What are your hopes for the new year?
Do you hope for a better job, a chance to prove yourself in a career that you enjoy and that makes you proud?
Do you hope for a partner, someone to come into your life and provide you with the love and support you have been craving?
Do you hope for political change, for systems of oppression to be broken and for a change in your national discussion?
Do you hope for a different body, one that doesn’t give your embarrassment and humiliation, one that you can try to love?
Or do you hope to just make through alive?
I don’t know what your hopes are, but I do know that the New year is that strange time of year when we allot two weeks or so to reflection on self-improvement. I have always thought it’s a weird time in the seasonal calendar to drop everything and start again. I’ve always believed that this time of self-evaluation should really come in March or April: as the flowers begin to bloom and animals begin to breed seems like the most natural time to turn my thoughts to change. Not in the middle of a cold, grey, British winter when everyone is sluggish from too much food and woolly headed from the obligatory Christmas cold.
But here it is, with still two or three months of grey skies and bare trees ahead. New Year. With nothing new about it, except those new bits and bobs we picked up in the January sales and those resolutions, those damned resolutions we all pick up. January is the time for a new you.
Hope is a wonderful thing. It’s like oxygen or water, we need it to survive and we especially need it to survive the winter. From that perspective, new years resolutions almost make sense. They can be that hopeful kick that pushes you, five pounds heavier and sleep deprived, back to work to survive yet more winter with no Christmas on the horizon. Some people are like that, springing up on January first to start that running schedule to train for that marathon in July. Some people. Other people, people more like me, use new years resolutions as the whip to beat themselves into the ground.
New year, new you. New shoes, new you. New running schedule, new you. New diet, new you. New skill, new you. New haircut, new partner, new job, new baby, new anything and everything… New you.
How many times new years eve’s and subsequent days will I endure before I finally, truly, understand what I know to be true? That whatever you do, the one thing you are always stuck with is you.
In the past, this has been nothing but depressing to me. As someone with depression, I’m not using that word lightly. In the past, the fact that I am always running into my own failings and flaws and mental illness has been a contributing factor to my depression. It has made me isolated and anxious and frankly, suicidal. Wherever I go, there I am. Still depressed. Still mentally ill. Still angry.
But now, I’m embracing it. Something has changed. I don’t want a new me this year. Don’t misunderstand me, if someone presented me with a worrisome drug and said “this will ensure you never ever experience depression again,” I would probably knock it back before they finished the sentence. I wish I was better. I want to be cured. But I don’t want a new me. I no longer yearn for a head to toe transformation that I will hunt for and scurry after with different exercise regimes, classes, and lists of self-improvement. It turns out, I’m not done with the old one yet.
Because two weeks ago a doctor gave me a new diagnosis for an old disease. It has been squatting in my brain like an unwelcome house guest for nearly two decades. I’m happy to get rid of it if I possibly can, and maybe this medication and CBT will make 2017 the year I do get rid of it. But my mind has been changed by my squatter, and rather than wishing I could tear down the whole house and build it anew, just to get rid of that squatter and the pain it brings, I have now begun to think that I might like this house.
This mind that I have previously loathed, detested because I have thought it weak, treachorous, and liable to cause me only more pain and humiliation, this body that I have despised for being the wrong shape and size and uncooperative and damaged, this flesh house of mine that I have often thought of sacking in, this “me” that I have so often wished to trade in for something new. I am not quite done with it yet.
If 2016 has taught me anything it is that our damage is often our witness. The places I am suffering in are also the places where I can be most empathetic. I have never been able to subscribe to the oft-toted idea that I should be grateful for my mental illness because it makes me stronger, but this year I have been reminded that there is hope growing in this broken space. There’s no brain transplant for my condition, there’s no diet or course or dry January that is going to change me, and I don’t need them. I am the child, watching at the window for the first snow drops. Maybe they died under the earth, maybe I could slap some potted plants in there and cut my losses, but then I would never know. I would never know what could have possibly grown out of the dark, unexpected places.
Something good might happen here if I hold out long enough. I’ll wait and see.
So I am not looking for a new me this year. I’m sticking with old me; battered, bruised, depressed old me. New medication. New therapy. A new year. But I’m still the same. And for once, I’m going to let that be okay.
It’s midnight. The first minute of 2016 has passed and nothing has changed. My old self is still with me, and we seem to be doing okay. Let’s see if we can make it through 2017.
Happy New Year.