On the Winter Blues

Kaylie Padgett
February 29, 2016
Sunset on Rathmines.

January and February are the hardest months of the year. It is cold and wet and we are weary, the dip of the holiday season leaving us in a bit of a haze, and then things are busy, busy, busy.

Every year, I sink into a bit of a winter funk, bogged down by the cold and the snow and the awful, windy chill that is central Illinois at the beginning of every year, and this year, being abroad, I hoped (somewhat foolishly/bravely) that I would skip right over the usual slump, too engaged and awed by the new world around me.

This is partially true. The weather in Dublin is much, much nicer than the weather in Galesburg. It just did a strange ten minute session of sleet/snow outside, but now there are clouds peeking through the sky. There is green grass and parks to walk through and trees have their leaves on them. In Dublin, there is still so much to do - museums to go to (I visited the Museum of Archeology and History for the first time last week and highly recommend) and new neighborhoods to visit. The usual lack of mobility that gets me down this year suddenly no longer exists. I am not trapped by the snow, the lack of transportation. I can catch a bus that takes me to the city center, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IKEA. I can walk seven minutes down the street and go to the Bernard Shaw for the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had (Italian, amazing, indulgent in the best way). There are antique shops to visit and libraries to get lost inside.

And yet, even with all of the possibilities in the world, sometimes I find myself a bit down. Not my usual winter slump, where I crawl into bed at four in the afternoon and don’t leave, conduct all of my homework and business under the comfort of my duvet, but still something a bit tinged with nostalgia and a little sadness. Going abroad doesn’t suddenly erase the Winter Blues.

I struggled with this. I felt like I was jumping through one obstacle after another. First, I was anxious about fitting in, on feeling like the foreigner in a country where I desperately wanted to be accepted, and then after dealing with all of the trials and tribulations and weird consumerist hang-ups that come with that, suddenly I’m sad?

You’re in Europe, Kaylie, I told myself. Literally, suck it up.

But the thing with that approach is that telling myself to suck it up, to be grateful for all of the opportunity that I have (and I am - my biggest struggle is somehow interpreting that my penchant for winter blues somehow makes me ungrateful and undeserving, and this just perpetuates the winter blues), doesn’t help anything. I didn’t suddenly feel better just because I knew I should.

At orientation, we were told, repeatedly, that eventually the homesickness would hit. Everyone goes through it, they said. It can happen at any time, and it’s okay. It’s okay to feel that way.

I’m not sure if my winter blues is homesickness in the traditional sense, but it’s a sense of longing, of wanting to feel the comfort that comes easily with belonging in a place and being familiar with it. Of wanting the connection that I see back at my home school, with those friends; of having large events impact you from thousands of miles away, and not being able to do anything about them.

Remembering the words they told us on the first week of orientation, I took a Tuesday afternoon to myself and finally allowed myself to feel sad. I gave myself an afternoon to feel homesick, to crawl in bed and allow myself to rest and sleep.

I woke up and felt disorientated, and maybe not entirely better, but comforted by the fact that I was trying. Then I made a list of all the things that I wanted to do that week, from museum visits to a charity-shop route, and promised myself incentives to do them.

I bought myself a small package of watercolor paints at Easons and carved out some time in my schedule to create. I read a magazine entirely for fun and without any guilt. I listened to a playlist I made a whole year ago, to give myself some familiar comfort.

Once I allowed myself time to feel the little tinges of winter sadness, I started to feel more grounded and centered.

Sometimes, life during study abroad can feel like it’s going at a breakneck pace. Sometimes, this is really, really good; doing things and making plans and feeling like you’re getting the most out of your short time in an entirely different world.

But sometimes, it’s okay to slow down, to allow yourself a few days to stay in and practice some really necessary self-care, to recognize that the version of you that is studying abroad deserves the same treatment and careful handling as the everyday, normal version of you that you think you’ve shed back at school. You’re just the flip side of the same coin, and it’s okay to be reminded of that every once and awhile.

Give yourself the care you deserve.

P.S. Apologies for the absence - winter blues and spring break travels. More on that soon.

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