Emma Cowing: Winter blues part of being Scottish

Helping to clear the snow from the pitch in Novi Sad is no problem for this Scotland fan. Picture: SNS
Helping to clear the snow from the pitch in Novi Sad is no problem for this Scotland fan. Picture: SNS
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A CANADIAN friend of mine who moved to Scotland 18 months ago has quit the country. When I asked him why he was upping sticks, he explained it was the weather. “

It’s not the Scottish winters I mind,” he said. “It’s the summers I can’t stand; you guys just don’t have them.”

Writing this at the tail end of March, as I look out at falling snow and a gunmetal sky, with the heating cranked up full blast and the remnants of a nasty bout of winter flu still wriggling in my lungs, I can’t help but feel that he’s right. It might seem a tad premature to write off a summer before it has even started, but – let’s face it folks – the vital signs aren’t good. At a time of year when we should be dusting down the garden furniture and bedding in our fritillarias, we are instead living in thermals and wondering if the Yak Trax will make it to May. The last sunny day I remember was more than six months ago, I’ve worn a hole in my gloves and this year’s Easter bunny is heading for an identity crisis involving a red suit and a white beard.

No wonder then, that so many of us are afflicted with grey skies syndrome. What’s that, I hear you cry? Well, it’s a sort of Seasonal Affective Disorder lite, a version of the winter blues that means we can still function in everyday life, we just feel a bit, well, crappy.

Grey skies syndrome is apparently characterised by sleepiness, low energy levels, a craving for carbohydrates, weight gain and reduced sex drive. Unlike SAD, which can be completely debilitating, those afflicted with grey skies syndrome can still function but find it harder to get going in the mornings, even though they have slept longer than usual. Also, there are more grey skies sufferers this year than ever before, thanks to the ghastly winter weather.

“It’s been an absolutely appalling winter for winter blues and SAD, the worst in a long time,” said Professor Chris Thompson, former professor of psychiatry at Southampton University Medical School and now medical director of the Priory Group. “Our consultants report that lots of people who wouldn’t normally be affected by the weather are feeling it this year.”

My first thought upon reading this was that I, too, was suffering from grey skies syndrome. Certainly, I have noticed that as I get older I find winter just a little bit harder on the soul than I used to. I yearn for warm days and long summer evenings in the garden with a glass of wine, and dream of donning a pair of flip-flops and something floaty and impractical that has to be changed out of after 20 minutes.

In the summer I can, on occasion, be found halfway round the block come 7am, fitting in an early morning run before consuming something ludicrously healthy involving flaxen seeds and a goji berry. In the winter, I’ll be curled up under the duvet having an extra half an hour, rising only to indulge an inexplicable craving for toasted wheaten bread and butter. This despite the fact that I’m often in my bed before Newsnight, having had pasta for tea. Surely I must be the perfect candidate for this terrible affliction?

Hang on a minute, though. Tempting as it is to explain away my carbohydrate cravings and lazy inability to go running as involving a “syndrome” that is out of control, the bare facts suggest that this may not be the case. I would like to present the medical community with an alternative name for this condition before thousands of workers start ringing in sick and the country grounds to a halt.

Instead of “grey skies syndrome”, I do believe it should be renamed “being Scottish”. Because, I’m sorry to report, being grumpy about the weather, eating the odd extra pie and having a lie-in when it’s lashing outside are all tried and tested components of our nationality, along with moaning about ScotRail and liking that nice Jackie Bird off the telly.

For a start, it’s hardly the first time we’ve had snow at Easter, and sadly it won’t be the last. We’ve had wet summers before, and no doubt will have them again. And as with every great nation, we have absorbed the behaviour of our weather into our national psyche. Grey skies or not, unpredictable weather that makes you a little bit miserable is part of what it means to be Scottish.

So, if it’s OK with the medical profession I shall continue to have an extra snooze on winter mornings, and cheer myself up with extra slice of toast when it’s snowing. I can always make up for it over the three days that will constitute this year’s summer, can’t I?