New Year’s Resolutions: The Best Gift Your Depression Could Ask For

While I appreciate articles like this, where an author sets lofty, idealistic resolutions for the coming year, and even agree with most of the points she makes in terms of her resolutions, unlike the author, I detest/abhor/fucking hate resolutions. It’s like a big, gift-wrapped present for depression and self-hate.

First, you’re supposed to look back on the year. Ah, yes. I suppose there are some that look back on all the great things: “I got engaged!” “I lost weight!” “I got a promotion!” Though they would never actually bring those things up during New Year’s because being proud in front of others is often viewed at rubbing it in and pointing out the others’ inadequacies if they have not succeeded in those areas. (Unless you’re posting on Facebook, a depressive’s tornado of self-hate where everyone seems to be having THE BEST TIME EVER. ALL THE TIME.) But the truth is, most people, especially those with depression, look back on all of their failures: “I didn’t do the things I am supposed to do.” “I’m not the person I want to be.” “My life is imperfect.” “X and Y and Z happened and they were horrible thus, I suck.” And it becomes punishment – “reflecting” on everything you didn’t accomplish this past year.

I suppose the intention is meant to be inspiring. Take your “failures” and turn them into effective goals for the next year! This is the year you will finally be perfect! This is the year where you will be “happy” and fix all the areas of your life you and society have deemed inadequate. And these goals are so outlandish and often vague – it’s just so American. The foundation of our society is built on these incredibly grandiose ideas of a world we can never truly achieve. Perhaps this is done purposefully, to make sure we keep going and moving forward. But as a depressive, all I ever see when I look at the Constitution (besides an outdated document that doesn’t reflect our current society,) is “Look at how fucking pathetic life is. So much hate, inequality, oppression. We are really disappointing.” (And yes, this year truly does reflect these thoughts, even without the Constitution involved.) Same with resolutions. You can’t resolve to “lose weight,””be happy in your sex life,” or “be the change you want to see in the world.” After all, what would that look like? How much weight is enough? What does happiness in a sex life look like? What does this change look like? And are these supposed to be permanent changes or just for the year? How do we know if we accomplished them or not?

If fighting depression taught me anything, it is that life is a process and a journey. There is no goal line. There is no “right” way to be. There is no absolute “happiness” that you can obtain. Life is moments of bliss and joy; achievements and progress; failure and sadness. It is about trying to find an acceptance with whatever your world may be.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals. I have a sheet for DBT I fill out every day that has a list of the negative things I do that I do not want to do anymore. Examples include: allowing others to control my emotions, avoiding social situations, catastrophizing. Every day, I write down my urge to do it, and then if I did or not, and what skills I may have used to help myself choose to do the positive thing for myself.

And while I hope every day I can fight my urges and overcome bad habits, it’s a daily log. And some days, I don’t. And I’m not trying to get a perfect log, I’m just trying to notice the days when I don’t and see what happened that day, think about what I might have been able to do, and accept that I didn’t but maybe the next day I can, or maybe I need to try something different to help myself not do it. I don’t get points for not catastrophizing, (though my therapist does seem happy.) I’m not trying to “win,” and there is no finish line. (Well, I guess until I die or get so depressed again, rip the sheet up, call it a piece of delusional shit, and get back to catastrophizing.)

Living life with this simplicity – the goal isn’t to “be thin enough” or “have a boyfriend” but more like “self-care” and “interpersonal relationships.” And yes, I obviously have intangible, unrealistic goal narratives in my head. Because I do want to find this “happiness” I know doesn’t exist. And not just because it’s been ingrained explicitly and implicitly through every facet of my life, but because my depression branded it on my brain from a very early age to make sure I would hate myself even more than I did the year before. If that’s not a depressive narrative, I don’t know what is, but that shit is hard to shake.

So I just think we need to be cautious when we look forward. I’m not saying we should all give up – on ourselves, our country, our world. I’m just saying that maybe our goals should be about just trying to live life to the best of our ability, a day at a time. To look within ourselves and see if we can use the year to work on things. Not to fix them. I do want a better world and I want to play a role in changing it – but there isn’t a measure of success in how I do it. (Did I seriously just write that? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.)

So I don’t want to set resolutions at all. It’s too much pressure on things I don’t have enough control over. Given where I have been, being able to want that in and of itself is huge and continues to be a fuckload of work. So I suppose I do have one resolution, which is, to not have any resolutions – just live my life to the best of my abilities, whatever that may look like or be.

