Post-holiday season, it’s tempting to let the winter blues get the best of us. Particularly in the wake of yet another covid winter and yet another sombre New Years. There’s something particularly, poignantly sad about canceling the celebration of a new year, isn’t there? Before the holiday season began, as the days got darker and the weather grew colder, I checked out the audiobook of Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by British writer Katherine May. I listened to it as I walked through a wooded path after the first snowfall of the season.
The UK focus of the book did give me pause, I admit. “Oh, my sweet summer child,” I thought, quoting Old Nan, “what do you know about winter?” But May’s concept of “wintering” transcends the season itself and is also applied to the dark, low “winter” periods of life. Just as winter is an annual, perhaps unwelcome visitor, so too are these low periods. Wintering was written before the pandemic hit, but its timing could not have been better. Published in December 2020, the ongoing pandemic has given the book a striking relevance that May could not have anticipated while writing it.
May’s quest to learn the wintering habits of cultures with harsher climates than that of mild England takes her to neighbouring Nordic countries like Iceland, Norway, and Finland. Countries whose people, while far from rejoicing in the waning light, have found ways to embrace the darkness (the Danes introduced us to the concept of hygge, after all). There are passages dedicated to Christmastime rituals like Sweden’s candlelit Sankta Lucia ceremony, as well as neo-Paganistic rituals closer to home like the Druid celebrations at Stonehenge, ringing in the new year by watching the sun rise over the ancient monument. The chapters are structured according to the calendar, from October to March, with subheadings such as “Metamorphosis”, “Midwinter”, “Epiphany”, and “Thaw” as guideposts. Throughout these chapters, May discusses sometimes her own personal crises (how should one adequately prepare for recurring bouts of depression?) while also taking meandering dips into nature writing, looking to the life cycles of beehives and the hibernation habits of adorable, disappearing dormice for inspiration on how to handle the ups and inevitable downs of our own lives.
Canada Council, The Writers’ Union of Canada and Simon & Schuster Canada, Samantha M. Bailey, author of the #1 national bestseller Woman on the Edge, will be visiting Vaughan Public Libraries’ Adult Book Club on May 20, 2021. I wanted to invite Samantha for two reasons: first, she’s originally from Thornhill and used to frequent the Bathurst Clark Resource Library (had I met her already?!); second, while many would agree that her bestselling title is most successful in the gripping pace, nonetheless it promotes mental health awareness in a way, just in time for the Mental Health Awareness Week in May.
I’d save most of the conversation about this intriguing psychological thriller and Samantha’s creative process for the event night. But if you can’t wait, take a quick peek at our Vaughan Reads video :)! Don’t forget to register on Eventbrite and enjoy an evening with Samantha on May 20!
Here, I’d like to talk more about mental health. Although Samantha’s writing emphasized more on creating a suspenseful page turner than exploring the matter of mental health, postpartum depression was one of the sources that had inspired her work. Her depiction of the protagonist Nicole Markham’s postpartum depression symptoms is absorbing. I’m pretty sure it resonates with many mothers. I myself had experienced a long period of postpartum blue after I had my first child. Without any social support (no parents, no friends nearby, only a husband as inexperienced as I was), brand-new motherhood had struck me with far more anxiety than joy. Even now, I can still vividly recall how strange my feeling was when I first saw my son’s wrinkly, bruised face when he had finally been suctioned and forcepped out of me after thirty-six hours of induction and labour – my heart raced with panic and wondered if I could have returned him like returning a wrong-sized T-shirt, and that feeling had caused guilt in me in every single second of the next six weeks. I still remember I would wake up every twenty minutes at night, gasping, worrying that my son’s little life would go cold before I could enjoy it. I would constantly get up to check on his breathing, never mind he was always hungry and woke me up every one or two hours to be fed, while my body was still experiencing severe pain from the traumatic delivery. Anxiety prevailed. Depression followed. The beginning of my motherhood was ever rough! Fortunately, the chemicals in my brain didn’t act up, and my symptoms gradually dispersed as my son became more playful about six weeks later.