breathing room and more moments of quieted anxiety.
So we reinforce boundaries with ourselves and others, and we practice saying “No” to small requests that would collectively wear us out. We think about the little tools that make us feel better prepared (and less anxious!) and that help us cope with stressful situations. We find small rituals that help our hands and feet hurt less, because we know that will free up energy to deal with everything else that hurts.
We chose each item in this box because they are just that — little things we use ourselves to create our own peace when our self care must be small and simple.
We hope they help you, too.
-Meredith Hutchison Hartley