Ms. May originally intended to write an exploration of how people endure winters in various cultures and climes, a book whose research would require travel and interviews.
But then the cold set in. And one sort of wintering became another: Her husband became ill. Ms. May got a Crohn’s disease diagnosis, and she left her job as an academic. Their young son began having emotional struggles and needed time off from school. Under circumstances she would never have chosen, she produced a book that serves as a guide for this moment none of us want to be in.
Having weathered several such punishing seasons of life, Ms. May writes that she has learned to survive them in part by treating herself “like a favored child: with kindness and love.” That means patience and personal care — more sleep, more walks, nourishing foods, less pressure to produce and compete.
It also means acknowledging the reality that this is impossibly hard. There are children to care for, and vulnerable family members to worry about. Those lucky enough to still have jobs feel they’re working harder than ever.
Of course, resilience matters. But given the dearth of practical support, “we need to understand that emotional resilience might not be enough,” said Brian Hughes, a professor at the National University of Ireland, Galway, who specializes in the psychology of stress and crisis. Evidence from past catastrophes suggests that people don’t falter psychologically because they don’t have enough personal fortitude, but because they have too many external pressures.
That the pandemic has forced us to stay apart when we need one another most doesn’t help, either.
“It upends our instincts about what to do when life gets hard. Where we crave connection and touch, it forces us into isolation and distance,” the journalist Rosie Spinks wrote in a recent essay. “Where we want to hold physical space for our collective experience, it forces us to process things on our own, to detach from the tangible world and the way it helps us integrate things — even sadness and loss.”
In that quiet space of reflection, the best gift we can give to ourselves or those we connect with from afar is honesty, Ms. May writes: “We need people who acknowledge that we can’t always hang on. That sometimes everything breaks. Short of that, we need to perform those functions for ourselves: to give ourselves a break when we need it and to be kind. To find our own grit, in our own time.” To remind ourselves that even the iciest winters thaw eventually.
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