Putting the ‘Resolve’ in Resolution

Why Do We Make New Year’s Resolutions?

Social convention plays a big part. A typical small talk topic leading up to December 31st is ‘Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions?’ 

At this point, many of us grasp at the first thing that pops into our heads that we find least desirable about ourselves and lead with that. Otherwise it’s an activity we think will be impressive if we express interest in perusing it, or, in desperation, we just vaguely mutter something about diet and exercise. 

Thus, the initial issue with New Year’s Resolutions is that they are non-committal, often vague and generic statements thrown about in the name of festive convention. We are not motivated or inspired, the intention is not there to make them thus there is no ambition to keep them and so they are unfulfilled before even being acknowledged. 

Why Does New Year Appeal for Sudden Goal Setting? 

It’s tidy. The first day of a new year sounds like it should be highly motivational, a neat new start, sweeping out the old and starting fresh.

Perhaps this Spring Cleaning tradition would work if the New Year still began in March, when the days are growing longer and the weather is improving, more of us would be able to maintain their enthusiasm and eat healthier and exercise more. 

But the middle of winter is when the majority of us are seeking for comfort from food and warm blankets. 

What Results in Repeatedly Making Resolutions We Never Keep? 

Most of us are self-aware enough to know that we have faults, accompanied by a desire to ‘fix’ them. 

This means one of two things: either we are trying to go cold turkey on undesirable aspects of our personality (my impatience for instance) and get tripped up by being disappointed in ourselves when we are not perfect and make mistakes like losing our temper over parking tickets or someone drinking out of our special mug at work; or we are trying to undertake projects that we simply do not have the time, year after year, to complete. 

Perhaps the first step with the latter would be to improve our ability at budgeting our time and learning to prioritise, and for the former, we need to learn self-love, not to never change, but to respect ourselves and trust our ability to improve overtime. 

Change is never instantaneous and to act like it is (something that is intensified at New Year) is to set ourselves up for disappointment. We should instead appreciate that change is slow, show ourselves the patience and encouragement we would give others when we experience momentary lapses to bad habits. That way, these slips would be short-lived set backs, not obstacles that holt our progress. 

Effective Change is Born of Positivity not Negativity

The core issue is our expectations; our desire to be our best selves, coming up against our idea of perfection and falling short. 

Too often we are focusing on altering rather than enhancing characteristics.  

One of my friends included among their resolutions (it was a long list) to ‘be kind’. This is, of course, coming from a kind person. People are kind, most of us just struggle to be kind to all people all of the time.

I guess we could look at the issue of this ‘be kind’ resolution as being a blanket statement – goals should have some form of measurement (otherwise you will always fall short because your moving your own finish line) and a way to hold yourself accountable, or else it is too easy to continue to perpetually put it off. 

There are also those resolutions that are driven by external rather than internal influences, mostly regarding appearance. Exercise, diet and fitness resolutions are so frequently the result of drawing comparisons, feeling judged and pressuring ourselves from perceived social expectations, rather than from our own desire to be healthier, fitter or live a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Whilst there is much to be encouraged in pursuing a healthier lifestyle, with balanced diet and regular activity, too often these resolutions stem from places of negativity which manifests as defeatist thought spirals. 

A Time for Reflection Not Resolution 

Instead, New Year should be a time of reflection, a relaxed evaluation of the year gone by, a chance to feel proud at what was accomplished and acknowledge anything that we would have liked to have done differently. (Do not dwell on the latter, acknowledgement is not the same as regret unless you give it more than the passing glance it generally requires).

Reflection is a slow methodical evaluation that enables recognition, instils self respect through acknowledgement, resulting either in acceptance and self love, or the establishment of a considered trajectory for positive change. 

So make this January a time of reflection, and your only resolution to be one of self-care, of acknowledging not regretting and of letting go of the past year to fully embrace your potential in the new one. 

Advertisements

Be More Edison

Last year, I published a post about Thomas Edison. 2nd January 1879 was the day that Edison began work on his first generator, only to see his life’s work go up in flames in 1914. Yet was he deterred? Not at all. Almost 70, he simply began all over again.

For me this is what January, and New Year, is all about. It is a time of year when everyone is reflecting, looking back at the year gone by and making plans for the year to come. It is important to be aware that this reflection makes it a challenging time of year for many, especially if personal tragedies have occurred. I like the Thomas Edison anecdote because it is all about renewal and rejecting regret. Regrets, and the expectations that lead to them, are the biggest foes of mental wellbeing in January.

Be More Edison

This year, I too am starting over. Our little family has grown and new life has brought rejuvenation. The past year was filled with personal reflection and emotional exploration as I attempted to regain some past integrity I felt had been lost through traumatic experience.

The initial ambition when I created this blog was to find solace, and perhaps provide some too, along the way. Now, I feel refreshed, thanks to you dear reader, I have persevered and gained confidence.  Like Edison, I have begun rebuilding, forming a disposition that I recognise from before my mental health broke down and becoming suicidal. Recovery, especially from an emotional injury, is a long journey, but I do believe it to be possible, however long it takes.

