The psychology of dealing with winter in Detroit

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As we get to almost the halfway point in January, that first month of our annual big freeze, it's a good time to take stock, psychologically speaking, of winter. Especially after that ass-kicking winter gave us last year. On these short winter days and long winter nights, how do we deal with the winter blues, the black ice, the blinding white snow? Beer can only do so much, right?

One weapon in the war against winter is optimism. Think about it: So far, it hasn't been THAT bad. Not as bad, certainly, as last year. Detroit set its all-time record for snow, logging 94.9 inches for the season. (That's almost 8 feet of the frosty white stuff!) No, so far, so good. And only 66 days left, too!

It's almost enough to make you grateful for last year's pounding. How can we complain after getting buried by snowstorms and seeing the thermometer dip down to -14 for one magical, irritating, otherworldly night we spent camped out in front of a space heater with the thermostat set on full-blast?

Truly, it's a matter of perspective. A couple months ago, walking into work, I encountered a few people shivering away on a cool autumn day of about 45 degrees. I reminded them that this was going to be a terrific day in just a few months. In previous years, that might have garnered a groan, but after that no-joke winter I got serious nods of agreement. 

Have you noticed this? Last year, I would have donned long underwear for any day that was going to dip down into single digits, but not this year. Seems I've gotten used to single digits, and now reserve my heavy artillery for when it dips below zero. I feel that, somehow, we all got a little tougher over that last year. Hey, this weekend it's going up above freezing for two whole days. It's going to be a pleasure to deice my side walkway with a push broom … in a T-shirt.

Then there's the lack of light, which, studies show, do affect our ability to process vitamins, or the ability of our brain's pineal gland to make melatonin. Supplements, sunrooms, and light exercise can help us deal with this, but it affects anybody north of the 37th parallel. Any chance you can get to soak in that sideways blast of morning light will help. Think of cats; they soak in sunlight, and we can too.

But the most important thing to keep in mind is that bad weather makes us appreciate good weather. Think about it. One of my favorite stories was from a friend who lives in Los Angeles. He had his Michigan family come visit him, and they piled into his house, settled their bags and had a bite to eat. Then they wanted to go right out. "Why?" asked my jaded L.A. friend. "Because it's beautiful outside!" the family cried. "But it's beautiful every day here," he complained, causing his family to stare uneasily at him.

That's the thing: Every day of winter, that coil within us tightens a little bit. We're ready for any 40-degree day, any excuse to get out into "good" weather. It's our nature, and those three months of crappy weather play a big role in that identity.

Take a moment today, to go out into that 16-degree day we have out there. I just did. It's cold, but it's clear. Look at that cloudless blue sky until your eyes adjust. The days are already getting longer. We're going to lick this winter, just you watch.

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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