Cabin Fever: Contagious, Just Like Real Fever


Now that we’re solidly entrenched in winter and starting the long, holiday-less gray time before spring, the mood in the Ference-Smith household is turning decidedly dour. Frank and I both suffer from some degree of winter sadness, and it’s been extra overcast and chilly in New York of late. Even in the best of times, the two of us are fairly moody individuals, so when the annual long dark teatime of the soul sets in, things can get ugly.
What’s especially difficult is managing the spirit of the house. Hausgeist? Anyone who doesn’t live alone—whether your cohabiters are boyfriends, roommates, or parents—knows what I’m talking about. Hausgeist is the invisible, silent current of mood and emotion that flows through every household, permeating every object with an almost tangible residue of whatever the prevailing feeling is.

After you’ve lived with someone for a while, you can sense what kind of mood they’re in, even if they haven’t said anything or done anything in particular. If their bad mood is polluting the hausgeist, it’s impossible to ignore.

When I was a kid, my brother and sister and I were very sensitive to our parents’ vibrations, and could instinctually tell when it was a bad time to ask for that curfew extension or get that report card signed. Since they were the rulers of the house, their mood currents determined how the household would go at any particular moment, and us kids pretty much just rolled with it.

In my apartment now there’s no clear alpha human, so clashing moods are a problem. It’s difficult not to be affected by a crappy hausgeist, particularly during the winter months when Frank and I are both permanently bordering on a snit. At the same time, you can’t exactly yell at someone for having shitty energy without sounding like a total hippie and at the same time, a jerk.

Still, nothing sucks away a good mood like another person’s bad mood, and that deflation often causes the good mood haver to lash out. An example:

ME: Stop being so grumpy. You’re putting me in a bad mood.
FRANK: I’m not grumpy.
ME: Yes you are.
FRANK: No I’m not. Stop yelling at me for nothing. If I were in a bad mood, that would be why.

Back and forth, ad infinitum, often with the characters reversed. There’s nothing to be done about mis-matched moods, but we are both people who are very attuned to hausgeist mood auras, and therefore get dragged into these wintertime mood spirals, where person A is grumpy, makes person B grumpy, person A feels better but now has to deal with grumpy person B, who drags them down, etc. You may be thinking that perhaps we both just need to get out of the house a little and get some air, but what you fail to understand is that it’s COLD out there! And very often wet!

So instead we get days like today, where I woke up feeling sour and Frank woke up eager to tear every single plastic bag we’ve collected over the last three years from our bag hutch cabinet thing, make a giant pile in the middle of the living room, and start sorting out which ones we can recycle and which ones we should keep. I won’t bore you with the back and forth, except to say that the only thing that salvaged the afternoon was buying some tropical skittles and watch four Robot Chickens in a row.

There’s no real solution to the hausgeist problem, as far as I can see, except for the thaw. And it’s not the hausgeist that’s the problem, in and of itself. When it’s working right and good moods are in the air, the shared energy can make both of us more productive and excited about life. Perhaps it’s not a good idea for two such moody, borderline depressives to shack up together, although I guess it’s nice of us not to inflict ourselves on anyone else.

Maybe we just need to get one of those lamps. I don’t know. To some extent, spending a few months of the year feeling groggy, lazy, and depressed makes the energy of spring and summer even nicer. Natural cycles and all that. Still, I’ll hold off making any significant meat cleaver purchases until it warms up. Just to be on the safe side.