By now, January would have to be the most depressive month of the year. It’s the time of year that stores normally are bare, and seemingly prefer to be that way to help with their inventory count. The month often contains a plethora of cold temperatures, and any precipitation can easily be snow or ice. The music played at stores has already reverted to normal music (they often do this the day after Christmas, which I don’t understand), and people stop turning on their Christmas lights. Sure, they wouldn’t be special if they were on year around, but it would be nice if they were on for longer, especially in years when a person doesn’t get out as much to enjoy them. It’s also dark, a lot of the time (the getting dark early in the evening gets to me).
To take an honest look at my feelings about this month and how they have evolved to the negative feelings that I harbor currently, I will take you on a trip back memory lane to look at various events.
January wasn’t always a “Bah Humbug” to me. During my elementary school years, it was just one of the twelve, and one of the months in the middle of the school year. It actually snowed more back in those days as well. Historical evidence can prove that we got more snow in general. It was common to get snow in December and occasionally as early as October with an example being at the end of November in 1991. My family was getting ready to leave the hotel we were staying at for our yearly Christmas shopping trip (at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Hunt Valley). With Autism, I was never very good at leaving the places that were special to me to go home. Examples would be a vacation or an overnight Christmas shopping trip, etc. Why? I have always looked to special events like meaningful holidays, my birthday, and vacations as a way to clear tougher times that sometimes would come up. I just can’t understand the idea of all 365 days of the year being equal, even though they are all important. What I remember is the snow flurries coming down that I could see out the window. Guess what? It was only November 30th, 1991, not sometime at the end of December or during January. It made me feel better as it made me feel more “Christmas-y” at the time. Anyway, snow wasn’t a new thing. I enjoyed the time off I got for snow days back during my grade school years. I enjoyed sledding down the large hill we had in the back yard when we lived on Shippensburg Rd. In fact, one year I remember one of my parents had gone out with Dave, my brother, and me and pre-made “paths” down the hill with the green sled I had. Dave and I used the different paths, and tried to determine which path would take us the farthest once we got down the hill. It was fun! I remember the path towards the burn barrel seemed to carry us the least distance, though I still enjoyed using the path.
Making snowmen was also fun. Eventually, we also had a Siberian Husky who was scared of the three, big, white snowmen that just stood there. Dave and Mom also one year made a “snow husky”.
At school, I liked eating the snow. I also liked to make a path in the grass during recess in the snow by sliding my boots through the solid snow making it look like “roads.” Yes, I liked roads back in these days as well. I also remember looking at the snow on the backroads that the school bus drove on and looking at the tire marks in the snow. At that time, I felt secure on the roads, though they were slushy and contained snow. Now days I wouldn’t want to be on a road with snow on it. I had too many bad experiences driving in the snow during my college days.
By high school (which for me was actually grades 7-12) my feelings began to change. January,1994, was actually great as that is when I discovered country music. The bus driver I had played FM 93 WPOC, a station out of Baltimore which was narrated by a DJ named Trish. One of my most favorite songs, “Better Your Heart Than Mine” by Trisha Yearwood debuted on the radio that month.
We also had a week off from school which interestingly changed the results of a Science experiment that my Life Science class did. We put yeast in bottles with water in three different temperatures, cold, warm and hot. A student brought in three balloons and a balloon was attached to the top of each bottle. The intention was for the balloon on top of the bottle with the warm water to inflate as the conditions seemed to be ideal. The project was done on a Friday, and it was given the weekend to work. Because of checking it a week late, due to the weather, when the class got to look, two of the balloons were inflated instead of the one. What happened? The hot water had a chance to cool down improving the conditions, and the cold water had a chance to warm up. The water that would have inflated the balloon, most likely did during the week, but then the yeast stopped working, and it went flat again.
My trouble with January started in 9th grade and would continue through the rest of school. In 1996, I experienced the death of my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family. This is when I really came to understand the unfortunate concept of death. I learned to be afraid of losing people. I also learned about depression. My downward slide to depression started in November 1995 and slid even farther after my grandfather’s sudden illness and death. I visited a counselor on January 22nd, 1996, and was diagnosed with depression.
