Winter is coming, but Autumn, first.

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How many of these things fill you with joy?

Piles of orange leaves. Silver grey skies. Frost on your car. Tiny beads of condensation on cobwebs in the morning light. Pumpkins. Soup. Crackling fires. Dark, starry skies.

Most people say “yes,” to these things. These things are items and weather phenomenons that appear on Instagram around this time of year, every year. Cups of coffee held in gloved hands. Tightly laced boots standing in mountains of brown and yellow leaves. These are the things that flood our supermarkets, the things we write poems about, the scenes we find on Christmas cards. They are lovely, seasonal, precious, delightful. They are the heralds of Autumn, the trumpeters of the changing seasons. We celebrate them because we are attuned to relish a time of Harvest, of plenty. And because they make great social media posts. However, there is another side to all these special things. As much as I am totally here for anything that uses “pumpkin spice” as a descriptor, autumn only means one thing to me: Winter is coming. Some people have as much delight in winter as they do in autumn, but for me, I take little pleasure in either.

Some people have as much delight in winter as they do in autumn, but for me, I take little pleasure in either. Where most people see varying hues of orange when they think of autumn, I see darkness. I see long, winter nights lit with bright yellow lights that bounce off black windows. I see all of the moments when I have struggled with mental health, the moments I have curled up on a kitchen floor with dark, November rain pounding against the window. It’s not completely accurate that all of my worst mental health moments have happened in winter, but for a long time I have felt like that is true. Almost twenty years, in fact.

That’s twenty years of a tightening in my stomach when the nights’ close in at four o’ clock. That’s twenty years of feeling so heavy I can barely get up in the dark early mornings. That’s twenty years of fear.

The worst thing about this fear has been its insistence. It has been the Japanese knotweed of fear; years of therapy, hard work, and time put into my mental health and yet, endlessly, year after year, I can’t shake the trepidation. Winter is coming: feel fear. However, for the last year, I have been in quite intensive therapy, and I now know that no feeling that comes into my head just gets the run of it without my consent. Feelings aren’t in charge. They happen, and sometimes I can’t control them, but they are not in charge and they can be changed.

So even after twenty years of fear, I think there is something more to be found. Perhaps there is joy to be found in the changing seasons, the slow death of summer and the coming of winter. I am going to make a real effort to “embrace” the winter, and see what happens. I’m going to see if I can turn the things that have previously been triggers for anxiety, into things that could bring me joy and comfort. In that spirit, I posted a picture of a coffee cup on Instagram, and some very fetching leaves. Afterall, maybe I can find something good in here. Winter is coming, and maybe, this year, that can be a good thing.

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