By Jody Elford
My first day of 2018 began with Dave and I strolling around the block at midnight. Flutes of ice-cold Asti in hand, we watched the neighbourhood fireworks. I don’t really like fireworks much. It’s absurd that at certain times of the year we find the wholesale use of very truly dangerous explosives to be acceptable. I can still hear my mind saying, ‘I hate you, New Year’.
That being said, it was very festive to take in the turn of the year with the gunpowdery scent on the stiff and chilly breeze.
I hate you, New Year
But it doesn’t feel like 2018 began in such a pleasant way. I will probably always remember that I began the first day of this year feeling extremely angry.
I may have mentioned this before, but I am not a morning person. Never have been. Even as a small child I was foul to get up early for school. To be honest, it’s best to not even bother talking to me until I’ve been awake for at least twenty minutes.
It’s also worth noting that I’d been fighting off a horrible cold for the previous few days. The relaxing date-night in and the fizzy wine we’d enjoyed at midnight had lulled me into my first proper sleep that week.
I saw the New Year in with Dave. Even though I was perfectly aware that staying up until 1 am would make my early start this morning marginally tougher than usual, I’d made peace with that.
Joyless, grey January
My shift was 7 am–3.30 pm, and would fly past as dawn shifts tend to.
All that considered, you can imagine how livid I was to be awoken with a start at ten to five this morning by our bastard neighbours. They are horrible people, and regularly feel the need to share their very noisy domestic disputes with the whole street.
Last New Year’s Day saw a policeman knocking at our door asking if we had witnessed their reported antics. Luckily we had been ringing in 2017 at a friend’s house and hadn’t been subjected to their shenanigans. However suffice to say one of them spent the first forty-eight hours of last year in custody.
I’ve always hated New Year. I’ve always struggled to find January anything but a joyless, grey month that I’m simply happy to get through. I’m a depressing, grumpy fart, and I know.
I can only apologise for the way I am.
It always makes me cry
New Year’s Eve celebrations have always given me the sense of emptiness and malaise that comes with feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed simultaneously. Perhaps it’s because of this confusing and ambiguous mixture of sensation and emotional numbness that I cry.
I am a prolific cry baby at the best of times, but there’s something about the striking of midnight. The overwhelming ‘coming togetherness’, and the absences suddenly brought into sharp relief.
The year left dead behind me and the next one stretched out in front of me, always makes me cry. Don’t get me started on Auld Lang Syne.
I remember even as a child being so frustrated by the beamish glee with which this heart aching song is belted as it came the stroke of midnight. The sentiment of this old folk song is warm and well-meant, loving and affirming, but I’ve always found it so teeth-achingly sad.
Even just a stirring instrumental rendition of it on Classic FM gives me a lump in my throat.
Struggling with festivity
What is it about New Year that is so depressing?
Well, plenty of people struggle around the entire festive period for reasons too numerous and complex to cover properly in this post. New Year is no exception. For me, there are a few reasons that New Year, and January generally, are occasions that are difficult for me and always have been.
Someone smarter than me identified that depression is largely brought about by living too much in the past. Obviously the use of hindsight to inform your plans and learn from your experiences isn’t just important. It’s sort of unavoidable.
If we didn’t we’d probably be dead, right? Around New Year though there is this sort of feverish hysteria, an obsession with providing everybody with a ‘snapshot’ of your past year. We’re supposed to spend it acknowledging our failings, troubles, achievements, and milestones.
Obviously this can be pleasant, especially if the good has outweighed the bad. But what if it hasn’t? What if your year has been really fucking hard? If nothing seemed to go to plan?
Reflection triggers anxiety
Even if it’s because of your depressed perception, as opposed to reality, retrospection and reminiscing can be painful, unproductive and triggering. Those of us with wonkier brains might also struggle with reflecting on the past in a controlled way. We become triggered and distressed by past events, perceived failures and unfulfilled plans or desires.
‘Oh, these little earthquakes’, in the words of Tori Amos, ‘Here we go again’.
For wonky brains, the ‘fresh start’ and ‘new beginning’ that the more optimistic of us tend to bang on about can actually be devastatingly overwhelming. If depression is living too much in the past, it’s true that anxiety is living too much in the future.
Making resolutions, mounting hopes and dreams for the impending (doom) year, even booking trips and holidays, any forward planning, poses an anxiety trigger risk. ‘Sickbrain’ expects my failure, tells me things are unlikely to improve or change.
I feel that moving forward is bleak, difficult, and pointless. It’s pretty uncomfortable and revisits me often at all times of the year, but especially on the night itself.
A distressing melodrama
If I got asked once, I got asked a squillion times, ‘What you up to for New Year?’
