Washing Away Winter Blues

It rained all day yesterday. It was one of those cold, relentless rains, which is atypical for February in New England, where the temperatures are usually too cold for regular rain. Although it was gross out—that bone-chillingly damp, raw, wet cold—I would much prefer a driving rain than a foot of snow or a winter mix of pelting sleet, both which leave the ground littered with slippery, lasting evidence of the precipitation. There’s no environmental condition I loathe as much as skidding along a dangerously slick icy road or stomping through deep, slushy slow with a wailing wind swirling the top layer of snow drifts into my face.

Yesterday’s rain was not as miserable as many cold rains because it reminded me of spring. It felt like one of those March rains, where the remnants of winter snow banks gets chiseled away by the erosive effect of the rain and the melting temperatures. The runoff streaming down the shoulders of the road was rushing so quickly that it was like each melted, liquefied snowflake was racing to the nearest sewer grate to claim a prize. Even with a waterproof trench coat and an umbrella, all my layers soaked through with dampness by the time my walk returned me home, a feeling I can’t stand, but instead of becoming cranky as per usual, I felt invigorated with the taste of the upcoming season. I know that we still have a long six weeks or so of winter weather and freezing temperatures to endure, but time has been moving along at an unprecedentedly fast clip, so that doesn’t actually sound too bad. I can make it, which is an assertion I could not make with confidence at the end of fall staring down the long winter ahead. In fact, I was panicked and doubtful of my ability to survive the long, dark, cold season without plummeting into a dangerously unhealthy depression. I squandered hours and hours of time for weeks scouring the internet for deals to Florida, ways to mitigate seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and potential home swapping arrangements with people in warmer climates. I look back on all those afternoon hours I blew doing such useless research; after all, I knew we wouldn’t be able to afford any tropical getaways and I have no interest in actually going somewhere myself for the entire winter. Let’s face it, I not only need the support of my husband and family, but the depression that would ensue from missing them would offset any gains afforded by avoiding winter weather. With all the wasted hours devoted to obsessing over the imminent doom of winter and the associated research I engaged in, I probably could have learned a new instrument or self-taught the material concerned in a university history course (or enjoyed the nice weather while it was still here!)!

Oh well. I have learned that I have very little control over my obsessions/special interests, even when, ironically, I have no “interest” in them; my brain fixates on whatever it chooses. Once it has locked in on something, it’s like an indestructible fused metal bond that cannot be broken until it naturally dissolves on its own (my brain develops a new obsession and drops the old one like a toxic biohazardous waste). My autonomous influence over the timing of these special interests as well as their actual topic of focus seems like a mere whisper in a raucous rock concert music hall. And so, I ride the wave through its conclusion. Of course, though I may be consciously unaware that I like something or may think that it’s not something I’m interested in, once my brain selects its next special interest, the obsession does become engaging and the calm that ensues from appeasing my brain and devotion time and focus on it is so dopamine-inducing that it becomes a very rewarding pursuit. Needle felting, for example, sounded mind-numbingly boring. I didn’t want to shell out money for craft supplies I’d probably never use, but I found that I enjoyed it tremendously for the brief life of that obsession. The same can be said for many of my activities and areas of research focus (Ancient Egypt recently, doping in sports currently, etc.). I used to try and dig my heels in and resist the dawn of a new interest, but I’ve learned to indulge in my brain’s fascinations. They are always healthy activities, intellectual topics, or mental-health-improving techniques (meditation, journaling, and I guess, trying to avoid the evil grasp or SAD). It’s not like I’m engaging in dangerous or immoral pursuits!

Currently, I’m fascinated on doping and cheating in athletics, probably because of the timeliness with the winter Olympic Games. I’m fixated on trying to understand what would motivate athletes to knowingly engage in such wrongful, illegal and amoral behavior after dedicating their lives to being exemplary athletes. I’ve had a taste of sub-elite level athletic achievement through my competitive running background, and even at this less impressive level, I understood how much dedication and relentless work and passion went into such a high level of performance. Being at the true top of the sport, instead of the lower level I achieved, would require even more of this devotion and will. Why then, after all that training and shaping of one’s self to become the best, would the athlete dare risk their eligibility and health and take known banned substances or engage in outlawed doping practices?! It makes absolutely zero sense to me. Plus, athletes should strive to be role models for other colleagues in the sport and the younger generation of novices. The trust and respect garnered will be shattered in but an instant of doing the wrong thing. Needless to say, I’m finding that I’m curious to learn and attempt to understand (though I doubt the latter is possible) why people would make such a despicable choice. I’m also interested in finding out more about the race between improving the sensitivity and ability of drug screening technologies and the ever-changing sneaky ways that doping occurs. The elite running world has been turning up positive tests from previously minted champions or medaled athletes with disgusting frequency lately. It’s beyond awful how many decorated runners were actually cheating, stealing the glory and potential sponsorships and opportunities from honest runners with moral integrity whom they outpaced. It’s deplorable and it creates a seed of doubt every time a new record is broken or an athlete has a standout performance. I’ve listened to countless interviews from high-level and elite clean runners who have since been upgraded in finish positions after other competitors who beat them have subsequently been deemed to have doped. They all report that they try not to think about the fact that they may be toeing the line with cheaters because they can only control themselves. This is an admirable attitude, but I can’t help but wish for their sake, and for the sanctity of what should be a moral sport, that the screening tools improve rapidly and that athletes stop making such contemptible choices. Where are peoples’ values?! I’m watching Icarus on Netflix; it approaches the subject of doping in cycling, so perhaps I’ll glean some understanding from this film.

The rain washed away almost all of the snow and ice from last Wednesday. All that remains is bumps of snow where big mounds were plowed or deposited. The river is bursting over its banks with all the meltage and rainwater. The semi-frozen earth is saturated and the top soil oozes excess water when depressed with a step. It’s Monday and the sky is gray but I have confidence that the end of winter is within striking distance and warmer temperatures and brighter skies will come. I’d say that I “can’t wait,” but I actually can, and that’s an awesome realization and a major improvement over my attitude in previous winters.

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