auxiliar program, Spain

Dealing With Expat Winter Blues

The Truth About Winter in Northern Spain

I’ve taken a great interest in Seasonal Affective Disorder recently. Even after living for several dreary years in San Francisco, I thought I was immune to the weather. I don’t need a special sun lamp! But lately I’ve started to open my mind to the possibility that I’m not superhuman and maybe I’m more influenced by outside phenomenon than I’d like to admit. (What?!) First things first: I hate loathe talking about the weather for more than 30 seconds. It’s the worst form of small talk torture that ever existed and I’ve got nothing to elaborate beyond “Yeah, the weather sucks today” or “Yeah, I’m glad it’s sunny too!” There are no limits to the awkwardness that I feel and show when this lovely topic comes up.

awkward small talk

Unfortunately, this is not how the world works. The weather is a standard, if not glorified, topic of conversation everywhere in the world. My parents go on and on about it. I read recently that Brits talk so enthusiastically about the weather so they won’t have to reveal their true feelings. (A tongue in cheek article in an English book, but still.) And here in northern Spain, we’ve had a couple of weeks of intense weather – heavy winds, hail every hour, cold,  thunderstorms, and even snow! That’s on top of the typical rain – in fact the rains were so strong that we experienced flooding in some parts of town! Everybody is quick to jump in with their opinions on this, the most frequent expression being “puto frio” or “hace un frio de la ostia!”  Yeah, okay. I agree with these opinions and think this is a pretty ridiculous winter. The low hanging gray clouds, sideways winds, freezing rain, and river-like streets (I have to change socks two or three times a day!) are really weighing on me lately. Yeah, I KNOW I lived thirty minutes from here last year and it was dreary. But this year, maybe being slightly more self-aware, and being in a worse winter than the last one, I’ve started to feel a combination of the following:

  • Not wanting to do ANYTHING. Interest in pretty much everything (aside from staring into space) is nonexistent.
  • Things that once brought a smile to my face have no effect or the opposite effect.
  • Multiple people I know telling me to smile, that I look sad. And feeling like my smiles are completely unbelievable and forced.
  • A sense of general hopelessness and doom, especially when outdoors.
  • As if it needed to be said, a complete lack of energy.
  • Thoughts of not being able to survive another year of this (“this” being weather AND teaching English.)
  • The words “sad”, “lonely”, “disappointed”, “isolated” and “broke” showing up extra frequently in my journal entries. (Side note: “broke” was the entire month of January after not receiving some extra income I’d been patiently awaiting.)
Do you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain?
Do you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain?

I realize that the weather probably isn’t to blame for all of this – post-holiday blues are also very real, and now that I’m in a (lovely) relationship that’s long-distance, I feel more strongly in general, with the downs being due to the distance. But what I feel is that a cloud is hanging over my head and the sun (literally and figuratively) will never come out again.

Well, in the last 24 hours I’ve decided enough is enough. It’s time to try to fight the winter blues. Today I decided to make a list of those words I’d been writing in my journal and try to find a solution for them.

Isolated? Try to reach out more – Skype with the boyfriend, friends and family, try to meet people for coffee.

Sad? Get plenty of sleep, eat well, go to exercise classes, listen to music every day.

Disappointed? Manage those expectations. Unfortunately, being an auxiliar de conversacion isn’t exactly a dream life,  a lot of locals just don’t have time for a silly foreigner, the government and program directors will always let us down to some extent, and maybe that Zumba class isn’t really the right fit for me. And know that teaching English doesn’t have to equal the rest of my life.

Broke? Well, get back on that budget train. I’m trying a new budgeting software called You Need A Budget. I’ll only spend money I actually have in my account (duh?) rather than buy travel on credit cards in anticipation of expected payment. I’ve come to realize that I’ve paid quite a lot to do this program, despite getting a paycheck, and I’m not completely confident I’ll have enough to come back next year, despite working very hard this year. Vamos a ver.

As for being cold and wet, all I can do is drink plenty of hot tea, buy some more socks, stay home as much as possible, and wear lots of layers. How are you feeling this winter? Any suggestions for beating the winter blues?

PS: Wish I’d seen THIS post from Jenny at A Thing For Wor(l)ds for some advice before sinking into the downward spiral!

*Note: I have not received a Seasonal Affective Disorder or any kind of diagnosis from a licensed professional, nor do I want to make light of it. It is a very real issue and if you think you are dealing with it or any type of depression, please seek help from a professional.