A chuckle escapes me as I can only anticipate the flurry of blogging activity that is about to ensue this New Year’s Eve. It’s quite nice actually. Thinking of all the writer folk in our enigmatic world sitting in their writing holes with their mugs of tea, musing and reflecting and pondering and poring and threading words together like beads on a necklace crafted from the bits of their souls carved out by 2017.
Time as you and I see it is very much a man made construct that allows us to make sense of this world. From that construct we derive feelings of fresh starts and new beginnings and gym memberships and false promises and hopeful resolutions. Although ‘new year new me’ has turned into a statement that we scoff at, I can’t help but feel that there must be a fragment inside all of us that just relishes the idea of starting over.
My new year started the minute Christmas ended (mostly because I’m on-call on New Year’s Day #doctorlyf) and to be honest, guys, it’s with ginormous relief that I put 2017 to one side and say ‘thank fuck that’s over’.
On paper, this was a year that went spectacularly. I took part in a dance contest and was on the winning team which was a huge feat for my confidence (may I take this moment to extend my thanks to Praveena, truly amazing friend, choreographer and team captain extraordinaire for her undying faith in me). I graduated from medical school and became a doctor after five years of some sweat, lots of blood, gallons of tears, many sleepless nights, more early mornings and a vat of caffeine. I met the person I want to marry and fell so hard and fast in love that I didn’t realise it was even happening until it happened. Before I knew it I was standing in the middle of his kitchen, drunk as a skunk at 4am, cradling a mug of water in one hand, the other arm hooked around his neck going ‘say it, just say it, I don’t want to say it first!’ He said it. I moved back home with my family, I started earning, started saving for a deposit, I was working out every morning and going out every weekend… life was good.
But you lovely folk, you who read the constant crap I generate right here are aware of how little the paper version matches up to the grim reality of it all.
2017 broke me.
2017 uncovered the shitstorm that lay beneath the layers of confidence, positivity and idealism that once entirely formed my personality and delivered the essence that this page was once built upon.
2017 tore me open and unleashed 23 years of shitty belief in my own worthlessness.
2017 revealed to me that one’s mental health is perhaps not as robust as one thought and denial is not just a river in Egypt.
It’s become kind of fashionable to talk about mental health these days. Lots of people write about it too, myself included. It’s true that this page has become my safe haven where I can fearlessly express the pain and consumption that 2017 has inflicted upon me, especially in that arena.
I have, so far, been reluctant to label this period of my life… mainly because I don’t feel that it requires a label. PHQ-9 will tell you that for a long time this year I’ve had ‘moderate to severe depression’. A psychologist will tell you that I display some classic symptoms of anxiety, low self esteem and perfectionism (actually, my own therapist has said those words, more on that later). I for one, do not call it anything. Let me tell you why.
I have found that in this culture, where it’s become kind of cool to talk about mental health but there’s also crazy levels of stigma attached to it and people clutch on to diagnoses. People clinically define their pain, sadness, anger, grief and anxiety and then they hide behind it for comfort because the world is too scary without the diagnostic crutch. Everyone is different. For me personally, even as a person who displays typical features of certain mental health disorders, I do not wish to be diagnosed.
Initially, this was a huge issue. Flat out denial is not an effective way to approach a problem, and boy was I denying. I convinced myself that the marks on my skin were just scratches. I told myself that I was too strong for this. People who have actual mental illnesses are far worse than I am. How fucked up is it that we equate resilience and strength to the ability to deny our problems and ‘just get on with it’?
In any case, that was never going to end well. 2017 showed me that. It made me realise that unless I made an active decision to change, I would forever be stuck in this static mess.
Some time in November, I took the plunge and started confronting my biggest demons. I read practical self help books (not The Secret), I started seeing a therapist, I started letting myself actually feel the feelings I have, I began to manage my expectations about self improvement (NOT recovery) and I became much more open in my relationship. The sparks of hell that ignited 2017 cooled to ashes from which these baby phoenixes of victory quietly arose.
For a long time, I’ve not had faith in myself. I used to make up for it with my faith in God but I’m still figuring that one out, so it’s not a reliable source of faith anymore. I have learnt, the hard way, that life just isn’t all that glorified. It’s not like books or movies. Not only are we not perfect as a human race, we are all deeply flawed and our biggest flaw is thinking we are right all the time. There are these amazing, mind blowing, 4am- drunk- in- the – kitchen moments… but mostly, life is just full of rainy Tuesdays. Happiness is not about the good bits but about fixing our thinking so we don’t freak the fuck out during the shit bits (like Gowri in 2017). It is the midpoint between Mark Manson and Oprah Winfrey… accepting the shit that comes at you and cultivating the ability to cope with it whilst also being so exceptionally present and grateful in the moment that every hot cup of tea feels like a mini-miracle.
With gladness, I close the book on 2017, knowing that a point will come where I see it as the best thing that could’ve happened to me.
I no longer live life screaming positive affirmations and craving eternal bliss. 2018 will be rough too. It’ll come with its own set of monsters. The difference is that this time, they won’t tear me down and knock me off my feet. With a healthy dose of skepticism, acceptance and relief, I am welcoming the new year, and the ever-improving me.
*Fade to silence*