I have never before experienced the joy that comes with the first day of spring. This was my first real winter, and I don’t think I realized its impact until last Wednesday when I heard the sounds of rushing water flowing in the street drains from the melting snow and saw actual green grass on the ground. I felt warm in my winter jacket, and a little bit silly. Walking into Val that day, I was taken aback when I saw people wearing shorts and was reminded that humans do, in fact, have legs. All of this probably sounds fairly obvious to most upperclassmen, or students who have lived in cold regions for most of their lives, but I was surprised by how different I felt when spring arrived, and how much lighter, as if something was clogging up my lungs, and now I could breathe freely again.
I was aptly warned about the various statistics regarding the correlation between weather and depression, but for some reason I assumed I would be impervious to this phenomenon. I’ve generally been a positive and happy person for most of my life, and I knew that snow doesn’t really change anything besides what boots you wear and how many layers you have to put on. Plus, I actually enjoy rainstorms; they can be dramatic and exciting, though preferably observed from the comfort of indoors. The few interactions I had with snow on family vacations were positive. I wasn’t worried, and during winter, I wasn’t either. But on that first day in spring, I noticed the absence of a weight that I wasn’t even aware was there to begin with.
Over the last few months, I noticed I was having odd mood swings and reacting much more strongly than usual to sad fiction and music. I was increasingly worried about school work and my relationships with the people I care about. While these things were occurring, I tried to ignore or justify them by attributing them to an increased workload this semester, or other things. The notion that something as arbitrary as the weather could have an effect on my mental health seemed ridiculous to me. On an intellectual level, I understood it. I accepted that it happened to other people, and in theory could happen to me, but seemed too fantastical to actually occur.
It’s strange to realize that we aren’t fully in control of our own minds and moods. On a very scientific level, our emotions are dictated by chemicals in our brains that can be affected by the very food we eat. It’s easy to think of that as a concept, but difficult to think of how it operates in our day to day lives. The music we choose to listen to, the places where we choose to live, the movies we choose to watch: all of these have effects on us. But perhaps this can be turned to our advantage. By recognizing this, instead of denying it like I did, we can try to recognize feelings influenced by arbitrary forces like the weather, and perhaps lessen their impact. For factors we have control over, we can listen to lighter music when we need to, or recognize the importance of a well-timed episode of Parks and Rec. We don’t have control over our feelings, but we can do our best to create environments that encourage the feelings we wish.
On that first day of spring, I walked over to the view from Memorial Hill, something I don’t do nearly enough. Snow still covered most of the hill and field and mountains beyond, but there was a promise in the air that winter was on its way out. I remembered Amherst as it was when I first arrived, as it remains in the background pictures of the computers in Frost: green and lush and warm. It will be that again. For all the physical and metaphorical winters we experience in our lives, there will always be a spring.