I was talking on the phone yesterday with one of my favorite people and she said “yeah, January is the worst, but at least the weather’s terrible.” I laughed, but I knew what she meant. She was talking about how it’s comforting somehow, when you are faced with the bleakness of January, for it also to be cold and dark outside.

If January gives us the blues, then February tends to give a lot of us the mean reds.

You know the mean reds, right? In the words of the idol of basic bitches everywhere (represent), Holly Golightly, as played by Audrey Hepburn:

“The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.”

Yep, February feels a lot like the mean reds for people. You’re far enough into the year that your “I want to take it slow” and “at least the weather’s horrible” explanations about January are starting to feel a lot more like pathetic excuses, and a severe case of what another friend calls “February-itis” sets in.

If anxiety about the new year didn’t hit you in January, chances are it’s hitting you now. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of–it can’t be that you’re wasting the year, because it’s only February, it can’t be the weather, because Spring is almost around the corner, it must be that there is something wrong with you, because you just can’t get excited about things like you vaguely remember being excited about things before.

You find yourself thinking, “I used to like things, right? I had passion! Where did it go?”

It’s okay. It’s not you. Your existential flu will pass*. Most likely around that first or second or third week of March, when the sun starts shining and those first flowers start popping up. The time cure is not a cop-out.

I know this because I chose the wimpy way out of February: the geographic cure. Those of you who live in sunnier climes right now know that the mean reds of February still come calling, but they are a lot easier to deal with when it’s 75 and sunny. (Feel free to hate me a little. Expressing anger is good for the soul.)

Maybe you’re sitting here thinking, “look, lady, I don’t have existential problems, I got actual problems.” Maybe you have to find another job because you just got fired. Maybe your relationship is ending. Maybe you just heard about that NYT article that having sex once a week increases your happiness the same as getting $50,000 extra dollars and you would take the damn money and be celibate for a year and what does that say about you and my finances and your sex life. (Or maybe that’s just me.) Maybe you have a lot of travel coming up and you just want this month to be over so you can get to the fun stuff.

Here’s the deal. Even when we are talking about tangible problems, and not just the case of the mean reds, the same approach still applies. There are things you can do.

My friend Anna has a whole mission in February, where she makes February cry uncle by stuffing it so full of goodness that it doesn’t stand a chance. She calls it The Bliss Conspiracy. I love it. She goes out of her way to make sure she has as many things as she needs to feel good. She is fierce and loving about it. If you feel like this is the ticket for you, I encourage you to do the same.

Sometimes loving ferocity is more than we can muster. Sometimes hanging on is where we are.

That’s okay, too. I am re-reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield this week, for my Creative Rebel Book Club I started here in Austin. He takes a fierce approach to resistance. (Which is what that mean reds feeling is by the way–resistance–it’s that push-pull of starting to know that you want to be doing something or changing something while still feel verrrrry sluggish about it.) I find myself, as always, torn between thinking “fuck yeah! fight the resistance” and knowing that, actually for me, the quickest way out of a feeling is through it. Ugh, feeling those darn feelings again.

For me, and I am just telling you in case it’s the same for you, I have to really stop pushing myself to be somewhere or something that I am not. That doesn’t mean not taking care of myself. That doesn’t mean not moving forward. It doesn’t mean not keeping commitments, staying focused, or taking action. It does mean being okay with being where I am.

So maybe where you are is fired and job seeking. Maybe it’s splitting and grief-stricken. Maybe it’s annoyed with the NYT for giving you another thing to worry about it. Maybe it is super psyched about trips that are coming up and you’re just ready for them to get here already!

Here’s where I am, even when the weather is great and it’s not February: I work more slowly than I want to be able to work. Implementation is not a natural strength for me. I tend to think way more than I need to before taking action. I really like naps and reading and staring off into space and when my calendar gets too cluttered to do these things regularly, I feel trapped and I get twitchy. These things are true throughout the year, but especially in February.

I can work with all of these things. They are not a problem if I work with them.

Your things, that you feel shame or anxiety or annoyance or grief or stuck over, the things that you think are stopping you–you can work with them, too. Promise.

But only if you stop fighting with them. Only if you get lovingly, militantly on your own side, as Anne Lamott says. If you let yourself and time take care of them together.

And that’s how we solve The Case of the Mean Reds.



PS–If you are in Austin, and want to join the Creative Rebel Book Club, where we meet once a month to talk about books about creativity, then click here. Our first book club meeting is this weekend (February 21), but you still have time to read the book!


*It goes without saying, but the Mean Reds are sometimes hard to distinguish from depression. If your Mean Reds don’t come and go, but tend to sit like a fog covering your whole life, then please get thee to a therapist, counselor, or doctor and get help.