For a large portion of my life my new years resolutions were always the same. Lose weight. Gain confidence. Do something that scared me.
Yeah, maybe, on paper. It looks like a good combination of specific and vague – nothing focused on giving something up, all focused on starting something. They say that’s the best way to do it, in all those women’s magazines.
So why aren’t I doing that this year?
Because even if it sounds healthy, it wasn’t healthy for me.
Maybe you should ask yourself if it is really healthy for you, too.
Why wasn’t it healthy for me? Well for starters, I couldn’t lose weight safely, the eating disorder pretty much took care of that one for me. A lifelong ban on scales for mental health reasons meant I was only ever judging it on how I looked bigger or smaller in the mirror, which only leads down a dangerous road. Then to follow, as a teenager I used to think confidence was gained through nice clothes, high grades, slim figures and a boyfriend, not from doing what you loved and believing you were loved. And finally, pretty much everything scared me. How could I choose just one? Things that made me anxious covered everything from ordering food in a restaurant to abseiling. I simply truncated the new years resolution into simply not being scared. Ever again. Ever. Perhaps you are thinking, why didn’t I just pick a less intense resolution, like to read one new book a month? I tried that, and it didn’t help for one simple reason. For me, any resolution I made was only about one thing: Being a better person.
You will be better, you will be stronger, you will be thinner.
Read one new book a month? You will be better, you will be smarter, you will be better educated.
I was sucked into the “New year, new you” mentality.
And why not? For someone like me who has struggled so much with myself, the idea that simply meditating for five minutes every day or joining a running club would completely transform me into a new person was amazing. No more depression, no more anxiety, I could be different, I could be better, all I had to do was a couple of things.
For someone with mental health problems this type of thinking can be incredibly dangerous, and for years I didn’t know, but I wasn’t just setting myself up for disappointment. I was setting myself up for a serious relapse.
A large part of my acceptance of my mental illness has been acceptance of the fact that there might not be anything I can personally ‘do’ to make it better. For the longest time I believed that if I just ate the right amount at the right time, if I just got the right amount of sleep, if I just maintained an iron-clad grip on the whole situation, then I would be okay. It took some professionals and some hard time in therapy for me to really understand that I was fighting with a real illness – something that needed to be fought with medicine and time, with guidance and careful consideration of my body and what it could handle. It couldn’t be fought with my own mind, with all the little controlling features I had developed. Those fail-safes I had introduced were only making it worse, only making it harder. Trying to control it was only making it less controllable.
When I sat down at the start of the new year and made a list of things I wanted to change, things I thought would make me ‘better,’ I was allowing myself to be tricked into thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could cure my depression with a new years resolution.
Maybe I could fix it. Maybe I could control it. Maybe it wasn’t a real illness and all I needed was some rules, a few more rules, and I would feel much better. Maybe.
That’s not to say that new years resolutions don’t help people – that they can’t be responsible for excellent lifestyle changes that make a person happier and healthier in the long run, like quitting smoking or giving up marmite. (That would make EVERYONE happier!) For example, my partner is amazing at selecting something he wants to add to himself and doing it throughout the year. Last year it was writing an ebook (he wrote two), and this year it is learning Italian, (Pinguino is Italian for penguin). But he hasn’t bought into the whole ‘New year, New you,’ idea like I have in the past. He periodically sets himself goals throughout the year, and new years just happens to be one of them. I’m not like him. In the past I have believed the advertising, I have scoured the magazine articles, I have joined online programmes. I have been looking for a new years resolution that will change my life. Something that will change me.
But when your life involves a mental illness like mine, it’s got to be a pretty miraculous new years resolution. The idea of new years resolutions and the new year itself is all about fresh starts, new beginnings. In mental health there are no fresh starts, there are no new beginnings. There is just you, and the road ahead of you, and you carry with you everything you have learned so far about staying alive and walking forward. That’s the way it should be – it keeps you from stumbling, it maybe keeps others from falling.
So I’m not resolving to do anything this year. I’m not hoping to make a new me. This is who I am, and I am stuck with her, for better or for worse. Maybe the new year will bring healing, maybe the new year will usher in the first year in sixteen years that I haven’t experienced depression, but the signs don’t look good so far. But I can be hopeful. I can be hopeful and trust in the medication I take, the support that I have, and the Power of the universe that I believe in that maybe this year I might get better. Maybe I might be made new. But I’m not going to try and do it with a resolution.
Instead, I’m taking on board the word ‘Resolve.’
Dissolve. Disintegrate. Loosen.
I am loosening my grip on who I believe I should be. I am dissolving my expectations of myself as a ‘better’ person, a healthy person, a person without illness. I am looking forward, not with a firm grip tightening around my hopes for myself, afraid that if I don’t control the situation it will slip away from me and I will never be the person I hoped I would be, but with open hands.
I am resolving.
I am choosing to let go.