Many people consider January a glum month. It is dark and bitingly cold, and the twinkling warmth and excess of Christmas is behind us (sometimes literally, lodged on our now more burdensome bottoms). The slow plod toward the yellower light of Spring is long and laborious, and the days can blend into the gloom of grey half-light.
I feel more that way about November and December. An adult’s Christmas, however festive, is necessarily tinged with a touch of loss and a sense of disappointment. Each Christmas as an adult must be weighed and measured against those of memory –which in reality probably never really existed as you remember them now – but reality can never compete with imagination.
November and December are retrospective months. There is a tangible sense that another year of finite life is soon to close its heavy doors behind you, and you are moved to consider, often with some melancholy, how you have spent it.
This is the period before the resolutions of the New Year, when we start to take stock of where we are as juxtaposed with where we wanted to be, or thought we’d be. These are dangerous months – the sense of stagnation jumpstarts a sometimes healthy, sometimes frantic leaning toward change. Late December to early January sees the largest number of sign-ups to dating websites and apps of the year. Relationships end in high numbers, engagements occur, babies are conceived and people make moves to change careers. That time has a smell of rot about it, and we are reminded to make changes quickly, while we can.
But that comes later in the year. For now, you are wrapped in the dark, wet blanket of winter, when you venture outdoors and every breath is an inhalation of cold liquid. Your nose is constantly red and runny, there is permanent condensation weeping down the windows of any public transport you risk consumptive illness to board, and it occurs to you not for the first time this week that your family might be a shower of ungrateful a***holes. Here, in the deep of winter, we have a quiet annual revelation, though we may not necessarily share it. While rising on yet another dark, cold morning, or cleaning baby sick from your shoes, or watching your boss take credit for your work, you despair – “Is this it?”.
So why not stay in bed? Each morning when you awake and throw off the sheets so the angry cold can sink its teeth into your bones, the temptation to stay cosy and inaccessible beneath the covers grows a little. The dark under there, unlike the dark morning outside, is soft and warm and affirming, and you feel comfortingly invisible inside it. This comfort is of course a lie. The more we avoid our lives, the more problems we have to avoid. Even after total withdrawal, the “Is this it?” will still dance its merciless jig just behind your heavy eyelids.
Make the changes you need to make so that jumping up from bed is easier
If there is comfort to be had in the drudgery of winter and its tendency to render us porous, it is that the feeling isn’t unique to us. Bed as an opt-out clause isn’t a new approach, and neither is struggling to peel ourselves from it when we fully intend to, but just need five more minutes.
When Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations between 161 and 180AD, despite lacking modern bed linens or those cool ergonomic mattresses, getting up in the morning was still a challenging business. Our nature as human beings, he believed, was to contribute to society, to engage in life, and do our part. Admonishing us when we have "trouble getting out of bed", he chides "So you were born to feel 'nice'? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Why aren't you running to do what your nature demands?"
Here, Marcus Aurelius plays the role of Irish mammy, turning on the light at seven on the nose, and shouting “jump up!” before putting on Radio One at the decibel level of an All-Ireland Final. So, jump up. Make the changes you need to make so that jumping up is easier, and soon, the yellow light of spring will creep through the window in the mornings, and the dark embrace of bed will hold less temptation.