Happy new year! Which path are you taking for 2016?
So here we are, at the end of the first week of the new year, and I’m already talking about depression. Unfathomable, right? Or is it really? After all, we have just come out the other side of effectively two months of US holidays.
From Halloween, to Thanksgiving, to Christmas/Hanukah, to New Year’s Eve, my social media feeds have been one long, unremitting litany of enforced socialisation woes. Even friends who thoroughly enjoy time with their families have been acknowledging that it really is possible to have too much of a good thing.
Through the emotional safety of a blinking screen, and ready access to , I watched as people I love and admire tussled with the peculiarities of vacationing with ageing parents, adult siblings, extended family they hadn’t anticipated, and the pressures of being pleasant and amiable in an appropriately celebratory fashion 24/7.
There’s really no time for recovery between one holiday and the next at this time of year. We’ve only just scrubbed away the gothic glitter from Halloween, when we find ourselves shuffling up and down supermarket produce aisles with all the other Thanksgiving zombies, sizing up butterballs and turduckens, snatching for the last bag of brussels sprouts, and sniffing at pumpkins. No sooner are we rubbing our overstuffed bellies in somnolent glee, than we remember the candles we haven’t bought for Hanukah, or the cards we weren’t organised enough to take cheesy family photos for again this year.
When finally, the manic rush of the end of year celebrations have been bedded down, there’s the sudden adrenaline pumping worry whether we’ve got enough champagne to properly ring in the new year, because what are the Smiths doing for New Year? Should we invite them over? And what about the Jones’s? Aren’t they at a loose end this year too? It’d be fun to be together and see in our fortunes (with emphatic fist pumping gestures).
But who are we kidding? By around mid December, most people are exhausted by the year, overwhelmed by the greyness of the days (I’m not talking about you, people who love winter, but surely the cold could only be made more pleasant by a little more daylight?), and dragging their heels to yet another office party or neighbourhood get together.
Add into that mix the fact that most of my friends and family are deeply empathetic souls who care passionately about social justice, and changing the status quo for greater equality. Sprinkle over it, that these are people who attempt to walk in another’s shoes, see from another’s perspective, listen, understand, and feel every barb in the core of their being, and you have a volatile cocktail of emotions, just looking for a place to go
So I watched, with a mix of frustration and relief, as so many of my friends, family, and acquaintances struggled through the tail end of 2015. Because there is something about the anonymity of an online interaction, the emotional distance it provides, that allows people to share details they may not in person. We are the friend-strangers on the Facebook bus, divulging details and intimacies about our lives that we never imagined sharing.
I watched the calls for reassurance that relatives hell-bent on asserting their own opinions over the feelings of others could be dealt with. I watched as racist relatives, and unaccepting family were trotted out in a ghoulish anti-Macy’s parade. I watched as insecurities bubbled to the surface, as anxieties flared, as self-doubt gripped, and self-recriminations spewed forth. I watched people, who otherwise have endless wellsprings of energy and confidence, crumble under the weight of the many consecutive obligatory parties, gatherings of humans, with human frailties and failings.
I watched friends struggle with serious health issues, their own and those of loved ones. And, because I’ve reached the stage of life where ageing parents are ailing or passing away with predictable regularity, I found myself offering condolences too often.
From the emotional distance of the other side of the screen, I offered love, support, and advice when I had it and it was asked for. In the moments when it all got too much, I closed my laptop, took the dogs for a walk, and remembered that fresh air and clean water can be a balm on my wounded psyche.
The year didn’t start with trumpets and streamers, and that’s ok. There will always be moments when the world crowds in, when the wolves of self-doubt and anxiety bay, but as long as I remember to take some time for myself, get out into nature with the dogs, and spend some time in water and drinking it, I’ll be ok.
If you have any concerns about your own mental health, or you notice any of the signs or symptoms of depression or anxiety (you can check on Beyond Blue‘s excellent resources here), I urge you to seek professional help, to talk to someone who can be present and supportive, and to take good care of yourself.
You are important, you are valued, you are needed.
Suicide Prevention Hotline numbers around the world can be found here.