By Rachael Hymowitz
Come April 1st of 2022, I had thought I had conquered the grueling task of Michigan winter. As a California native, this was a massive accomplishment. The narcissist in me assumed I was prepared. I had visited Michigan in October in the fall of the year prior when it was 45 degrees out and, naively, assumed that was the coldest it got. Quite frankly, I didn’t think temperatures existed below 45.
As you can imagine, I found every part of winter to be a shock. My jaw dropped when I learned about wearing two pairs of pants, my wallet hurt after buying my first winter coat, and I cried when the snot in my nose froze. I vividly remember walking outside one morning in December and remarking, “Wow, there’s so much glass on the sidewalk; there must have been a lot of car break-ins recently.” I stood still in confusion as my roommate from Illinois proceeded to laugh at me for, and I’m not exaggerating, minutes straight. “What?!” I proclaimed. “Rachael, that’s salt. They salt the roads to melt the snow.”
And while all of these examples were shocking, what broke my heart about winter was the lack of sunshine. I vividly remember not seeing a blue sky for two weeks straight and finally understanding the not-so-mythic concept of seasonal depression. I wasn’t a fan. I realized that so much of my joy relied on good weather and began searching for a new outlet.
My first step in bringing joy to winter was to tackle my winter wardrobe. As you may be able to grasp by my writing, I am a very colorful person. And yet, my winter coat, which I had been wearing every day since it hit the dreaded 45 degrees, was black. I decided to purchase Pepto-Bismol pink UGG rain boots and a rainbow umbrella. I soon realized that adding this little ray of color to my everyday life had greatly impacted my attitude. These purchases became an essential part of my outfit, both fashionably and emotionally.
From my purchase of the infamous boots began my journey to make the mundane everyday more colorful. I made my class notebooks sparkly, I covered my walls in posters, and I drank a lot of fruity iced tea from Starbucks. But the greatest addition to this practice has been the acquiring of drink parasols for my beverages. I had always assumed that drink parasols were reserved for the beaches of Cancún, and stored within a vault that can only be accessed if you are painting in your summer tan and sporting cut-off shirts. Turns out, they sell them at Meijer. Which, in my opinion, feels a bit oxymoronic.
I began adding this garnish to my morning coffee, my afternoon OJ, and even my water. Immediately, I noticed a change in my aura. This silly $2.99-for-a-pack-of-800-purchase, which my mom called “unbelievably unnecessary,” brought whimsey to parts of my life that previously felt, well, flat. I realized that I could spread the love of this practice. I began stuffing drink parasols in the pockets of my (now iridescent purple) coat and dispersing them among partygoers. This brought joy to their drink and brightened up the space as I looked out to a sea of beautifully adorned beverages. In addition, this soon-to-become tradition was an easy way to spark a conversation and make a new friend.
At this point, you may be wondering, “Rachael, why are you telling me all of this?” Because in the state of Michigan, suicide rates have increased by 25% since the year 2000. Every time I revisit this piece of information, it wrenches my heart. By no means do I claim that adding a drink parasol to your morning coffee is the solution, but I do believe that using it as a metaphor can help. Mental health is an epidemic on the campus we all share, and it is necessary that we talk about it and take steps to address it. Every year in the US there are 3 million cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is essential that we be mindful of the impact seasonal depression has on our campus.
This task is daunting. I don’t claim to have a solution, I can’t magically make it 70 degrees out, but I do have a practice that has greatly influenced my life, and I believe it is my duty to share it with my fellow Wolverines. I’m not trying to claim that a bubble bath cures clinical mental health struggles, but it can make it a bit easier to make it through the day-to-day. I have made it my goal to bring color to my life and the lives of my friends in any way and every place possible, and I encourage you to attempt the same. Whether that be pink boots, a rainbow umbrella, or a little umbrella in your drink we call all add a bit of sunshine to the gray Ann Arbor winter.