A Californian’s Guide to Staving off Seasonal Affect Disorder

Source: Flickr Creative Commons, Robert Martinez

Source: Flickr Creative Commons, Robert Martinez

So you’ve done the unthinkable: you’ve left your perfect home on the West Coast, possibly a nice beachfront duplex where it fluctuates between 65 and 80 degrees year round (that’s 18 to 27 C, for some readers) with 330 days of clear blue skies. And you’ve come to Bilbao, with about as many days of rain.

We’ll skip over that aggravating question of why—we try not to think about it ourselves. Instead, our focus should be on pure survival. It’s hard coming from a place of privilege—how do we cope now, with (nearly) freezing temperatures, endless rain, and no thought of sunbathing until at least June?

Here are my tips on how to avoid the nearly inevitable Seasonal Affect Disorder. I’m no expert–I’m merely doing the best I can, in unfortunate climactic circumstances.

1. Buy a coat.

Zara coat

Not the time for smiles–I couldn’t go back out on the street until I had purchased something warm.

A coat is a heavy article of clothing, referred to as “Outerwear,” worn over other articles of clothing, like those cute cardigans that used to serve you on the coldest of Santa Barbara nights. You’ve probably never owned a real coat before, so don’t be overwhelmed: there are many different kinds. Some are very ugly but very warm–they look like fluffy marshmallows sewn together. I know you are cold, I know you are borderline depressed, but don’t buy these. Fashion mustn’t go completely out the window in a colder climate. Buy instead the next warmest, something made out of wool or down or a combination of Polyester. Pea coats–those ones with buttons–are cute but not as warm. Furry hoods may incur the wrath of PETA, but they provide much-needed shelter. Think about getting a rain-resistant exterior. Remember the weather here?

Cost here is secondary to survival. In Bilbao, the day the government paid me, I went to Zara and bought a coat I loved, which took a chunk from my wallet. They say money only buys material things–so use it to splurge on the good material.

2. Invest in sturdy rain boots. 

Impressing myself with what I thought was incredible foresight, I packed some Target rain boots with me before I left. Because God knows, what if I couldn’t find rain boots in Bilbao?? Waste of suitcase space, waste of money (they got holes in the soles the third time I wore them, which is really all you can expect from Target anyway), and waste of precious foresight. Did I really think rain boots would be hard to come by in Bilbao, which I can safely proclaim as the rainiest place on Earth? Every other store is a shoe store here, and all have boots. For reasonable prices, at that. There is nothing more important to happiness than dry feet, so again here, invest in a durable pair, even if it costs a bit more.

3. Find a locale close to home that brings comfort.

Kikarea cafe

My favorite café in Bilbao, Kikarea Coffee and Bakery

Hot drinks on cold days is a must. But hot drinks in an unheated apartment only keep you warm for so long. I’ve found a little gem of a café a block from my place, with English/American inspired salads, wraps, cookies and cakes, and a “tea hour” in the afternoons, mimicking the custom of our beloved Brits. Spanish cafés are fine for your basic coffees and pintxos, but sometimes you need some comforting ambiance. This locale is the perfect quaint setting to remind you that there is still some warmth in this world–if not outside, then in a nice hot pot of tea and a chocolate chip cookie. Think about what makes you happy–for me, apparently, it’s assorted teabags and a selection of baked goods, with smooth jazz playing in the background–and search the city for that place you can call your own. But try to find one near your apartment–it’s raining outside, after all, and you don’t want to walk half an hour for some damn ambiance.

4. Wear red lipstick.

In addition to being incredibly chic, red lipstick has the benefit of covering up your lips’ true hue, which, if you have as poor circulation as me, has now turned a semi-permanent Cadaver Blue. The lipstick will prevent friends and colleagues from asking about your health every other minute. And the more they ask, the more you’re reminded what this weather is doing to your mental and physical well-being–so just do everyone a favor, and apply the rouge.

5. Find an indoor hobby. 

french for dummies_result

The textbook I’m using–it’s written in Spanish, so I’m killing two birds with one stone! Source.

Your old favorite pastimes, like runs on the beach or eating froyo in the park, will not serve you here. Best to pick up an indoor hobby, maybe something domestic like cooking or knitting. I myself have taken to studying French, since sexy-sounding vocabulary can be learned anywhere, even buried under three down comforters. Plus, now I can say “I can’t feel my toes” in three languages!

6. Choose a mantra.

Mine of late has been “Shut the f*** up, Jenny” when I start dwelling over a lack of blue sky. Other reminders that have helped have been “Your sister lived in Russia,” “At least you had the California sun for 21 years; some people never get it at all,” and “There is something almost magical about hail.” Whatever the mantra, it helps to chant something to yourself, so at least your only thought isn’t “When will it end?”

7. Remind yourself of others’ misery.

Sure, it’s raining nonstop, and you’re cold-blooded but can’t quite afford heating on the government’s pay. But think on the bright side–you only work 21 hours a week! Your friends back at home work twice that, if not more, and many aren’t in love with their jobs either. And they are all probably jealous of you! In fact, before they read this post, they probably thought you were at an 11 on the 1-10 ecstatic scale in Bilbao. Other people live in the snow, and have to literally shovel themselves out to leave the house. And on a serious note, imagine if you were homeless in this weather. I now realize why there are about two homeless people in the city of Bilbao, and close to 40 billion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

There is no magic formula to dealing with a climate you’re not used to. I do feel myself at times being affected by Seasonal Affect Disorder–I don’t realize it’s upon me, and then I catch a rare glimpse of blue sky and I suddenly feel euphoric. The best we can hope for is that Zara continues its cute winter clothing line; that our umbrellas don’t crumple in the wind; that third-party locales (our schools, libraries, and tea shops) remain heated so we can seek refuge there for hours. If all this fails, you can always befriend a Russian or a Swede; they can tell you what Winter Hell truly is.

And for God’s sake, you’re abroad! You don’t want to be the one person ever who wasn’t drooling over the chance to live abroad, so Suck.It.Up.

*Author’s Note: This post was written after 3 weeks of consecutive rainy days in Bilbao.