Now is the winter of our discontent…Shakespeare, Richard III
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), clinically diagnosed or otherwise, is a real concern for anyone whose climate includes seasons. And there is a concerning overlap between vitamin D3 deficiency and seasonal respiratory tract illnesses (RTIs) prevalent in the northern hemisphere at this time of year.
During shortest days of the year, in a world gripped by fear of a respiratory illness, there’s risk in being complacent about health. As a recent international traveller, I was, theoretically, exposed to a greater degree of risk due to my flights and close contact with other travelers. It would be reckless not to prepare my immune system for, and repair after, any such travel.
Health sovereignty was an urgent goal for me in 2020 precisely because I realized it would be put to the test this year. Whatever boogie-man is out to get us in 2021, understanding the terrain of our health -from immunity to inflammation- is going to be a crucial survival skill.
I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice -this is a story about what we’ve done in our household that is working to fend off the winter blues.
Sarah and I started making some big changes in how we live, eat, and take responsibility for our health. The journey has been challenging and revealed areas of weakness that need to be addressed so that they don’t interfere with our escape plans.
Health as wealth is a concept that I spent a lot of time contemplating in 2020. With it came a focus on resiliency. In the summer it was easy. More or less fun, really. I spent most of the time outside gardening, shirt off, soaking in the sun. In the winter it’s been a struggle to find enough sunlight amid the cold and wet.
Exercise, fresh air, and access to nature -or at least the outdoors- all contribute to maintaining a healthy, and happy, state of being during this cooler, darker part of the year. But it’s not that simple. There’s not enough sun and fun to go around at the moment so I’ve set myself to experimenting with new strategies to increase the resiliency of our health.
My highest priority in life is maintaining my personal agency. Health is a key aspect of agency -when your health diminishes, so too does personal agency, and it’s difficult to get it back once lost. In these dreary winter months, healthy self-care becomes more challenging. These are the habits that I’ve developed to protect, and preserve, bodily autonomy and a positive mental attitude (credit as always to Rune Soup for so much inspiration).
Walking For Vitamin D And Exercise
Weather permitting, I try to go for a walk right after breakfast each morning. We eat a stout, keto-friendly breakfast of bacon and eggs and the walk is good for digestion, in addition to sunlight and exercise.
Walking is such a bio-hack, especially for the exercise-reluctant among us (hello there) who’ll procrastinate / find excuses / or just be too frickin lazy to ever actually do it. With the same (minimal) effort it takes to walk a few laps around your neighborhood you will, if practiced regularly, generate essentially the same health benefits as running.
…the energy used for moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running [result] in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease…Better by Today, “Why walking is the most underrated form of exercise”
Well, thank goodness for that…
It seems obvious to me that, with a list of positive effects spanning multiple systems of the body, increasing vitamin D intake is a nodal intervention; capable of generating systemic health benefits. Even more critically, in this darkest of winters, is the increasingly hard science behind the role of vitamin D as anti-C*V*D crusader.
The full video is worth a watch, but this couple-minute-long clip below provides a quick, bullet-point explanation of the role of vitamin D (and thus sunlight) in boosting immunological resistance to the very respiratory tract illnesses (RTIs) which have our society in shackles at the moment.
This is compelling enough evidence to have me out in the 30-40 degree weather, doing laps around the block. I suck it up because it’s the best way to get real, natural vitamin D and also the exercise I need. Still, my daily walks aren’t providing enough sunlight necessary to produce the ideal levels of vitamin D, so additional supplementation is also on the menu (see below).
Nevertheless, natural sunlight is the original recipe. Despite the lack of research offering conclusive evidence of any pharmacological difference between synthesized vitamin D3 and the kind produced naturally in the body, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Regular Solar Adorations
Beyond mundane perspectives, the Sun is almost universally deified across spiritual traditions of the world, current and historic. Even the abrahamic faiths (Christians, Jews, and Muslims) center around a deity that is solar in nature, according to the Golden Dawn.
From the mystic’s perspective, the Sun is our primary source of cosmic energy. Apollo is the life-giver, the nourisher of crops, and healer of the sick. Apollo fathered Asclepius, god of medicine. Connections between the sun and healing sciences have existed in western civilization since their conception (or appropriation) by the Greek world.
In my experience, solar veneration brings with it a comforting, warming sensation which soothes the spirit and eases the burdens of the heart.
At the worst of 2020’s many awful moments, such as when our dog Fritz had to visit the emergency vet in December, it was Apollo’s graces to which I turned. In moments like these, I like to send positive intentions at my problems by painting a sigil on a candle (handmade on a special election), or in this case the name of the target (Fritz), and praying over it daily until it burns down completely. Alternatively, I may let it burn all-at-once for quicker activation.
It’s nice to have enchanted candles on hand and a go-to praxis for the purpose; but the favor of Gods is a much more valuable asset to have at your disposal. Not that my relationship with Apollo is anything remarkable. The Sun god has been receiving offerings from mankind of aeons; I’m just doing the minimum –and getting a lot of benefit from it.
