My heart sank when I saw the first of the ‘It’s been a wonderful year!’ type pictorial summaries pop up in my Facebook feed. It seemed to start even earlier this year, and just as the equivalent gimmicks did over the last couple of years, it’s spreading like wildfire; like some sort of contagion. In addition, I know that come 31 December, my feed will start filling up with expressions of festive cheer, thankfulness and the highlights of my friends’ lives over the last year.
If there were a Scrooge of the New Year season, I would probably be it. If there were a New Year’s alternative to ‘Bah humbug’, I would probably use it. But at the risk of losing those of you at this point who think I’m simply a mean and grumpy party-pooper – I have a serious point to make.
As soon as Christmas is over there can be a tendency to breathe a sigh of relief and to think “we did it – we survived the holidays”. However, for me, and perhaps for some others with mental health difficulties, the worst part of the holidays is still to come. Christmas is never easy – spending time with my parents and my parents-in-law is generally full of different types of triggers. As with previous years, there have been times of holding back tears during the day, and letting tears flow at night. But I have been dreading this coming New Year’s Eve ever since last year’s New Year’s Eve; and over the last month, as I have felt it coming closer, the more worried I’ve become.
I know that my anxiety over New Year’s Eve is fuelled in part by what came after it a couple of years ago – several weeks of one of the worst periods of depression I have ever had. Whether New Year’s Eve was the trigger for it, or just the beginning of it, I don’t know, but the whole experience has left me dreading this coming January and the night that heralds it in.
Christmas is widely acknowledged to be a difficult time of year for many, including those with mental health difficulties. Because it is a time of year traditionally spent with family, it highlights issues of loneliness or alone-ness; issues of family relationships and difficult dynamics. Add to that the pressures of trying to make the day ‘perfect’ for yourself and for others, and the sheer logistics involved, and it can make for a horribly stressful and potentially unbearable experience. The sheer number of articles published on the internet and through social media at this time of year on surviving the holiday season, is testament to that.
But for me, the pain of New Year’s Eve is of a different kind. It’s not about the people or things that are present, or even absent. It’s about the things that are lost. For me, the pain of New Years’ Eve is the pain of grief. Let me explain.
New Year’s Eve is all about looking back with thankfulness and looking forward with hope. Last year, as I read the constant stream of Facebook posts highlighting all the good things that had happened to my friends, all the things that they were grateful for over the last year – I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by immense feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It makes me feel as awful to write it, as I felt guilty for feeling it. I didn’t begrudge my friends their happiness, or even their expression of happiness. I was glad that they remembered people and events that they could be thankful for, and even more, that they were able to feel thankful for them. But one of the things social media does so well, and often to such detriment, is to facilitate comparison between oneself and others. When I see so much joyfulness and light around me, it’s difficult not to dwell on my own lack of joy over the last year, and on the lack of hope and the blackness that’s inside me.
I know – I know – that what I see on Facebook is selective. It is what people choose to show others –and often times, they choose the highlights, and leave out the rest. I know that some of those friends who shared ‘It’s been a wonderful year!’ type posts on their timelines, have had a far from easy and joyful year. They have had personal illness, family illness, difficult circumstances of all kinds. But they are still thankful – they are still finding things to be grateful for. It’s one of the cruelties of mental illness, I think, that it can rob you not just of joy itself, but of the desire or capacity to look for joy or hope, wherever it may be found.
Last New Year’s Eve, while other people were feeling grateful for good times, despite the bad times, I was grieving over my time. Time wasted and lost to the mire of depression; to the self-absorption of pain; to the hell of mental illness. Time lost looking inwards instead of outwards; time wasted living inside my head instead of living in the moment. What strikes me over and over again as I read blogs by those with mental health difficulties, are the expressions of grief over months, years, and decades spent living with a mental illness, striving towards recovery and release from pain. In an article in the Sunday Times in December 2014, Rachel Kelly, author of ‘Black Rainbow: How words healed me: My journey through depression’, wrote about her recovery from depression, but “at a huge cost in wasted years, especially when my children were young”.