In January of 1997, is when I initially started to feel the after-Christmas-blues, and it generally started in January since by then most of the people turned off their Christmas lights. When my family would go places in the evening, that is when I would notice the world around me returning to normal, but instead of a nice warm day (or in this case night) a cold, blah evening. During the remaining years of high school including 10th grade (1997) I started to feel that all snow days did was extend the school year in the summer when the weather was nice, and I wanted to be off.
College was another challenge in January. In fact, it was a catch-22. When I was staying at college in a dorm, I didn’t like the bad weather because it prevented me from coming home. This was particularly bad when the school was The Commonwealth Technical Institute at Hiram G. Andrews Center where I was by myself and didn’t like it. At Shippensburg University, it was a pain as well since I liked coming home on the weekend, but in this case, I had my brother there to make it better. Years where I commuted, I had a different problem— bad road conditions. There are two noteworthy stories of travel to and from college involving bad road conditions while class remained open. At the time both colleges had the reputation of never closing. Once I had to drive to Harrisburg Area Community College in Gettysburg when the roads were completely covered in snow, and the only way to drive was to use the known “scenery” on the sides of the road to determine if you were on the road or not. Interestingly enough, the parking lot of the community college was spotless. A student also told me she thought I shouldn’t have come. If the roads were like that from her direction she would have stayed home. Another time I was driving to Shippensburg University and hit some black ice on The Black Gap Road which caused me to veer left towards an oncoming car. When I corrected, I hit a snow bank instead and had to get pulled out by a car body shop and garage that happened to be up the hill behind me. That time I got to class a minute before class ended. I was determined to go to class even if it looked dumb. This teacher was a stickler for attendance. If I took the risk to drive to class, I wanted credit for going, darn it! Though these events happened in the winter there is not proof that it happened in January, but they none-the-less have always been grouped in my mind into January regardless of accuracy.
Finally, the last major problem in January started in December of 2010, but culminated in January. My grandmother on my mom’s side of the family had been living with us in a built-on apartment for a number of years. I had always been close, to both grandparents on that side of the family since they lived nearby and I saw them often. One evening in December, 2010, my grandmother fell in her bathroom and got hurt. She wasn’t the same afterwards. Some how the fall caused her to get pneumonia, and she went to the hospital. Heart issues followed and she never made it out of the hospital. It was an especially bleak January in 2011 since it seemed like at that time, she kept getting worse and not better. I already disliked the number “11” at the time as well, so I’m sure that didn’t help either. After a long and terrible period of time my grandmother then passed away on January 25th, 2011.
So, these are a number of reasons of why January became for me “Sunk-uary” the worst month of the year: the month I dread every year. No matter how much I try to go into it with a good attitude; it doesn’t seem to work. Autism had made certain events hard to accept for me, and has helped me notice patterns of negative events. These patterns haven’t been very useful. Of course, some of these events aren’t good for anyone. Autism can help a person perseverate or “OCD” on these events many years into the future causing additional problems, though the original issues themselves aren’t easy for any person. Other events like the driving events also aren’t favored, but many people don’t dwell on them.
On the other side of the coin, if I really work at it, I can recognize some good things that happened in January, if I look back far enough, either mentally, or by looking at old calendars from my childhood, since my opinion of the month was better back then, and some fun things did happen at that point in my life.
Before I end this post, I want to make a surprise announcement. The rotten year, 2020 was the anomaly to the January rule. Last year, January was the best month of 2020. It was pre-COVID-19 in the United States (or at least it was being treated as such). I went on an awesome trip to Disney World with my whole family. Yes, Dave took a couple of weeks off, and came home from Taiwan to go on the trip so my whole family was able to go. Disney makes me feel so good! In 2020, hard times for me actually started in mid-February and stayed for the rest of the year, leaving January as the best month for me of 2020. So, I suppose the month has hope if I work hard enough, to get through my issues, and start to look at the sundry of better events that also happened in January.
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