February is a strange month for me. In the later years of my drinking, February was such a “strange” month that I would hit a spectacular bottom by the end of it.
I went to rehab in March 2007.
I went again in March 2008.
And then, in March 2009, I got sober, after the bottom that ended all bottoms, though it was an internal collapse that time.
A few years after that, I noticed that every year (even sober), around February, I am hit with a persistent, vague malaise.
Nothing in particular is wrong. Everything in particular is wrong.
A therapist once floated the idea of “seasonal depression.” That sounded plausible, but I’ve always been able to manage this state with exercise and eating a little better and forcing myself outside or staying inside and the steadfast knowledge that it will end, and I go through this every year.
So I don’t think it’s depression. I think it’s a yearly shithole I enter for some reason, or many reasons, which remain not entirely clear.
“Manage” it. What does that mean, exactly? Endure it to get through, I suppose.
Not die. Not drink again. Not obliterate my life some other way.
On February 8, I attended the hearing of the mentally ill cousin who killed my grandmother. I heard testimony of what happened that night. I sat in a room with him, the kid I knew as a kid, with whom I played and even lived for a while. He did not look the same. A couple times he looked back at me. I could not smile, or even nod.
On the way home, I fell asleep in the passenger seat and stayed half-asleep for two days.
And then I got some sort of ten day illness which I am not entirely sure was not a sickness caused by my shaking in that courtroom and a re-entering of the images I thought had faded in the past 14 months.
But I took antibiotics and it improved, so probably not.
The Parkland shooting happened shortly after, as you know. Seventeen more babies dead. AR-15s. The NRA. The President suggesting we turn our schools into dystopian wastelands of gun-wielding ex-marines and teachers. I wonder if we should stay. I wonder if I belong here. I wonder where we’ll go.
I want to be funny. I want to write you a funny post.
It will come.
Is that how I manage? Because I know it will come again?
I know that after the greatest pain of my life, the relief has come. The freedom. The facing, and the letting go. This isn’t the greatest pain of my life. Not even close.
I think of the parents in Florida living theirs. I think of the kids who survived, the ones telling the NRA-whore politicians to get the fuck out of their way.
The other day I looked over at Arlo, my three-year-old, as he was kneeling on the living room rug, carefully trying to push a little figure into a car that wasn’t meant for it, and I watched his little fingers move. Have you ever noticed the way toddler fingers move? Just these tiny hands working so damn hard, these chubby, sweet things working, working.
A task that doesn’t matter. The only task that matters.
I thought maybe it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Because in February’s defense, this is the month when I cry looking at the faces of my children, when tears come so quickly I’m ashamed of myself. Then I’m ashamed for being ashamed of myself.
I am on the edge of what my body can contain, right on the rim of my person, where every insult, every joy, every sting hits me faster, and harder, than when I’m on the inside, protected, drawn deeper into myself where the days are safer and the world kinder.
This is the month of raw nerve.
I have learned to “manage” until I fall back where life is more comfortable. And I suppose, in some strange way, I’ve learned to appreciate what this feeling is, and what it does, because like it or not the pain casts the joy in more vivid light, and the ears of my dog feel softer, and the arm of my husband feels denser, and the curl of my baby seems perfectly fallen over his eye like a weird piece of art.
And I notice it.
In thirty minutes, I’m going to leave my house to hear one of my favorite singers. I’m going to dance. I’m going to feel my body move.
I’m going to notice the cracked love and sin of his voice, and manage.
In case you’re managing too.
Here we are.
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SherrySaturday, 24 February, 2018 at 19:40
You make me cry right down to my soul. Because it’s all so beautiful and all so fucked up.
VíctoriaSaturday, 24 February, 2018 at 19:49
Damn…. Just…. Damn.
NicoleSaturday, 24 February, 2018 at 20:22
I lost it at “A task that doesn’t matter. The only task that matters.” ???? Thank you so much for this piece. ????
JessicaSaturday, 24 February, 2018 at 20:57
So beautiful. Thank you <3
Lisa Page RosenbergSaturday, 24 February, 2018 at 21:27
“…right on the rim of my person…”
JillsmoSaturday, 24 February, 2018 at 23:00
I love you
DebbieSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 0:11
Thank you for this. I’m a 40 something mum of two across the ocean in the U.K. and I feel those February feelings too and am doing at the moment. Year after year the same cycle illness, feeling down not knowing which is which or what is causing what. Your article has even reminded me of a February trip to Paris years ago that should have been magical but was full of February blues. Thanks for writing and sharing this. 🙂
SandiSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 1:19
Yes. Because this.
Edel RyderSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 2:32
I can’t believe how much this post mirrored my feelings today. And that helps. Thank you for helping me feel a little less alone in the world today.
AmySunday, 25 February, 2018 at 2:42
I thought I was the only one.
HeffSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 4:04
Every word of this! Thank you xo
Peggy MillerSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 5:45
My mom and I call it “February Wasting Disease”. Been managing it since I was in third grade. February just sucks.
JenSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 6:25
I’ve watched your posts and started following your blog, when the last of my four children was born within a week of Arlo.
Thank-You for your words. Because they often come at the same cyclical moment that I too, am feeling it.