And that, of course, was the other aspect to my grief. It wasn’t just my own time I was mourning. It was my children’s time as well. People are always saying, aren’t they –“enjoy your children while they’re young” – but what if you can’t? I grieved the times I could have spent with them and they with me – but with a ‘me’ more capable of laughter rather than raised voices; more capable of tolerance rather than impatience; more capable of paying attention rather than withdrawing. Added to the grief was a heavy weight of guilt for not giving them the ‘quality time’ they should have had – for robbing them of something. For giving them their own grief, whatever subconscious form it might be taking at their age.
So this year, I’m not going to join in the social media New Year’s Eve jamboree. I’m going to watch some DVDs, and then go to bed. I’m going to post a ‘Happy New Year’ message on the morning of 31 December, and then try not to log onto Facebook again until January 2nd. I don’t think anyone will notice my absence, but if they do, I hope they will forgive me. I hope that they will understand that I’m not a kill-joy or mean-spirited; I’m not wallowing in self-pity or unaware of the fact that everybody hurts. I’m not sad about their happiness or resentful of their joy. I’m simply grieving for my time; for my wasted year. I wish I could see it as something other than wasted – as a necessary step along the path towards recovery and fulfilment. But I’m grieving the loss of that ability too.
I wish more was written about the difficult feelings that New Year’s Eve can trigger, particularly in those with mental health difficulties. I’d like to ask you to increase awareness by sharing this as widely as possible on social media – but there’s a slight irony in that. As well as a touch of hypocrisy. Perhaps I should be asking you, instead, to increase the chances of your own well-being by joining me this December 31st in a DVD marathon of your favourite TV series and a twenty-four period of Facebook or Twitter abstinence.
Go on, give it a try –and I’ll see you on the other side.
December 31, 2014 at 12:41 am
Congrats for Coping Ahead and planning some Self-Soothing activities. For knowing your limits and not giving in to what everyone else wants you to do, or what you think they do. I don’t know what I’m doing for New Year’s yet. Usually nothing. Probably the same this year. Hope your New Years is good for you.
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January 1, 2015 at 9:00 pm
Thank you so much Joyce. It’s times like these, and feedback like yours, that help me to realise that at least some of the insight or knowledge I’m gaining in therapy, is very slowly being put into practice….I hope you had a good new year, and that it wasn’t too triggering for you. I think doing nothing is fine, particularly if the pace of life is normally hectic – it’s been a long time since I’ve gone out on New Year’s Eve! It was better this year, taking a break from Facebook. I did watch the fireworks on TV which was a little difficult and I might consider just going to bed before midnight next year, but I think the break from the social media hype definitely helped.Wishing you the very best for 2015 and looking forward to all your future posts!
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December 31, 2014 at 12:42 am
Reblogged this on MAKE BPD STIGMA-FREE!.
January 1, 2015 at 8:56 pm
Happy New Year and thank you for the reblog! 🙂
January 1, 2015 at 11:45 pm
You’re welcome! 🙂
December 31, 2014 at 1:03 am
I feel less alone knowing that I’m not the only one finding the festive season awful. Facebook’s pictorial summary of my year was an awful reminder highlighting all the interpersonal relationships I’ve lost and the barreness of my life.
January 2, 2015 at 7:08 pm
I’m glad the post helped, and thank you so much for commenting! Facebook can be such a trigger and you’re definitely far from alone in hating this time of year. I found that it definitely helped staying away from Facebook for 31 December and 1 January, and I’m even considering whether to refrain from ‘seeing the new year in on TV’ next year, and whether to just go to bed early! It’s good to be able to reflect and look back in our own time – whether in therapy or through other means, rather than having it all flood back and overwhelm us all at once, because of external circumstances. I hope your new year went okay, and that the night itself wasn’t too triggering. Take care…
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December 31, 2014 at 6:12 am
You are not alone. I spent my first ever 24 and 25 home alone, and although l travel today to a cousin’s in Vienna – we are staying indoors and working or just chatting our’alone’ selves away. I am not even feeling guilty about it, have lost and been through triple much already. I have kids several oceans away so what else is there to look forward to than someday returning to them when they can still remember me…?