Take your time.

Where to Start?

Mental illness can be all consuming and because it is invisible can take longer to recognise, diagnose and understand.

Identifying the triggers for episodes of mental ill-health is an important place to begin. The trigger is the connection between the symptoms you experience and their root cause, most frequently a past experience. It’s working backwards to move forwards.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will be aware that the trigger for my depression and suicidal thoughts was a series of negative relationships and intense academic anxiety. However, my anxiety is much more ingrained and has a root buried much deeper in the past.

Over the last year, I have begun to mentally excavate around the root. This began by assessing my panic attacks and identifying when the latest one started, working back from the obsessive behaviour to its trigger.

This is a good place to start because it does not require going outside, getting dressed, or even leaving the safety of a duvet cocoon.

Once identified, triggers can be used during grounding to re-centre and gradually gain control over mental illness, instead of feeling that it is control of you. It took me years, but I can now identify activities that are more likely than others to affect my mental wellbeing. As a result, I can be selective in my actions. This does not mean avoiding triggers outright. But it means that I can choose to engage with a stressor and feel in control or disengage from it if I am already feeling overwhelmed.

This isn’t about ‘Saying No’, which so many people find difficult. This is about self-awareness and being able to use that awareness to cope with the things you say yes too. Personally, I think it is generally good to say yes. Yes is positive, it makes you feel capable, because you are capable. If you didn’t know that on some level, you’re subconscious wouldn’t have jumped in and said yes on your behalf before the rest of your brain had thought it all through.

Have faith in yourself and your abilities, even if, like Edison, you have some rebuilding to do.

 

Breaking the Vicious (Laundry) Cycle

Mental illness can begin to create vicious cycles for those who suffer it. Depending on your triggers you can end up in a perpetual state of anxiety or depression, or both.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the washing up, the growing laundry pile, the state of the kitchen floor, somehow, you have to break the cycle. This is not easy. It is never easy to face, what I think we can reasonably term, fears. By no means are you afraid of the washing up, you don’t think it will cause you harm, but the biological response is similar; sweating, tension and accelerated heart-rate. A routine chore, like washing up, is causing you to stress.

Getting Started

The process will be slow. It will have false starts and perhaps false positives too. The thing with washing (dishes or clothes) is that there is always more of it. You finally face and overcome the stress, complete the task and almost immediately it is back.

It gets bounded about a lot but really and truly the most effective way to break the cycle is to break it down.

Personally, I came across the advice to new mums of doing a load of laundry everyday. Now, you probably are not going through outfits at the rate of a 3-month-old, but the principle applies. Whilst I was at the height of my depression (I refuse to term it depths as ironically I think it sounds too negative) I was effectively acting out the rule out of sight, out of mind. I would put laundry in suitcases, inside moving boxes, anywhere that I didn’t have to look at it.

The result, of course, is a huge amount of laundry in all methods of storage apart from where clothes usually live, such as a wardrobe or a chest of drawers. Following the advice to new mums, to deal with the laundry load, I decided to do a wash a day in the effort to get on top of things.

Results 

In addition to finally getting the laundry done, and ensuring that it never gets this out of control again, this has the benefit of instilling a feeling of accomplishment. To those who have not suffered the incapacitation that can accompany mental illness this may sound unbelievable, but if like me you have been filled with dread every time your mind turns to your growing collection of laundry hiding places, you will know how elusive this feeling can be. As soon as you receive even the slightest sense of accomplishment you feel more able to complete another small task. This in turn encourages you to do more, and suddenly you have a day that you can feel positive about, and therefore feel positive about yourself.

A Step Further

With the motivation from accomplishing this routine task, I started having a full-on Spring Clean kind of tidy-up. This is when trouble can set in, and it has for me in the past. The initial high spirits from completing that first laundry load usually only last for a finite time, a few hours perhaps. You can therefore end up with more mess than you started with, without the energy to do anything about it, and end up back in the presence of Self-loathing once again.

This is the cycle all suffers of mental illness are trying to move beyond. So when I started to clean out, this time, I was armed with clean bin bags (rubbish bin liners). If anyone is concerned about the environmental impact of this, fear not, once the bin bags have been used to help you fulfil your laundry task, they can then be used in your rubbish bin.

So This is the Idea

I wanted to eliminate laundry as a trigger of a downward thought spiral. I wanted to push through the pile of laundry I had, be left with an empty laundry basket (pretend it was just the laundry basket that was full) and start over, this time keeping the amount under control. I wanted to the results to be visible.

Hence the bin bags.

I sorted through the laundry (whites, delicates, jumpers, darks, bedding and so on) and put each type into its own (or multiple – I have lots of non-descript dark clothing) bin bag. This broke down the process even further. It stopped me connecting the notion of doing laundry to the masses concealed in the various suitcases, boxes and so forth. Instead, I just had to focus on a single bag at a time. It takes a load, sometimes two, to empty a bag and it prolonged the feeling of accomplishment from completing the overall task.