And now I will go watch my 3 year old go do nothing in particular.
Melissa DawsonSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 7:30
Thanks. This is beautiful Janelle. You are not alone. I hate February too. Thank Goddess it is the shortest month.
KellySunday, 25 February, 2018 at 7:54
This was beautiful. You don’t always have to be funny. Thanks for sharing your truth so honestly.
SabrinaSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 13:04
So beautiful. So vulnerable. Yes, those moments where we feel more, see more, let in more, suffer more, live more. I love it, and it hurts.
Keep going, keep managing, keep writing.
karenSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 13:46
I think February is the hardest month as well. The sky is often a big, gray void, and where i live everything is just mud and nothing pretty, and all you can really see is the trash and the ugly mark of humanity.
I think of February as the bleak month to be endured. By any means necessary, though hopefully by the healthiest means necessary. It takes all I have to stay the course.
Maybe it is because there is so little life affirming activity in nature that makes us feel good we are forced to notice all the shitty things happening and the volume seems turned up on that stuff. And there is no lack of that stuff.
But I am with you on just managing.
My ex husband, a child rape victim, had a little song he used to sing to get him through the things that were hard: “I’m doing it, I’m functioning.” It’s funny, but I think we all need a little song we sing to help us manage.
LeeSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 13:53
Thank you. Feeling the same. And that can lead to more fighting with my husband who just can’t understand my moods as well. ❤️
Jen DhaliwalSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 14:26
Thank God for you Janelle. I’m sitting here at work, not working at all, after having a crappy Saturday, wondering what’s wrong, when nothing is really wrong. I know I’ve come so far in the last few years, am counting the reasons for gratitude, but still I feel like the road to recovery (from whatever one is trying to recover from) is never ending. From what I’ve read, the opposite of addiction is actually connection, and that’s what your posts do for me. They make me feel like I’m not so alone in this world, raising a daughter in a world where children are viewed as disposable, wondering how I can keep her safe. I’m grateful for you today, and hope you never stop writing.
BeckySunday, 25 February, 2018 at 17:58
Who did you go see? (What singer) (my February self has no ability to create a deep thought right now, but man, do I always love hearing what people are listening to! Unless it’s shitty music and then don’t talk to me.)
renegademamaSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 18:50
Langhorne Slim. ❤️
AJSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 19:49
So relatable. The raw nerve. The deepest ruminations over the smallest of things. Being moved to tears over the smallest of things. Feeling all the feelings over past tragedies and current conflicts and the joys too. It’s almost like preparation for the shedding of skin, and then being able to step up and into a new skin. Thanks for writing about your Februaries. Mine is usually January, and for some unknown reason, it came a month late this year. xo
AnnaSunday, 25 February, 2018 at 20:34
My circle has a different word for this. We call it trudging. When things get bad, as they have been, and your soul is so heavy and broken that the ache seeps into your bones. You move anyways. You trudge. You walk through the world anyways, and hold onto the little faces and love what you can and let what you can’t go. Thank you for giving it time and voice. Love from Colorado.
PetraMonday, 26 February, 2018 at 0:04
Damn, I managed to not cry until “rocks borrowed from the earth”.
amandaMonday, 26 February, 2018 at 5:42
just needed to say thanks.
GretchenMonday, 26 February, 2018 at 7:10
Janelle, I think you’re officially in my tribe.
DarinMonday, 26 February, 2018 at 8:37
I’ve had a “February Thing” almost as long as I can remember. I always thought it was because of winter in Ohio, the grayest place in the world. Nice to know I’m not alone.
FarrellTuesday, 27 February, 2018 at 19:10
I get it. For me, it’s january. It starts just after Christmas. Even though I know it will end as it has before, sometimes I forget…
MadeliefWednesday, 28 February, 2018 at 9:58
My husband and I go into a February thing every year. It’s the time where we fight about what the hell we are doing in our lives, why the kids take up so much damn money and why we choose to send them to an independent school which costs so much money…..WTF. I resent February every time it sneaks in and turns my world upside down. But then March rolls around and I realize that in “managing” we have just grown so much more than we do during the rest of the year.
Give space for just being able to manage. I think it’s where some of the magic happens…….even if it feels miserable and I want to skip February every year.
EmilyWednesday, 7 March, 2018 at 7:26
Man, fuck this time of year. Specifically, the end of February and the beginning of March. I’ve had a doctor write in my chart, “Reverse SAD”, which I guess some people say is a thing. There’s a letdown from holidays, there’s the baked-in anxiety from school days of the ramp up to the end of the second semester when all the failures and fuckups are going to come irrevocably to light, and there’s the sunlight creeping earlier and earlier in the morning, making it feel like I’m starting the day behind the 8 ball more and more every day. This time of year just sucks.
JessSaturday, 10 March, 2018 at 10:10
Jesus. I am right there with you about February. I am an anarchist in my own life in February. It’s good to know I am not alone.
Christine PrinceSaturday, 10 March, 2018 at 13:44
Wow I feel like your in my mind. I know why my February’s are hard it’s just exhausting sometimes I wonder if it will always be like this or if there’s a way to overcome it?