Like many other people, last year wasn’t kind to me. And last year, I wasn’t kind to myself either. I spent six months in an emotional wasteland of post-university underemployment ennui. Any passion I might have had for a future career soon withered under the real-world pressures of finding a job. The resumes and cover letters I kept writing and revising were so dull; nothing I wrote seemed to truly represent who I am and what my strengths are. In a sea of thousands of other graduates, I felt like a cardboard cutout person. My degree means nothing more than anyone else’s. There’s nothing distinguishing about me when you look at my CV. I’m disappointed in how easily I lost interest in jobhunting. I’m disappointed that I felt three years of my life and thousands of dollars of debt were wasted. I ended twenty sixteen feeling flat, jaded and completely directionless.
There are almost twelve months until the end of TWENTY SEVENTEEN. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the world this year (the US, Russia and China all gearing up to go – I try not to listen too much to world news; shops are still closed after November’s earthquake and I never forget for very long that there could be another big one coming). I don’t know what’s going to happen in my personal life either. I do know that there are certain aspects of my life that I can control. And I want to leave the feeling sorry for myself in 2016. I’m trying not to look back at all the shit I regret doing, but look forward at all the changes I might make for good. Here’s what I’ve got so far.
THE WHOLE ANXIETY THING. To say my anxiety was the most under-control it’s ever been last year is technically true, but it’s important for me to look at why that was. There are two reasons I can see, the first of which being medication. It’s thanks in large part to my antidepressants that I very rarely experience panic attacks these days. And if I do get panicky, I can reach for a beta blocker or a Xanax to take the edge off and give me back some control of my brain. When I’ve got medication to lean on in times of trouble, it’s so easy to sit back and think “well, if I have an anxious day the meds will always be there to sort me out” – it’s ended up that I haven’t been playing an active part in my own recovery anymore.
Secondly, circumstance also played a big role. For the second half of the year, not a lot was demanded of me academically or professionally – I had a very relaxed, minimal-stress job with low hours, wonderful workmates and superb bosses. The searching for a “proper job” and lack of success thereof got to me, but I feel like it hurt me the way it would hurt anyone. Anxiety didn’t much come into play. I imagine when confronted with real stresses again, my anxiety is going to take a hit. It’s so used to being sheltered and comfortable now that I can already imagine a busy schedule taking its toll on me in ways an ***average person*** might not experience. I want to seek out and learn of other ways that I can manage my anxiety in times of stress, because right now I don’t think I’d cope with medication as my main defense.
Here’s something I don’t really talk about, but I wanna start. HYPOCHONDRIA has been a big problem for me since I was eighteen, but it became especially bad last year. There are times when it can be debilitating, it infects my thoughts and knowing that it’s just “in my mind” doesn’t make its effects any less real and any less felt. I don’t want to think about all the money I spent last year with visits to the after-hours medical centre because I was convinced my tummyache was a cancerous tumour in my stomach, or some similarly ridiculous niggle. There have been nights when I can’t sleep because I’m afraid I’ll wake up dead. I’m often afraid of preparing food for myself because I don’t trust the implements in my flat, much less my own hand, to create a meal that won’t poison my gut. I’ve decided that this is the year I finally do something to quieten the hypochondria. A visit to the doctor seems as good a place as any to start.
While we’re rolling on this mental illness wave, I want to revisit the MEDICATION thing I brought up earlier. In August (I think), it will be three years since I started taking antidepressants, and around the same time it’ll be two years since I increased my dose from 25mg to 50mg. I’d quite like to see myself go back down to 25mg before this year ends. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get there, but I think it’s worth aiming for. One day I hope I can do well without antidepressants at all, and decreasing my dose will be a good step towards that. If I don’t get there, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s nice knowing I can stay on the meds long-term if it turns out that’s what my brain needs. Lowering my dose hopefully would mean less oversleeping and drowsiness – pretty minor things compared to the anxiety and depression I was battling before, but still things I’d like to say goodbye to in twenty seventeen.
This year I want to look after MY BODY, too. Last year I did not. This year I want to be better at treating my body kindly and respectfully – it is, after all, my home for the whole of my life. There are three ways I want to do this: by eating better, alcoholing less and exercising more. Very standard; nothing revolutionary. But it’s those basic things that are the most important, and most easily shoved under the table when things get busy and stressful. (Hopefully) not this year! There’s a lot more I could say on this resolution alone, but I might make a separate post about that so that this one doesn’t end up becoming monstrously long.
I want to make more time for PEOPLE, too – not just my nearest and dearest, but also friends I hardly see anymore. Friends I always say I should catch up with but never do. I’m historically terrible at keeping up conversations online or over text, and almost as bad at making concrete plans to see people. That’s a habit I want to try hard to break over the year. I think people are invaluable, and I don’t want to limit myself to spending all my time with just a few friends who I’m closest with. People are invigorating, they are different, they can offer perspectives and experiences I might never otherwise encounter. I want there to be room in my life again for people I used to know, and I want there to be room in my life for new people to come in and make little homes.
I hope that I get the chance to WRITE MORE in my leisure time over the next twelve months. That means checking in here more often, for one. I want to blog more about moments of happiness and pain in my life, about the things that I struggle with and the things that I am learning. About what it is to be a poor twenty-something living in a converted office building in Wellington, all the rough edges and poor decision-making – the desperation for a steady income and a life that doesn’t feel like it’s going nowhere special and nowhere fast. I’d also like to look at that more through a fictional lens, to do more creative writing than I did last year. It’s cathartic, and helps me make sense of the things I go through in real life. I’d like to get back to submitting for competitions and journals – once upon a time it was something I wanted to do for a living, and while I’m no longer sure about that, I still think writing is a worthwhile hobby to keep up.
I don’t know what I want MY FUTURE to look like, and that’s something I’d like to spend some time figuring out. It’s almost less of a want and more of a need at this point: I’ve spent half a year feeling directionless and uninspired, and that was half a year too long. I want to learn to be simultaneously MORE INTROSPECTIVE and EXTROSPECTIVE, rather than just sitting and hoping that the answers I need will just drop into my lap one day. I want to be more compassionate towards both others and myself. I want to give more love to the people in my life that so deserve it. To feel less of the selfish guilt that niggles at me so much of the time. I also want to be LESS RETROSPECTIVE – there’s a lot of shit I regret about last year, but I want to leave that in last year and focus on moving forward, and through whatever highs and lows are ahead. Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that I want to spend these next twelve months figuring out exactly what it is I want to aim for in life. Short-term, long-term, all of it – sometime last year I lost touch with what really impassioned me.
January feels tentatively hopeful. It’s a relief to be in a new year. To feel like I can start again. There are moments ahead when I am going to tremble and cry and have a lump in my throat that feels like it’ll never leave. There are going to be times when I’m eaten up by anxiety, when I’ll sweat cold in the realisation that I’ve fucked up, or someone else has and I’m paying too for their mistake. And I’m so afraid for those times. But there will also be times when I’ll laugh until I can’t breathe and my abs hurt from it, there will be times when I’m a gleeful mess, when I look across at someone and think thank god you exist. There will be times when I feel weak with relief, when I sleep long and deep after days of barely sleeping at all.
And those times will feel so damn good.