Before I started suffering with depression, laundry was just a task and it didn’t need any additional consideration. Now it does. But I know that I am not alone with this and I hope this method will help you regain control and end your vicious laundry cycle too.

Bumps in the Marital Road

Last Saturday was my first Saturday off in six months. With my husband working 9 to 5 or sometimes longer on his PhD project at the university and the emphasis placed to spend Sundays at church and religious activities, when I work weekends it really limits the quality time we get to spend together.

It has been showing.

We got married when we were both students and our schedules were all over the place for the first year of our life together. We agreed that, as it was Samuel’s Masters year and because he worked seasonally at the supermarket which would have meant missing our first Christmas as a married couple, he would stop working. I continued to work as I had been at my storytelling job for 4 years already, it was relevant to my degree and it gave me continuity and routine which helped the with severe mental illness I was experiencing at the time. Before the harassment started, my place of work was were I went for grounding. The office is underground so there was no signal and it gave me an excuse not to be contactable. To not respond when I was feeling overwhelmed. When I couldn’t cope. My place of work means an unusual amount to me.

Summer 2017 was a very intense time for our marriage. We’d been married for a year and were in a good place but we were done living in a one bedroom flat in the middle of the city. It was advertised as one bed, but really should have been one person, as we couldn’t both be in the kitchen at the same time if we wanted to have a bin as well. So we started looking at houses. We didn’t imagine that we would actually be able to buy, it’s famed that no one our age can. But we wanted to daydream at the very least.

We got lucky.

But we were £3,000 short of the deposit. So I started working 3 jobs. It was crazy. One of them was my long term storytelling job, one was at a concert hall and the other was in a museum. It was meant to be a straightforward visitor service job, but morphed into tour guiding and helping arrange a summer activities program which provided really great unexpected work experience. So it was a really beneficial, as well as crazy, time. I decided/insisted that as I was working so much (most of it very relevant to what I was hoping to do following graduation) and Samuel was likely to be starting a PhD three months later, that he shouldn’t work. He needed a break, someone needed to keep on top of the housework, and if we throw a fourth schedule into the mix, we just wouldn’t have seen each other. As it was we saw each other first thing in the morning and for about half an hour before we went to sleep.

We made it.

We bought a house. Now the situation is reversed. I am on reduced hours, just ticking over at my storytelling job, which I still love but is no longer my safe place. As a physicist, Samuel’s PhD is funded, so whilst he is technically studying, it is fundamentally a job. He works very hard and is extremely good at what he does. Our subject areas compliment each other very well. I find it highly appropriate that both our birthdays are in January, the month named after the Roman god Janus. Janus was depicted with two heads, because he looked forward and backwards. As an archaeologist I look back to the very beginnings of humans as a species and Samuel, being an experimental physicist working on technology, is looking forward. It also gives me confidence about at least one aspect of us potentially becoming parents – we have homework covered. Our other running joke is that Samuel does the numbers and I deal with words. Sorted.

Our issue is that because of all the studying, the crazy summer jobs and the recent house move, we have never really got into an established routine. We are beginning to get there now but we still haven’t quite found our rhythm. As we are approaching our second anniversary, and with the addition of our dear dog, this is starting to apply a little bit of friction. As far as I am aware this is healthy and usual in all relationships let alone marriage. We are definitely benefiting from no longer being in that one bedroom flat, as we can now be more than 5 meters apart and means I can be less distracting whilst Samuel is working and I can read my book quietly whilst Samuel watches television (Samuel is severely dyslexic so you wont find us reading together).

As a result of not having a stable, consistent rhythm to our daily routines, we have become very snappy. We haven’t fought or had slanging matches but as I say there has been some friction. I think that’s the right term. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and get irritated from time to time. One of my biggest flaws is my temper, so I definitely get irritated more than is reasonable. I am very grateful not only for my husband’s patience and ability to forgive when I fly off the handle but for our ability to communicate with each other. As we got married so quickly, I don’t think that we would have managed if we weren’t able to talk about anything and everything. As I always say, we don’t necessarily recommend getting married three months after meeting, but it is working for us. We are truly very happy together. The importance of communication is made evident in every sit-com, film production and in most real life scenarios. Whole plots of plays, books, tragedies and comedies begin with a miscommunication, failure to communicate or a double meaning.

Having last Saturday off was amazing for us. Even though I was unwell with the flu, headlining fever, dizziness and nausea (how have I managed to come down with this twice this year? There have only been two months thus far?!) so we didn’t go anywhere or do very much, yet still it gave us some space to just be us. I was actually supposed to be off volunteering in central Scotland so being ill was perhaps a blessing in disguise? I described our morning in yesterday’s post. It was bliss. What really made the difference was that we didn’t have to be anywhere. We had to take our dog for a walk but other than that we had the day to ourselves. Usually one or other of us is rushing around in the morning and heading out to work. On Saturday, we could just be together and enjoy each others company.

This weekend was a big lesson for me in the importance of making time for each other. Compromise and communication are as important as everyone says they are in marriage or any other relationship. Let’s face it they are important principles in friendship as well. But the concept of date night is something that I will certainly be paying more attention to from here on.