Harnessing valuable energy from restlessness of cabin fever

February 09, 2003|By SUSAN REMER

IF WINTER DOESN'T break soon, I swear I am going to be the top story on the evening news and a banner headline in the local paper.

"Rampaging mother douses ungrateful family members with record 712th pot of homemade soup."

Or, "Rampaging mother blames suspicious house fire on 'cabin fever.' Says she thought the expression was 'cabin fire.' "

This winter weather, the first real winter weather the East Coast has experienced in recent memory, has kept me trapped inside my house, feeling restless and irritable.

I am bored. I'm depressed. I feel isolated, and my husband and children, trapped indoors with me, are sitting on my last nerve.

As a result of this enforced togetherness, my house feels suddenly smaller, and as the walls close in on me, I notice that they all need repainting.

That's the trouble with cabin fever. Because we are closeted and irritable, we are displeased with every corner of our once pleasant homes.

With nothing else to do and nowhere to go, we now notice that the furniture is worn and the curtains are sun-bleached and threadbare.

It would be cheaper to winter in Florida than it is going to be to re-do, replace or redecorate all places in my house that I can't escape.

I can't help but notice that the wallpaper is peeling and the bathrooms are dated and the carpet is stained and isn't it about time to replace the appliances, not to mention the spouse, who doesn't share my urgent vision?

In order to keep from sleeping 14 hours a day, watching an endless parade of soap operas, talk shows and reruns of Murder, She Wrote, I have tried to keep myself busy accomplishing something.

I have sorted pictures, sorted papers, sorted clothes, and I am still out of sorts. I have cleaned out every nasty, dark corner of my house, sending a stream of unused and useless items out the door and to the curb:

Broken-down bookcases and the small library of self-help books they once contained.

A dozen cheap glass vases that once contained flowers sent to me by people who were not members of my immediate family.

A broken computer printer, a broken PlayStation, six broken cell phones and about 25 unidentified power cords.

Rid of the clutter, I began that vague process women refer to as "sprucing things up."

That means I went to the mall out of sheer boredom, and I purchased accessories and accent pieces that have no purpose or function except to replace a similar item that has just been thrown out.

I tried to expend this pent-up energy in the kitchen, where I made the warm and nourishing soups and stews that bring a familiar exclamation from my children: "Are there onions in this?"

Cabin fever is not considered a crippling emotional disorder, but it gets just enough attention this time of year to bring out the experts, who are no doubt feeling a little claustrophobic, too.

Among their suggestions to pass the confining days of winter are: learn a foreign language, play board games with your children or break out the sexy lingerie.

Write to old friends, start tomato plants from seed, visit a museum or change all the light bulbs in the house to ones with higher wattage.

Grill summer foods, like hot dogs and hamburgers, and serve up an indoor picnic, or buy a desk fountain or a CD of outdoor sound effects.

Plan a new garden, clean our fishing tackle (fishing tackle?), bake with our children or buy a new exercise video.

Or, we could pull on a hat and gloves and go outside for a walk.

Maybe winter wouldn't seem so confining if we didn't spend it inside.

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