the worst month

Baths: The Key to Surviving February

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It’s that time in February where I’ve started thinking that maybe I should, I don’t know, change careers, have another baby, leave town, get a divorce, move to Paris and live at Shakespeare and Company, except I figure it’s winter there, too. What I should really do is maybe get a gym membership and sit in front of my SAD lamp more dutifully. What I will do is mainline vitamin D, white-knuckle it to March without making any big decisions, and spend half an hour in the bathtub every night as if it is a means of survival.

And it is. I didn’t mean to take up this near-habit, to make “take a bath” part of my nightly routine, just after “do the dishes” and just before “read the internet for an hour,” but it’s happened nonetheless. Water shortages aside, it has a lot to recommend it.

For one, taking a bath is something specific to do that doesn’t involve making plans or going outside. Two, there are no screens, no other people, no coats or shoes. Showering is for cleaning yourself — on this, bath critics and I agree — but a bath is for lying down naked in very hot water and staring at the ceiling, not looking at your phone. I don’t necessarily recommend staring down at your winter body while you do it, but the braver among us may do just that.

The bath can be a ritual but should never be a task. Do not put it on a to-do list. It should be something that, even if you do it every night from mid- to late February through March, occurs to you anew over and over. Huh! you should think. That would be nice.

If you’re cold: Take a bath. If you’re sad: Take a bath. If you’re trying to drink less or eat less or send needy texts less but are so panicked that your shoulders are at your ears and you can’t stop worrying you said a weird thing in an email and your friend is trying to think of a kind way to tell you she never wants to talk to you again: Take a bath.

A bath is free, a bath is alone, a bath counts as taking care of yourself. It is a transition, from day to night, clothes to pajamas, “head spinning” to “ready to sit up in bed and read for half an hour without checking your email.” It is a place to go without leaving the house. There is nothing to accomplish in the bath — a bath is not for washing your hair, unless you’re really committed to not showering the next day. (A nightly bath does not preclude a morning shower.)

I’ve always loved baths, but I sort of fell out of the practice when I lived in an apartment where the tub was approximately 2.5 feet long and the ceiling routinely fell down in huge chunks of mold-covered plaster and then cement. That, and until I had a baby I was a free human who could leave the house when I wanted. I didn’t know to savor my freedom, to be grateful for the fact that my boobs weren’t permanently out and attached to a baby between the hours of 7 p.m. and, oh, the next morning. This is how I spent most of early parenthood, in bed. It was very relaxing, if you can call low-grade depression relaxing.

Now that my son has a bedtime and sleeps alone in his crib, I knock around the house like a ghost, picking up toys and staring at my phone and painting my toenails and paying bills and eating ice cream. It was the strangest thing at first — you mean I could even leave the house? I try to hold on to that feeling of found time, to not spend the hours between dinner and sleep in a haze of good intentions and then self-loathing. “I’ll just finish work after dinner.” No, this never happens. Especially not in February. If I were being realistic I’d say, “You know what I’d love to do? Open an email draft and then read some articles that someone has linked to in the time since I last refreshed Twitter.” I don’t set my timer for four hours and hope to catch up on everything I might have missed when I was, oh yes, also reading the internet all day.

A bath is not necessarily a moral good, but it’s not something you need to feel guilt about either. Unless you live in California, in which case February does not apply to you anyway. This month I have to spend all my free time safeguarding against guilt and self-loathing, to have ambitions like “Leave the house” and “move my body,” but also expect to not meet them roughly half the time. I am so sick of looking at my weather app I want to die. Being alive in the month of February is like having the sad part of PMS for 28 days straight — 29 on a leap year! One must not lose sight of this. Every time your friend mentions wanting to die, get a divorce, run away, move to Los Angeles, start a new career, just say, “It’s February. February is horrible.” We should all just consider this a given, and we should all be actively looking for really elaborate soups to make to give our shitty little lives some meaning.

The key to getting through February is doing every “Huh! That would be nice” thing that pops into your brain without thinking about it too much. Do not talk yourself out of making soup. Do not say it’s stupid, that soup is just vegetable water, that it is warm juice, that you don’t want to spend money or effort, or debate what shoes to wear. In February you need a project or you will die. In lieu of any better ideas, your project is now bathing. Respect the month and light a goddamn candle. Buy bath salts that you spent too much money on and don’t even really believe in. Set a glass of wine on top of the toilet. Make the water as hot as you can stand it. It’s really all you have going for you. Sit in your own filth in the dark and get a little bit drunk and pray for daylight saving time, here before we know it.