January 2, 2015 at 7:16 pm
Thank you so much for your comment Marie, it’s so good to hear from you again! I’m so sorry I never managed to continue our email correspondence – work completely overwhelmed me in the couple of months leading up to Christmas. I hope you had a good time with your cousin – spending time indoors and chatting sounds lovely and a wonderful way to spend New Year’s Eve! I’m so sorry your children are so far away and I wish with all my heart that you will be reunited in the near future. I am sending all good wishes and hugs for you in this new year and look forward to continuing to keep in touch. Take care!
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January 2, 2015 at 8:03 pm
Thanks sweet, sure am still here in Vienna and just enjoying the calm and her company. We have a lot in common and r very close. Indeed her own kids r at their dad’s also because she wanted it so! I am working towards reuniting with my kids by 2018 max, everything being equal – and that plan keeps me ‘sane’ to be candid! I wish you the best too, to you and yours!
January 1, 2015 at 7:46 pm
New Year’s day is always a tricky time and it’s easy for that to escalate into a few days/weeks of our mood being in the gutter. It’s the end of all that pent up emotion, of pretending we’re happy and festive. In effect, we do whatever we can to hide what is an illness… how demoralising is that. Giving Facebook a miss for a couple of days is good self-protection and I usually get the tree and decorations down asap.
Wasted time… mmm… a tough one for me too. My distress was for the wasted YEARS. I’m not quite sure about it being for all other things wonderful, although maybe we might hold that view in time. What I do know is that the root to those gut-wrenching feelings of loss for the wasted time is our own guilt and self-blame… “it’s all our fault we’re like this.”
Right now, we are doing the best by ourselves. Therapy IS the chance to forge new beginnings. I look forward to sharing in this year’s therapy journey!
January 7, 2015 at 9:18 pm
Thank you so much for your reply Cat, and yes, therapy IS the chance to do learn how to do things differently and ‘start again’. I am really looking forward to sharing in your therapy journey this year through your amazing blog and our ‘conversations’, which mean so much to me and are so incredibly helpful 🙂
As for loss and wasted time….yes, I blame myself and that feeds the grief. But I think I also have a fair amount ‘existentialist angst’! Death and ‘running out of time’ is a big underlying fear for me, and the grief over ‘wasted time’ is part of that. In some ways, I’m just as ruled by the spectre of the guilt and anguish I think I _will_ feel at the end of my life, as I am by the guilt and anguish I feel now. I also have an inner belief that ‘the end’ will be premature, and so the amount of time left is not as large as it might be….death – one of the very difficult topics I’ve managed to mostly sidestep in therapy so far…
January 3, 2015 at 2:21 am
I definitely feel you on this one!
New years is always hyped so much as a time of celebrating ‘all the fun and amazing memories’ had over the year. But when your year has been an abridged version of hell, you can’t help but feel angry at your struggle and envious of the happy lives others seem so easily capable of. While others celebrate, you can only mourn.
When new years approaches I always feel so anxious about time, how fast the years of my illness are piling up, how much of my time is slipping away from me, sucked in by pain and hopelessness.
Part of my mind fights me to follow the crowd and ‘decide’ that the next year will be MY year, that it’s as simple as a calendar change, while another part reminds me how insurmountable a whole year is and that it’s just not that simple for me. It’s a sad reminder.
I’m very proud of you for choosing to spend new years quietly and away from the trigger happy events occurring in abundance outside. I hope this helped you to pass the time well. Though I spent new years taking my nephew to the fireworks I tried hard also not to invest in the hype. My personal calender needs to flip over one day at a time and I’m trying to remember this and stay focused on the little things.