(It should be noted I will most likely reject this entire post should my medication stop working.)

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Life Lessons I Have Found Through Spinning

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I couldn’t find a realistic picture of someone spinning, so I had to just go with the bike by itself. FYI: if you’re smiling while spinning, you are doing something wrong.

I fell in love with spinning about two years ago. I’m not talking about Soul Cycle where you are in lines next to people like factory-farmed pigs, and the person leading the class has maybe 1% body fat. I’m talking YMCA spin classes with people over 60. I’m talking, waiting until a room is open, and spinning alone.

Spinning, for me, is about being healthy, getting rid of anxious energy, and letting out endorphins. And perhaps more importantly, it is about deciding what challenge I want and choose to achieve that day. I realized recently that spinning actually serves as a fantastic analogy to the work I am doing in my life outside the gym. I never thought sitting on a stationary bike could provide life lessons, but it really does.

Here are some examples:

~ Life is a personal challenge. It’s not about what the people around you are achieving or what their goals are. You set your own expectations.

~ You are allowed to change your “goal” as many times as you want, whenever you want. Some days, you are not going to be able to do as much as you thought you could. And that’s okay. That’s what tomorrow, next week, or next month is for. You decide what you can do today. Because living is fluid, changeable, and varied. And if that change is permanent, if the expectation was unreasonable or no longer viable, it doesn’t mean you have failed. You just need to change your perception and definition of your “goal,” or maybe even decide you don’t want one.

~ Some days, you will push yourself farther than you can imagine, and other days, you just have to show up. Both are accomplishments.

~ You are not alone. You are surrounded by others who face their own challenges and there is power in that. However, just because you are together, doesn’t mean your challenges, decisions, or choices are the same. Nor should they be.

~ Sometimes, you may feel that no matter how hard you work, you’re not moving forward or improving; that you’re stuck in a stationary place. Just keep at it. You are changing and becoming stronger through your efforts, even if it feels like you aren’t going anywhere.

~ If you can just get on the “bike,” you may be surprised at how far you can push yourself; the work you are capable of doing; and how good you can feel. Trying is an accomplishment all on its’ own. Acknowledge your effort, not just the end goal.

~ Some days are just shit. They’re boring and hard and annoying. Try to be compassionate towards yourself.

~ Sometimes you need a few days to step “off” and relax. Giving yourself breaks are an integral and necessary part of the process – they are not failures.

~ Some days it’s going to feel easy, like you’re on a flat, straight path; and some days that hill is going to feel so hard, it’s going to take all you’ve got to not give up. Just do what you can.

~ You don’t know what is going to happen or what you might achieve until you start. Some of your best days may be on a day where you feel tired or off. If you can just get on the bike, you may surprise yourself. You won’t know until you try.

~ There is more than one definition of success. You can define it. You can change it. And you can work to reach it, day by day.

~ This shit is hard. It takes tenacity, time, good and bad days/weeks, acceptance of change, and self-care. It’s sweaty and exhausting. It’s not always fun or fulfilling. You can only do what you can or want to do in that moment, and that is good enough. Just keep spinning/living.

The ironic component to this post, is that lately I have gotten so sick of spinning. I feel like my motivation has just died out. I’m going to try and go to more classes and see if I can recharge and rev up some enthusiasm. I have to accept that it’s okay if I can’t do it alone. Sometimes you need to be buoyed with support from others to make it through. See, look at that! There’s even a lesson in my anti-spin feelings.

Now, if I can just believe all the things I just wrote. ;)

The Myth of Normal

Okay, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but yes, I know that there is no “normal.” And yet, throughout my life, all I have craved was to just be normal. In the throws of depression, I suppose we all develop our own normal as it applies to the “what-ifs” and “if onlys” of our life at that time. Normal is the fantasy of all that is destroyed by the illness. The life we cannot have, the potential we cannot reach.

I remember during my breakdown, crying to my mother about how I could and would never be normal. I wouldn’t be able to have a healthy, sustainable relationship with a man. I would never be happy with my body. I would never not hate myself. I would never fully trust people. I could never just live life without ruining it through self-sabotage, perfectionism, comparison, and judgement.