Sun-day at Sun hour each week (new to planetary hours?), we set up the portable altar outside, fill it with offerings like fruit, meat, a glass of wine, and incense, and then recite orphic hymns and conjurations in veneration of the golden one.
It feels great, spiritually and physically, and it also provides the ideal channel to send prayers for healing (for our family and others). At the moment we have two spells-in-progress on the altar, seeking healing support for Fritz and another friends’ dog. These I burn daily along with a quick prayer (to Apollo).
A Cup Of Broth A Day…
In the summertime we have our various hobbies and projects to get us outside in the sun and vitamin D production largely takes care of itself. But winter is another matter…
There is compelling evidence that suggests the lack of sun we receive in the winter is the annual driver of seasonal respiratory epidemics and, as I referenced earlier, a key factor in C*V*D susceptibility.
It’s just not possible to get outside enough in the winter in the northern hemisphere to support sufficient immune health for the current p*ndemic, so we look to other sources. The kind of Vitamin D we need for immune health is Vitamin D3, which is produced naturally by human and animal bodies when enough sunlight reaches the skin; opposed to Vitamin D2 which is produced by plants.
The presence of Vitamin D3 in animal fats makes bone broth a convenient way to store and ingest vitamin D3 during the winter months where we inevitably spend less time in the soaking up rays.
Sarah and I recently learned how to make our own bone broth in an InstantPot, with bones saved from the meals we make. This, in turn, has lead to me cooking whole chickens, cornish hens, and ducks, beef and pork ribs, t-bone steaks, and other bone-in options; as a way to source the ingredients for homemade broth.
One of my favorite aspects of this broth-cycle is that it significantly reduces waste. I now never throw away bones and all of the bits of meat that evaded consumption end up contributing to multiple pots of gelatinous, nutrient-dense broth before getting buried in shallow holes in the backyard.
Supplements To Support Healthy Habits
I don’t love the idea of taking pills (especially not the pharmaceutical kind) but, unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to get preventative megadoses of vitamins D and C into my body any other way.
Without promoting so-called “misinformation”, I can only say that there’s reason to consider taking 2-4x doses of both, along with zinc, immediately when flu-ish symptoms appear -especially when you’re vitamin D deprived.
And keep in mind that residents of the Global North are perpetually robbing ourselves of natural sunlight through our algorithmic and industrial life-ways.
While ingesting heroic doses of vitamin D isn’t as fun as paddling across placid turquoise waters in the warm Caribbean sun halfway into a rum buzz…well, we don’t always get what we want. Gulping down a handful of pharmaceutical interventions isn’t for funsies -it’s about taking seasonal health risks seriously.
And there’s two modes of health consciousness to consider here: first, emergency health strategies that boost the immune system, and second, daily strategies that promote general health and wellbeing.
The first I already addressed above; the latter is a matter of setting a new once-a-day habit of taking pills right after a nice fatty meal (vitamins are fat soluble). I choke down a couple vitamin D3/K2 pills and some magnesium (for gut health) each morning after a fatty breakfast with bacon as part of my balanced daily diet.
Keep A Warm Hearth
It’s a shame, really, but along with the side yard that is now my garden, our hearth (a painted brick fireplace) was neglected and unused for the majority of the decade I’ve lived here. It wasn’t until Sarah suggested (in both cases) that we put it to use practicing for the future that this part of the house became an integral feature of our home.
There’s something about a mantle. It’s functional and also aspirational. It makes one want to decorate it with pictures, artworks, stockings, and such. To celebrate existence by decorating the center of one’s home with little, nostalgic traces of life and shared history feels natural and somehow right.
While light dims over the horizon at increasingly earlier stations each day, day by day into winter, the hearth keeps us warm in body and soul.
Sarah and I first discovered the comforts of home and hearth by accident one year when the power was knocked out by a snowstorm for four unusually cold days in December. We curled up in front of the fireplace on a stack of pillows and blankets on the first day the power was out…and didn’t move much until it came back on.
At the time we were just trying to stay warm but the event was impactful on many other levels. It brought us closer together and gave us a glimpse of a life could be like without electronic entertainment. It was probably the only time in my life I’ve been forced to read by candlelight -an experience which I did not find unpleasant at all.
Sarah and I made an effort in 2020 to prioritize what we call, “hearth-ing“. This meant a lot more time by the fire (even with an unseasonably warm winter). It also meant keto-friendly hot cocoa (occasionally spiked with peppermint-infused vodka), morning ancestor rituals by the fire, and other habits which caused us to spend more time together in, and with, the home (in the animist sense).
A Light In The Darkness
Home, and hearth in particular, have been a source of stability and joy through a period of time that has been globally defined by instability and strife.
It’s a subtle form of magic and yet this hearth praxis has been the central pillar around which we’ve constructed -I dare say, successfully- an infrastructure for healthy living through the bleakness of a winter in the darkness of the modern age.
Underpinning everything I’ve said, and everything we’ve done this year to achieve health sovereignty, is a fundamental hopefulness and belief in the possibility for positive outcomes that drives us forward and keeps us motivated. I think it’s as much a requirement for success as luck, or skill, or opportunity…
It’s important to keep your hopes up, to keep a light on in the darkness.