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The need for retreat: A self-help book recommendation

In January, I am offering Self-Help Book Recommendations, because sometimes the best advice comes from a book.

Winter actually is my favorite season. Others go gaga for Fall or cartwheels for Spring. But winter is a lovely season where the air is crisp. I like taking walks in the cold. I like my hibernation season where I wear cozy socks and read books.

Behr agrees with me. But we also live in Georgia where we don’t have to fight the battle with snow every winter. We get cold days with thick fog rolling off the Chatahoochee river, and at the right time of the morning, you can walk along the river path and witness the deer coming out of the mist. It’s lovely.

Hubs, however, would be so thrilled to live someplace where the average temp was 72 degrees year round.

But really, my love of winter is actually my most valid excuse to avoid engaging with others. This might not be my best trait.

Retreating is not uncommon for me. I’m a cancer sign: the crab. The crab must retreat, at times it does this speedily when it senses danger is approaching. Sometimes I experience introvert burnout. I have engaged with too many people and need to retreat to recharge. I started teaching again for the semester, and after my four hours of lecturing, I came home, put on cozies, and locked myself in my bedroom until dinner time because it was “too peopley” out there.

Also, being a writer, I need to be alone to build little worlds in my head without outside influence. Sometimes outside influence gets in the way of feeling I have the right to craft worlds in my head or type new content on a website that only a handful of people read.

And then sometimes, when I reemerge from my shell, no one is waiting for me. That’s always the risk I take. The world keeps spinning while I’m hiding out, and I feel so guilty because clearly I abandoned my friends and family. My need to hide has made me unreliable.

I needed to not feel guilty about needing to retreat, so I picked up a copy of Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.

Book cover of Wintering by Katherine May on the screen of an iPhone.

Usually self-help books need to serve some sort of direct, functional purpose. I like steps and processes. Often I’m turned off by self-help books that are supposed to be a metaphor. But I was stuck in a rut of needing to withdraw while also feeling guilty for that need. So I reached for Wintering for the sole purpose of hoping it would tell me what I needed to hear.

I could totally get behind the concept that people move through life in seasons. When I read the book, I also was going through a season of wintering myself. I was in a new job, dealing with a medical issue and was basically not writing. I was hiding. I had been hiding for a while. And I felt miserable about it. I felt like my retreat was somehow offending everyone – I felt guilty for needing to be alone for my physical health, my mental health, and my creative health.

The book also reminded me of other times I felt it was necessary to winter, and faced judgment for that need to retreat. When my mother died, I was working at a horrible job where I had a new supervisor every month. When I was struggling, I pointed out to my at the time supervisor that my mother had just died, suddenly and unexpectedly. She said that her mother had also just died, a long battle with cancer, and she came back to work and did her job. Message received: Suck it up. Take your pills, Elizabeth; no one wants your drama here. Looking back, I think maybe when she looked at me she probably wondered why I felt it was okay to fall apart from grief. Maybe it wasn’t okay. But it was happening anyway.

It’s necessary to sometimes take a step back, to digital detox, to shut down the profile, to take some mental health days, months, years.

What I primarily learned was to stop trying to force winter away, but to allow it, and to even revel in it. It’s okay to sink back into the dirt and wait for sunny days. I don’t have to be the same all the time. And as part of a larger self-help and therapist-lead system, I have learned to step back in small ways instead of pushing myself until I collapse.

The reviews of Wintering are mixed, so take it all with a grain of salt. Or just get it from the library if you want to see what it's about without making the commitment.

Read Books. Wear Boots.




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