At that time, normal was having a boyfriend, but still being really independent. It was enjoying my job without the constant fear of failure and burn-out. I would be successful but not too far at the top so I could have a life. I would go to brunch with friends, be open to adventures, meet people from diverse backgrounds, continue to try new things and always be learning. I was thin, pragmatic with money, with a job I was proud of, living in a city where I walked everywhere, and knew my neighbors. I had friends who called me more than I called them, and I knew they wanted to be my friends and needed me in their lives. I  guess normal was really the feeling of safety. A calm contentment and assurance of consistency and order. Boring never sounded so good.

I suppose that’s why this year has been so frustrating. Finally after spending pretty much my entire life in a clinical depressive state, I am evaluating, testing, relearning, trying. Today, I was running an errand, in the middle of the day on a weekday, and I got this terrible feeling: what if I can never go back to work? I’ll be on disability, running errands in the middle of the day with seniors, trust fund babies, and parents who are with their young children or maybe work from home. As I allowed my mom to pay for my groceries, I thought, what if I have to be dependent on my parents for financial support for my life? As I looked into my fridge, I wondered if I will ever be able to look at myself in the mirror and just be okay with it? As I avoided eye contact with a relatively attractive man (I was avoiding eye contact so it was blurry….) I thought, will I ever actually be able to be in a relationship with a man or am I going to have to go back to the old days of just getting drunk, and demoralizing myself to feel wanted for a few hours?

We are all different people, with different life experiences, and life is constantly changing, shifting, surprisingly us, failing us, guiding us. I suppose the realization I am supposed to have at the end of this post is that there is no normal and that there shouldn’t be. That it’s just a set of standards we set up for ourselves to fail because we will never reach it. Or maybe because it’s put upon us by society and what it tells us to want, need, and be in the world. Normal seemed so obvious and defined when I was so depressed. And now, with possibility, I’m dumbfounded to explain what normal actually is.

But I can’t seem to let the idea go – even knowing it’s an irrational myth. And I still crave to be “normal.” And I think I mourn the normal I never had … even if I know it wasn’t real.

I think deconstructing the myth will require letting go of judgement – of my past, present and possible future. And honestly I can’t even wrap my mind around that. I feel like if you took away self-judgement from my life, I would be just a sliver of a person – it has defined my humor, my outlook, my goals, and decisions. Honestly, it seems like it’s easier to believe in the illusion of normal, because – can you really fail at reaching something impossible?

So how do we handle the myth of normal? How do we not let it consume and control us? How do we redefine life without it, and can we?

overrated holidays: new years

i suppose my hatred of new years and my birthday were exacerbated by my depression. both holidays are intended to have one reflect on their past year and set goals for the future ahead.

in the past that meant reflecting on days of lying in bed crying, struggling to get out of said bed, and losing touch with people I love. and that’s really not inspiring for the second component of looking forward into the future.

and for those of us who have anxiety, looking into the future isn’t super helpful either. if i wanted a “what-if” party, i could just sit by myself in the quiet of my bedroom at 10pm – oh wait, i do that already.

this past year, i did allow people to celebrate my birthday for the first time since i was too young to say i didn’t want to. of course i have threatened people for so long not to mention it, it was actually kind of a let down. so i decided that i would pick a nice day from the past and decide that that day was my “birthday.” it’s an overrated holiday. whatever. besides, i’m like 15 years younger in terms of emotional maturity, so what age are we really talking about? i didn’t even expect to live past next year so i suppose indifference is a better view than analyzing who i’ve become.

as for new years, i’m not afraid to look back on this year. i’ve done some good work and while i have had set backs, i’ve been incredibly lucky to have found medication that has allowed me to push myself – even if it doesn’t look that amazing on paper.

as for the coming year, there are things i have to think about that involve decisions about my future – but i will deal with them when the time comes. for now, it’s about this month, this week, and this day. it’s about the bigger goals of self-compassion, growth, and internal strength-building. it might not look like much to others – another year of perhaps not working, not dating, perhaps failing in areas i have worked in. but i sadly don’t need a holiday to make me overthink that.

for those of you who are taking this new years hard, i plead for you to take this as an opportunity to do the exact opposite and choose not to look back or look ahead, but just try and face today. and like facebook, no one is really having that much fun anyway. take care of yourselves.

My First Birthday in Years

I prefer my cake without your spittle, but thanks.