February 9, 2015 at 11:04 pm
Aimee, I’m so sorry it’s taken me so ridiculously long to respond to your lovely comment. January has been very hard, and February continues to be so (not as much at work anymore, but more so at home). I’m very behind with comments generally – being so low has also meant I’ve been doing more sleeping (probably a good thing overall!) and this has contributed to not being able to spend as much time on my blog. But I digress….! I completely agree with your statements about time, and love your phrase ‘how fast the years of my illness are piling up’ – that is exactly how I feel. I feel them piling up, and I see them as a proportion of my children’s childhoods…..Thank you for your lovely words about being proud of me, and it’s great that you too, were trying not to get caught up in the hype. Awareness is half the battle, and focusing on the little things I hope has helped….how are things going for you? How was January, and how is February going? Are you managing to stay focused on those little things? Wishing you all the very best, and do stay in touch xx
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February 10, 2015 at 5:00 am
It’s not a problem at all that you’ve taken time to reply. I completely understand. 🙂
January was less than ideal for me too and sadly February is already following suit. Still I’m trying daily to shift the weights within me and find something to cling to, to move forward on.
Stay well, hope to talk soon!
February 11, 2015 at 9:06 pm
Thank you so much for your understanding, and you stay well too – I’m sorry January and February are also less than ideal for you too, but finding something to cling onto, anything, is so important, and here’s hoping that we both require less clinging in March! xx
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January 3, 2015 at 9:58 pm
I did Game of Thrones and went to bed at 11.30, happy out (bar a minor row with HUbby on the exact stroke of midnight). Really dislike the whole year in review thing that was going on on facebook, and have no time for the multiple new year messages that clogged up my news feed………..and you thought you were bah humbug about the whole thing!! 🙂
January 8, 2015 at 2:59 pm
Wow! I could have written what you just said here. I also fear death and have done since childhood. My future death and running out of time is also very potent. I am 51 and imagine myself to have about 15-20 years left to make all the desired improvements. However… and this is a big HOWEVER, I have this inner fear that my own end will also be premature. Therapy seems to have made this fear worse in recent weeks. As I begin to “recover,” my head has never felt so ‘together’. It would just be sod’s-law if I died just as I was beginning to make progress.
I’m not sure if I purposefully sidestep this topic in therapy, although whenever I have considered raising it, I do feel a little silly. I know we can die at any time. We might even be dead by tomorrow, but this does little to comfort that inner fear. Now that you have mentioned it, I imagine it will be a topic for discussion in my own therapy fairly soon. 😛
January 9, 2015 at 6:51 pm
I’m glad you shared. I put myself on a bit of a Facebook hiatus around the holidays for similar reasons, and it makes me feel better to hear that others did the same thing. It’s always reassuring to know that you’re not the only one behaving in a way that’s “weird.”
January 20, 2015 at 11:40 pm
Thank you so much for your comment, and apologies it’s taken me a while to reply! I’m glad you found it helpful to know you are certainly not alone in taking a break from Facebook during the holidays 🙂 I often think it would do me good to take a break from it at other times of year as well, but it’s so hard to actually motivate myself to do that! I hope you have ‘come out the other side’ of the holidays and that January is treating you okay – take care….
January 19, 2015 at 4:45 pm
It’s a bit late… this is 19 January, 2015, but I hope you got through the new year okay.
For what it’s worth, I don’t rate the new year either. I think it’s because people hype it up and it falls flat every single time.
Much better to stay home and away from the craziness. x
January 20, 2015 at 11:45 pm
Thank you 🙂 and happy (belated) new year to you too! You’re right, anything that hyped is bound to fall flat. I turned on the TV ten minutes before the fireworks and caught a bit of the Queen concert and my favourite song of theirs, ‘The show must go on’, so that was good! I survived but things are still very difficult though thankfully better than this time last year. The holiday low combines with a horrendously busy work time at this time of year, which is not a good combination! How was your break? One of the big down-sides of work craziness is not just not being able to blog, but not being able to read blogs either, so I feel like I’m really out of the loop with how others are doing and what’s going on for them….sending you warm wishes and hoping you have a grand year in 2015 xx
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December 29, 2015 at 9:29 pm
Reblogged this on Life in a Bind – BPD and me and commented:
And….it’s that time of year again. And once again I’m dreading it, and this post from the end of December last year describes why, and is just as true then, as it is now. If anything, I am even more frightened of the depths of January this time, than I was last year.
The challenges of the holiday season are far from over, and if you either are someone, or know someone with mental health difficulties, please do reach out to receive or give support this New Year’s Eve. An understanding text (that doesn’t just say ‘Happy New Year’!) can make all the difference….