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Wellness > Mental Health

What I gained from my first Chicago winter

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

Two weeks ago, I stood at the edge of Lake Michigan, letting the icy water run over my feet with my eyes closed. Around me, my friends dove into the freezing water, chased after a puppy to pet it, and lay on their blankets with books and a tub of watermelon while I stood on the warm sand, soaking it all in. It was a Sunday and the first truly warm day of the quarter, and my friends and I, along with what felt like half the school, had flocked to the beach. I felt an embarrassingly cheesy, almost tearful level of joy thinking about how grateful I was for the beautiful campus I was on and the incredible girls I had formed friendships with as the sun that I hadn’t felt in months shone down on us. 

I’m from California, where it’s always 70 degrees and sunny, and when I told other Californians where I was planning on going to college, they almost always responded with some variation of, “But Chicago is so cold!” I chose Northwestern despite these warnings, and I’m so glad I did. But their comments weren’t wrong. Although I’m told this was a fairly mild winter, I spent most of my outdoor time during Winter Quarter bitterly angry at the cold and the wind, walking as fast as I could to wherever I was going. It wasn’t all bad — I discovered that I love chunky sweaters, hot coffee, and watching snow fall under streetlights. That being said, every time I saw photos of my sunny hometown, I felt an intense longing to just be anywhere warm.

During my first real winter, I was pushed by the general gloomy atmosphere, as well as some personal circumstances, to confront negative feelings more than I had in the past. For me, my first literal winter aligned with the first time I had to — and allowed myself to — admit that every aspect of my life wasn’t always perfectly sunny either, making for a couple of months that were not so great. However, this also encouraged me to go out of my way to intentionally dig myself out of this rut: carving out time to spend with my friends, taking breaks and relaxing, and starting a journal all helped me with this. These tools allowed me to heal not by ignoring the bad, but by learning to work with it. By the end of Winter Quarter, it was still pretty cold outside, but I was getting used to the bad parts, learning to appreciate the good parts, and feeling much less dread about facing future winters.

Now the sun is coming out and it feels like home, but I am no longer taking it for granted; now that I’ve experienced a real winter, I appreciate the sun and warmth so much more. There are flowers of every color blooming all around campus, and I don’t think I would have noticed them if they had not gone away for winter. If the beach was warm and inviting all year round, it wouldn’t have the appeal it does now. So when I stood on the sand with my friends, I was immensely grateful for the coming warm seasons, but also for the winter that needed to happen first.

Maya Mukherjee

Northwestern '27

Maya is from Palo Alto, California and is studying journalism and political science. She loves her dogs, cooking, reading, and jigsaw puzzles.