I don’t know when it started, but I suppose it makes a lot of sense. I have spent most of my life developing a strong sense of self-hate, embarrassed by my existence, judging my lack of “lived” life and goals, and basically despising myself for being alive. So the idea of celebrating my birth and continued existence in this world with a “year to grown on” has always seemed silly and hypocritical.

I don’t really like holidays in general. There’s a part of me that gets so nervous: there’s all this pressure for that day. Like, on New Year’s – this is THE day out of 365 that I’m supposed to reflect on my life goals and make plans for the future? Thanksgiving – ugh. Here’s a day, out of 365, that I was supposed to stop, look at all the people around me, and think of all I had to be grateful for and how lucky I was and how others deserve the same but do not have it? What an IMMENSE amount of pressure for a day. It always seemed to me those days should just sort of happen throughout the year, in random moments rather than set times.

So I have a tendency to avoid those kind of holidays or at least avoid them until the last possible second before everyone arrives and I have to put on my clown costume and smile. The only ones I did like were these “holidays” my mom called “Just Because” days. When we were growing up, she would wake us up and tell us we could sleep in – we didn’t have to go to school. And then we could hang out with her that day – I don’t even remember what we did. But given that she worked quite a bit, it was so special to have the day to spend with her, no matter what we did. And it wasn’t on a specific day – it was just a random day (at least it seemed for us) where we got to make that day special and have fun.

But my birthday – that’s the worst of all. After spending an entire year running from my desires, being lonely, hating my body, my face, my personality, my life. After a year of feeling as if I am missing opportunities to grow, to experience, to find joy. After a year of and wanting, waiting and hoping to die. Well, after all that, the idea of getting together to “celebrate” me just seemed rather depressing. Woohoo – another year wasted; another year of burdening others; another year of pain! Here’s to the next!

In fact, if anything, my birthday has come to serve as a horrible marker in my depression. It was a day were I reflected on where I was, who I was, and how incredibly miserable I was in both of those dimensions. Unemployed, overweight, living at home, miserable, unable to leave the house. Perhaps not the best circumstances to “reflect” on. Also, during my depressive episodes, my birthdays have always served as expiration dates. A month before I turned 30 was the first time I decided I was going to commit suicide. I decided I would not turn 30 being the person I was. I panicked and made the minor (but helpful) “mistake” of telling some people. I began ECT a few weeks after my 30th birthday. About a year and a half ago, I sat my mom down and told her that if I was still in as much pain as I was then when I was 35, I was going to end it. Not because she didn’t do enough, not because I didn’t love her, but because I was tired and that just seemed like an age where it seemed fair to give up. (Needless to say, she disagreed with my “thoughtful and rational” idea.) Sometimes I tell myself that if this medication stops working and I hit rock bottom again, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m just too exhausted to keep trying.

Therefore, I have adamantly protested any “celebration” on the day of my birthday. In the past few years, we have agreed to stop mentioning my birthday on the day of. My family promised not to say anything or send cards. I might get a “gift” in the mail the week earlier or the week after, but with no acknowledgement of the birthday – more of a “love you” gift. My friends are harder to tame but given that I live 3,000 miles away from them, it does make a “surprise” party harder.

So, I am turning 34 in two and a half weeks. I’m not going to have a party. I don’t plan on making the day a romp around town, treating myself all day to elaborate “pleasures” of food and beauty. I’m not going to try and dress up or put on extra makeup or spend the day reflecting (ok, I probably will but I’d rather not.) I am not planning on blowing out candles and will not be making a wish. (I’m still not ready for “optimism” or thoughts of “the future.” Baby steps, people.)

But I think it would be nice to go out to dinner somewhere comfortable where I enjoy the food. Maybe I’ll make a yummy vegan cake and once again laugh at why everyone is so surprised when it tastes good. Maybe I’ll let someone take a picture of me, even if I know I’m not going to like it. I’m going to try and pick up the phone if someone calls to wish me a happy birthday. I’m going to thank people who email me. I will open cards and appreciate the love within them even though it is still a struggle to not protest their thoughts.

I think I kind of hope people wish me a happy birthday this year. Because while my life is still a chaotic mess of confusion, chaos, and clusterfucks – and while maybe next year I won’t want to celebrate – for now, I am grateful for the people around me; for the opportunities of growth I have had this year; for the strength and personal compassion I have found within myself; the decisions I have made; and the way I have handled disappointment and stress.

Happy birthday to me.