Born and raised in a tropical country, I've always dreamed of seeing snow and experiencing winter. Even just once in this lifetime.
I was granted that wish when I worked abroad between 2013 and 2014. Yes, I hated my job that time, but if it weren't for that job, I wouldn't be able to cross out a lot of things from my bucket list such as reading a book under an apple tree and walking on the Great Wall. I guess life would give you some consolations for going through hard times.
So, sometime in November 2013, I finally saw snow falling from the sky with my very own eyes.
|*insert Kelly Clarkson's song: A MOMENT LIKE THIS*|
Actually, the night of November 17th, it already started to snow but you can barely see it. But the next day, it snowed a LOT! I was in the middle of class but I was so distracted, I couldn't keep my eyes off the window. I was just so thrilled and honestly, I wanted to cry and jump in joy at the time. Eventually, my students started looking out the window too, wondering what it was that's been catching my attention. One of my Chinese assistants was still in the classroom that time, so, she explained to my students that that was the first time I've seen snow. My students' jaws dropped when they finally understood why I was so distracted. I know it's kinda hard for them to imagine living in a place without winter - without snow.
I've had mixed emotions when I was posing for pictures of my first snow.
I was happy because I couldn't actually believe that another dream of mine came true. Kinda sad because I wanted my friends in the Philippines to see what I'm seeing too. I was exhausted and I really wanted to leave China that time because I hate doing my paperwork. I feel lazy as shit every morning since winter started because boy who wakes up early to go to work in WINTER??? Can we not just sleep all day since it's cold out?! But I also love wearing coats and boots, so, yeah! Let's get out! Just imagine the crazy emotions I was feeling then. I know that a lot of people were happy for me, but it's not all good, believe me.
It's easy to smile in front of the camera. All people see is that you SEEM to be having a great time. Cool clothes, awesome shots, fancy food. But they don't know what the trade off is. They only see the tip of the iceberg. I'm not saying I did not enjoy experiencing winter at all. But I just wanna get real and share with you guys the downside of being surrounded by too much snow.
Ever heard of winter depression? Well, it goes by another name, seasonal affective disorder or SAD for short. I would never know about this crap if it weren't for the literally loooong cold nights I've experienced that year. Aside from the fact that I was terribly missing hanging out with my friends and friends by blood (aka cousins), not enough exposure to sunlight was a great trigger to it. It was totally different from when I first came to that country. I arrived in China towards the end of summer. That time, it's still bright outside at 7 PM. The transition was a bit drastic for me. All of a sudden, it gets really dark before 6 PM. My circadian rhythm was messed up.
I used food as my ally because the thoughts of overflowing paperwork and not being able to post regularly on my blog were torturing me. EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.
At the end of the day, I would always cry and yell WHAT AM I DOING HERE?! The work doesn't effing end! It's there when I sleep, it's there when I wake up, and I kid you not when I tell you I even teach while I'm sleeping. Ask my roommate about it!
We only got one day off and if I'm not at a spa that day, I'd just be shopping like there's no tomorrow. Or both! Half a day at spa, half a day spent strolling in malls or night markets.
My friends and relatives were telling me to stick it out until the end of my contract because the pay is really good and it seems like I'm really having fun anyway. But, there's just no decent or humble way to say I don't care about the pay, I care more about what's going to happen to my mental health if I continue doing that shit. I swear, I've never felt so depressed in my life until I realized I was going to spend Christmas away from my country. But then again, it's my first white Christmas! Woohoo! (Welcome to bipolar express!)
That time, I was also thinking that maybe, that seasonal depression was an aftermath of the anxiety attack I have experienced before I left my country. So, in attempt to keep my sanity, I tried my best to get rid of too much negativity. I started with my eating habits. Since my figure is something that usually annoys me ever since I hit my early 20's, I realized I've had enough of it. I stopped eating cake after every meal and vowed to myself I wouldn't eat too much potato chips anymore. That time, boss got a treadmill for the teachers since it's pretty hard to run outside on snowy days. I took advantage of that. I made a decision that that job will not destroy me - physically OR mentally. I'd use the treadmill once or twice a day. I love the feeling of being covered in sweat after a few minutes of workout when it's -21 degrees outside. Life was good again. I just took it one small step at a time. My point was to stock up on happy hormones again, not really to lose crazy amount of weight in an instant because that's almost impossible during the holiday season.
So, I was back to being happy again, which was not easy at first. Dragging yourself out of bed early in the morning just to get a 15-minute workout was NOT that cool. It's painful and annoying but I kept on psyching myself that I'd feel better, much better after every workout. Though I know that it's much easier to just curl up in bed and drink hot chocolate while it's snowing outside, I still encouraged myself to get off my ass. No one can do the hard work for me. I had to motivate myself.
Now, about the sad thoughts about not being able to hang out with my friends (back home) over the weekends, I just tried to talk to them as often as I could on social media sites. I also have a few friends who were working overseas while I was out of the country and talking to them over Facebook and Skype was such a great way to get over homesickness, or in my case, dorm sickness. People won't totally understand you unless they've been through the exact same situation. This is where empathy kicks in. You can somehow rely on those people who are going through the same shits as you. As OFWs, all you can really do is cheer each other up as you count the days until the end of your contract. (Right, JC Quing?! What's up dude!?)
Another thing that really helped me through this winter blues was reading about it. I guess it's true when they say 'Knowledge is power'. If you don't know what you're up against, how could you win??? I think it is important to know how it starts, when it starts and what you can do to end it. In my case, it really started around autumn and I knew that it would have stretched towards the end of winter had I not realized what was happening.
I'm usually a happy person! It may not be obvious for people I don't know, but I really am! I laugh at the cheesiest and lamest jokes for days. So, when I noticed that I haven't even been smiling for days in a row, I realized it was time for FRIENDS and Two Broke Girls marathon. Haha! Whatever it is that would make you smile or have a belly laugh, do it! My roommate and I would watch hilarious movies back then just so we could make it to another day. (Hi Ate Zyla! Miss you so much!)
So, to sum it up, here are some of the things I did to get through winter depression:
#1 Realize and accept what is happening. If you think you're being way TOO lazy to even get out of bed or talk to people and basically too tired for no reason, these are the first signs of this seasonal affective disorder, aka winter depression.
#2 Get enough sunlight! The horrible thoughts would start to creep in when your world is too dark, literally dark. So, draw the curtains and let the sunshine in. Better yet, take a walk outside or ride a bicycle if you have one even just for a few minutes everyday.
#3 Socialize! Yeah, it's a bit ironic that an introvert like me would suggest this, but, you don't have to do it in person if you don't want to. Use the social media sites to check up on your friends, especially the ones you haven't seen in a long time. Call them if you want; it's really different if you can actually hear their voices and their laugh or better yet, have a video call with them! Now, if you have time to really socialize, then by all means do it! Have brunch, lunch or coffee with your closest pals. It doesn't have to be a huge party. Just you and a couple of good friends talking about life.
# 4 Laugh! I watch a lot of funny videos or even GIFs when I'm starting to feel down. If you got more time, then watch a really funny movie or series.
#5 Move! Get off your ass and just do something, anything that would keep you off the bed. It doesn't matter if all you can do is jog in place, stretch a little bit or do some yoga poses, a 5-minute walk or a few jumping jacks. As long as you're not just curling up in bed, that's already good enough. You have to make a decision that you WANT to get over it and the first thing you should do is to get the hell up! You can't just fantasize or daydream about feeling better. You have to DO something that would make you feel better. And no, getting up to get food in the fridge does not count!!