It gets to the point that it’s thrown about so much that I want to start providing peculiar and startling responses.
‘I’m planning on skinning up and skinny dipping in the Thames, actually, what about you?’
Isn’t it true that the vast majority of us either do the same old thing for New Year’s Eve, or do nothing? Or just do something relatively small? It’s just a party night, right?
This obsessive, ‘Whatcha doin’? Whatcha doin? Huh? Huh? Huh?’, makes me feel oddly left out and like a total anachronism. The sensation of existing on the fringe, or outside the bubble everyone else seems to inhabit, is amplified at times like party season.
It’s not that I don’t have friends, and it isn’t that I had no invites to anywhere. Nor is it that I am alone. It’s just that I have a lonely soul. It’s not that nobody cares about or wants me, it’s that my brain convinces me that I’m not worth having around. This strange social pressure to have a great New Year is bizarre and inconsiderate, so just stop doing it.
We’re all going to die
I’m older. My parents are older. Everybody I love is older. We’re all going to die. Everyone I love is going to die.
SOMEONE DO SOMETHING!
Obviously, all of the above is true. We’re all another year older by the time New Year rolls around, right? So quite why my wonky brain creates such a distressing melodrama about it eludes me. I fail to find the words to properly explain, so I won’t bother.
Nothing brings into relief your wonky-brained nature like the festive season. I am not a misery guts, as I love parties and spending time with loved ones. It distresses me being a Debbie Downer all the time, so of course we hide it, right? We numb out and make the best of it, suppressing all the badness and trying not to share it with anyone. My reason is because it’s fucking miserable and nobody wants that.
I desperately want and strive to ‘connect’ and engage with the season, and I even have fun when I attend events and join in festivities. But it’s always there, that lurking darkness. That sticky, inky part of my soul that I desperately don’t want to get on anybody.
I don’t want to hate you, New Year
So, what can be done?
How can we approach this time of year in the spirit of open-heartedness and wellness? Mostly, I think, it’s about being gentle with ourselves, which presents its own challenges. It’s also about being tender with each other. Let people withdraw and be a little introspective, if that’s what they need. Make people feel welcome – we love it – but don’t pressure.
Carve out your own traditions and festive markers to help you engage with loved ones and get into the spirit. It needn’t be a giddy celebration, a tall order of optimism and miraculous transformation. Instead, make your New Year expectations smaller, kinder, gentler.
Make kinder resolutions
Don’t resolve to transform your body – resolve to take better care of it. Please don’t expect to be a different person next year – instead focus on productive and new ways for you to express your true self. If big parties aren’t your bag, why not arrange a romantic night in with your partner? Or book yourself a New Year’s Eve spa or luncheon? Why not see in the new year with your favourite film, or a board game evening with a friend or relative?
Dave and I took a walk at midnight, which we’d never done before, and it was strangely refreshing and nice. Also, we toasted one another, just we two. Instead of making resolutions, we asked each other what we had hopes for, what we looked forward to. We didn’t focus on how difficult the year has been; instead we thanked each other for all the love and support we’ve shared. Then we goofed off and we laughed and we made a pillow fort in the lounge.
Take it easy
New Year’s Eve is yours as much as anyone else’s, and part of its beauty is that there is no right way to mark it. Even if you wish not to mark it at all! Take a night shift and give the gift of a New Year’s Eve off to someone else. You can also draw yourself a beautiful hot bath and get an early night to snooze in the new year.
Most importantly, moving into 2018 and once again trying to take a less hostile view of my old friend, January, I am trying my level best to just be. Now.
Just be present, now
I am overwhelmed and fearful about the beginning of another year. With some degree of terror, I’m wondering what fresh hell 2018 has in store. I struggle to look ahead with positivity, so instead I try not to. Because of this I am trying — and it’s really difficult — just to be present now, to focus on what I need now. In matters where I must look or plan ahead, I am trying to be kind, realistic and methodical. I am list-making, diarising and asking for support.
Just this evening, I confessed to Dave that I don’t feel okay and had a huge, snotty, sexy, blubbering cry. I am riding triggers and urges almost constantly. There is a chronic numbness, and that disquieting feeling of being weirdly outside of everything persists.
We’re not alone
I’m here, though. Despite it all, I’m here. We’re together and we’re not alone. I have people who love me, despite what my sick brain tells me. There are friends and colleagues that care about and support me, even if my illness makes me worry about what they think of me. Luckily, I have a devoted partner who vehemently rejects my wonky brain’s notions about him leaving me.
I understand that I am not okay, and that is okay. It is a new year, but what does that really mean anyway? Nothing. I remain at the stage of progress I was at before midnight struck on New Year’s and I will continue trying to pursue that progress.
Reproduced with permission, originally posted on mentalbabble