According to the calendar, it’s nearing winter in the northern hemisphere. But where I live, the snow, cold, and shorter stretches of sunlight (if the sun even manages to pierce the thick cloud cover) have already arrived. Gone are the days of crisp, colorful leaves hanging precariously from their branches, mild temperatures that give way to the simplicity of sweaters and jeans, and ample opportunity for vitamin D to be soaked up as you mill about main street or go for a hike through the woods.
It’s quiet outside. Animals are less active. The neighbors are hunkered down in their houses. The warm glow of living room lamps is the only thing indicating there are indeed other people filling the space around me. The snow does that; it’s a sound barrier. A blanket and an insulator instructing everything below to take a rest, hibernate for a bit. My body seems to have received the memo as well—appetite waning, energy lacking, the request for more and more time spent beneath blankets with heavy eyelids sealed shut waxing.
Inside my head, however, is a different story. It’s loud in there. Loud with thoughts that spiral in far too many directions. Most reach a momentary conclusion that makes me want to flee or crawl back into bed.
I’ve canceled a lot of plans already and it’s only December.
Like clockwork, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) creeps in with the lake-effect snowstorms and what looks like a sky, horizon, and foreground painted in nothing but shades of gray. I feel like that, too. My usual loud and bursting laughter is muted. My rosy, golden cheeks border on a sickly pale. My outlook is a little more sour and spoiled, stunted by the illogical but persistent feeling that this season might not pass.
I might not make it out unscathed.
Now I haven’t become idle in the push and pull of a mental struggle dictated by seasonal shifts. There are light therapy lamps, counseling, and medication. I’ve tried most and I’ll try some again. But there’s something consistent in the mix. Something that hasn’t failed me the last four winters and counting.
Someone who I can count on, and who counts on me.
He’s nearing five years old and I’ve had the joy of loving him for more than four and a half of those years. Along with food, water, play, treats, and love—lots and lots of love—we go for walks. Nearly every day, I slip on my shoes and clip his sage green leash to his matching collar and we head out for a walk. I get bored easily so the route changes. We stroll around the village, through a park, meet up with a friend to check out their digs, or venture into the woods (that’s mine and his favorite). And sometimes, when my brain is having a moment like it is right now, it’s just a slow crawl around half of our neighborhood. But still, we go. I do it because I care about his well-being, and I’ve witnessed how showing up for him translates to showing up for myself.
Who is he? Well, he’s my dog. Bucky. And he’s a big reason I’m still here.
Our walks together are more than moments of movement. They’re reminders that I’m alive. That the things happening inside my head aren’t always accurate reflections of reality. That there’s a world outside and the dark days are hard but not awful. That today might try to break me and tomorrow may not hold me with gentle hands either, but the seasons will change and we’ll greet the world—shoes on and leash in hand—with a defiant loyalty that hope and a dog can provide.
This January, TWLOHA invites you into the daily practice of showing up for yourself and those fighting depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide through our first-ever 31 Mile Dog Walk Challenge on Facebook! With each step forward, you’re not only giving to yourself (and your pup), but you’re also helping TWLOHA raise critical funds that will support this mission in 2023. For every $25 you raise, 1,250 people will have access to a community of hope and mental health resources. So lace up your shoes, throw on a coat, grab your furry friend, and walk with us.