I hate the cold with a passion. You know the scene in Frozen where Elsa has to take her gloves off for two seconds, and she’s freaking out because what if someone notices her hands are cold enough to freeze everything she touches? That’s me. Staticky hair, Vitamin-D-deprived paleness, and fingers and toes turned permafrost worthy of Siberia? I’ll pass.
Once the nostalgic magic of December ends, I usually go into a semi-hibernation, losing myself in school, work, movies, memes, anything to distract me from the misery of seasonal depression. So when I found myself stranded and social distancing in my childhood home in Kentucky for the two months of winter break, you can imagine my panic.
I started living away from home at 16. After my family went through an unimaginable and traumatic ordeal involving health in 2017, I decided, with the blessing of my parents, to study in Jordan. I come from a family of travelers, and making my own path in a new place felt like a rite of passage, a necessary transition to adulthood. In my family, we live for the concept of spring.
But the line blurs between traveling and escapism. I thought that moving to a totally foreign place where no one knew my identity would give me the space I needed to grow into the person I wanted to be. Although the move remains easily the most difficult experience of my life, I learned to listen, to empathize, to adapt, to develop my intuition and to trust that I was my own guardian. I believed that I was the architect of my reality and my future.
I didn’t heal, though. In immersing myself in Jordanian culture, I effectively distracted myself from my internal turmoil. I lived intensely, precariously, and I kept myself busy. Although I had (surprise) an avoidant attachment style, I dated serially, always comforted by the fact that I could have a fresh start if I ever felt bored or drained.
I have no regrets, but these habits were the workings of unresolved trauma. In 2020, that year of astounding loss for us all, my illusions of control and stability crumbled pathetically. Distractions never last.
Last year, I was forced to return to the U.S. by the pandemic. After the forgettable time loop known as summer 2020, I arrived at Yale for my first semester, hungry for independence and control. I rebuilt the sense of community I had lost, made incredible friends, figured out my favorite coffee shops and study spots, went on adventure after adventure and found love. Even in a pandemic, I found a true, honest and uncomplicated love of a higher caliber than the previous dalliances I had labeled relationships.
And then I lost it all again. I respect the logic behind keeping first years largely off campus for the spring semester, but the mental and emotional toll of being separated for nine months from the exciting new life we had just gotten a taste of was unbearable. Finals season was isolating, maintaining the friendships I had made became next to impossible and the relationship I was in died a steady, agonizing death dealt by distance.
Home after home after home; boyfriend after boyfriend after boyfriend; departure after departure after departure. I used to think I was a master at moving on, that feelings of grief and loss didn’t apply to me. This year was different. This year broke me. And the pandemic winter clipped my wings, giving me all the empty time I never asked for.
I started it out by crying. A lot. In bed. On FaceTime. Over my Arabic textbook. In the shower. Before putting on my mascara. After putting on my mascara.
I contemplated dying my hair an icy silver.
I went outside and screamed at the sky until I had no voice left.
I related too much to “evermore”-era Taylor Swift.
I wrote my own version of “drivers license.”
I thought of the hair dye again.
I forced myself outside during a snowstorm to feel the cold creep into my fingers and toes, feel the snowflakes melt on my windburned cheeks, feel my spine prickle with shivers, just to feel something, anything at all.
I’ve never felt like more of an angsty teen, and sure, my ego is still a little wounded from the amount of time I spent creating the perfect cry playlist, but for the first time in my life, I felt every single shard and crystal of pain in my psyche and body. I finally processed hurt from years-old trauma, and it only took a global pandemic and a polar vortex of a winter for me to do that.
I can’t say that I’ve found peace or realigned my chakras yet, and I really need a therapist. I do know, however, that I am forgiving myself for all of the misadventures of being human. I understand now that much of our lives consist of dealing with the fallout of forces greater than ourselves. But I can still work to create my own happiness. And I don’t hate winter so much anymore.
Hanaé Yoshida | hanaé.firstname.lastname@example.org