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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Midstokke: Sunshine and other invisible creators of serotonin

By Ammi Midstokke The Spokesman-Review

After a long and drawn out – if not poorly exercised impersonation of – winter, I am suspicious that many of our souls feel like a vacuous hole of malcontent. In a few cases, perhaps just a bottomless vat of tar holding the corpses of dinosaurs and regret, bubbling up anxiety and resentment. But maybe that’s just me.

We check off the mental health to-do list, which by March becomes basically a full-time job of self-care. By then, we’re tired of going to hot yoga because we know it’s just pretend warm. Going outside is just another exercise in adjectives used to describe shades of brown and gray. Against most medical advice, we discretely share our favorite tanning locations, complete with Calvin Klein underwear posters, Pat Benetar on the stereo, and all the dressings of a world oblivious to sun damage.

When I notice that my husband’s tone has downgraded from his usual “risk-averse” to “grumpy curmudgeon,” I secretly change the vitamins in his pill box in hopes that it will placebo me to higher tolerance. He responds to my verbal concern (a diplomatic description of actual events) by sharing an article with me on the health benefits of grumpiness, in which the author claims that grumpy people have a higher quality of life, although they would never admit it.

Eventually, we stop opening the blinds because the shoulder season suck outside is the same dim-dreary as the 14-watt setting Charlie puts the lights on, lest his eyes be singed by the possibility of brightness or the contagion of optimism. I’m sure there must be some research linking low-wattage light bulbs to a reduced will to live and a higher ice cream dependency.

In the grocery store aisles, we’ve stopped talking about skiing or hopeful snowfall or the trails being ridable. We just grunt and hand our cards over, perhaps mumbling about inflation or shrinkflation to the cashier who has no control or influence over any of it, but somehow miraculously manages to pull a cheery, “Have a nice day!” out of themselves. We won’t respond until April.

Just as we’re about to implode in our own malaise or scheming to relocate to Albuquerque, Mother Nature gives us 60 degrees and sunshine.

And just like that, we’re gonna be OK.

We take to our yards to declutter the grunge of winter, singing like Disney characters at the few birds that are tweeting. I’m compelled to twirl in a skirt and smile for no reason.

We come waltzing into the grocery store, sunglasses perched on our heads, and gesture to the blue sky spread like we just won the weather game show prize and we haven’t been crosspatches for the past five months. We make eye contact with the cashier, read their name tags, and buy fresh fruit as if we cared about others or ourselves again. Or maybe it’s because we can see color and the raspberries seem a justified unseasonal decadence after surviving on beige foods all winter.

Because most of the snow is gone in the lowlands, the shorts come out and this year’s newest line of Birkenstocks bares the toes of most generations. We bravely leave our puffy coats at home (regretting the decision whenever we step into shade) and declare that we have persevered our way to another equinox!

It was no small feat this year, and I believe the months to come have more to challenge us than the winter we’ve left behind (tax season, fire season, elections, Ozempic shortages, wars, to name a few). So buy the raspberries. Breathe in the reprieve of spring. Smile at the cashier and learn their names. I suspect we’ll need a lot of small kindnesses to survive the new few equinoxes as well.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at