“There are always dark periods in each of our lives, and even if things are good now (‘summer’), we must always be prepared and ready for a dark period when events turn against us (‘winter’)”.
These are the sentiments of George R.R. Martin, the novelist who wrote the “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, which the HBO series, Game of Thrones was based on.
In the fictional world of Game of Thrones, summer lasted ten years, equivalent to six of the eight seasons of the show. “Winter is Coming” is the motto of The Starks. Not a boast or threat, but a warning that constant vigilance is required and to always be prepared for the coming of winter.
Unlike fictional TV, seasons are experienced differently in real life. Summer DEFINITELY doesn’t last ten years in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We’re lucky to get two months! And winter, well it seems like ten years or six of eight seasons of a TV show. I refer to our seasons here as – winter, and preparing for winter – a term shared with me by a Filipino gentleman.
For 26 years – since moving here from Australia – winter has been something I dread. It’s not winter itself, it’s the eight long months it lasts for. Having been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder in 2005, many of the episodes of depression revolve around winter:
January – one of the coldest months and only halfway through the long winter.
October – the leaves dropping from the trees, the colder temperatures and shorter days clearly mark winter is almost here.
Knowing these patterns through years of journaling, reflecting and Doctors notes, helps me be prepared to cope with the upcoming episodes. For eight years I’ve managed quite well.
For an empathic, sensitive soul who thrives on meaningful connection and loves travel and adventure, Covid has hit hard. The quarantine and isolation has created disconnection with loved ones, the mask wearing creates constant panic attacks. Watching my daughters struggle makes it even harder to cope. Learning to navigate this new way of living has been a struggle that I face each day.
With winter coming, I am desperately aware of the darkness that may hit. In past years, I have coped by planning trips to Australia to visit my family for three to four week periods of their summer. We have planned family vacations to warmer climate destinations. We would spend a weekend each month at our place in Windermere (which we just sold) to change up the scenery.
All of the above have changed this winter either by choice or circumstances outside of my control. With so many unknowns of how things will look, I need to prepare and ready myself for the possibility of dark periods. I need to adjust my coping strategy to get through this long cold season.
Drawing from my years as a Life Coach, I have a system I follow whenever I’m faced with a big decision or lifestyle change. I first look at my personal values – the defining force behind life choices and decisions for me:
Connection – with self, my family and friends.
Adventure – exploring new places, being in nature and embracing spontaneity.
Creativity – photography, writing, learning and trying new things keeps my creative soul alive and motivated.
Generosity – giving my time, energy and love to those in need and organizations I value.
Authenticity – being real, raw and honest with myself and others.
Gratitude – recognizing and sharing my gratitude to self and others consistently.
As Adventure is one of my values that is impacted the most for this upcoming winter, let’s look at what I do to come up with a plan and coping strategy. I ask myself the simple Five Ws – Who. What. Where. When. Why.
Who am I when I go on an adventure?
I am spontaneous, carefree and feel alive exploring new places and revisiting ones I love.
What can I do to be that person?
I can do weekly Adventure Day trips to explore and photograph. I can sign up for some winter photography workshops (these first two ideas also tie into my core value of creativity). I can visit places I’ve got on my bucket list in Northern Alberta and into Saskatchewan. As a family we can book quaint little getaways close to home but far enough away. We can plan little getaways with friends (the last two also tie into my core value of connection).
Where can I go to honour that person?
I can do day trips to Kananaskis, Sheep River, Icefields Parkway, Yoho National Park. We can stay at our friend’s places that have been generously offered. I’m excited to be doing a wildlife photography workshop with John E. Marriott and a Winter Magic photography workshop with Viktoria Haack and Dani Lefrancois of Banff Photo Workshop Tours. As a family we can go on short getaways at quaint Charming Inns of Alberta and find local small establishments to support (this also ties into my core value of generosity).
When can I do these adventures to break up the winter?
Having something to look forward to each month will help with the monotony of the long winter.
October – Jasper Wildlife Photography Workshop with John.
November – Visit friends in Canmore. Take advantage of low season rates at small lodges and cabins.
December – Family trip to Fernie. Christmas.
January – Winter Magic Workshop with Banff Photo Workshop Tours.
February – Family trip to Yoho National Park, Jasper or Abraham Lake. If U.S. border opens up – go to Yellowstone National Park.
March – Girls weekend at Mount Engadine Lodge.
April – Start the Spring wildlife search and camp in Kananaskis.
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
~ Viktor E. Frankl
And the most important question in my mind is:
Why do I need to do this for myself?
Adventure is part of who I am at my core. It provides me time and space to be present, and appreciation for the environment I live in. Adventure gifts me a sense of freedom and exploration. I need adventure to maintain a healthy mind, body and soul.
So there you have it. My little formula to cope with the fact that Winter is Coming and the possible dark periods of depression that I might face.
Seasonal Affective Disorder – The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital.
Weather Can Change Your Mood – Psych Central
20 Best Winter Activities in Alberta – The Planet D