Surviving New Year

As eating disorders (and several other mental illnesses, including OCD, depression and anxiety) can be caused or contributed to by external pressures, I think it’s important to cover NYE here on the blog, because around 90% of people I speak to in the run up to New Year are feeling negative, fearful and under pressure. Encouraged (and even persuaded) to ‘go all out’ and plaster photos of themselves having an ‘amazing time’ all over Facebook, with the addition of the impressive, unrealistic plans and ‘resolutions’ required to see in the new year with, many people end up forced into a new year that doesn’t represent anything near what they hoped or felt it should.

But despite this societal pressure and what your friends, family or the media might have you believe, new year doesn’t have to be ‘incredible’ and ‘spectacular’ to be a special and important time of reflection and positive change. If you do it in the right way and shun the norm, you may find yourself having the first new year you actually enjoy – and what’s more, it may even be a productive time and contribute to your wider recovery.

So why am I writing about this?

I was always one of those people who secretly disliked New Year. I felt like it was a ‘big deal’ and however much I’d done or however I decided to celebrate it was somehow never enough. I always started the following year feeling depressed, inadequate and anxious. But this year for the first time I am approaching New Year festivities feeling fine. It’s no big deal – and I feel okay.

The reason for this is that I have spent the last year working on my outlook and I’ve dramatically changed my perception of the world around me, which has in turn altered my behaviour. Instead of planning ahead obsessively and trying to control every single part of my future I’ve spent a lot of time training myself to let it go. ‘Taking each day as it comes’ is a time-honoured piece of advice – but it wasn’t until this year that I actually understood the true meaning (and importance) of it. I also realised that I was looking at the past in an exclusively negative light, rather than focusing on the many positive things that had happened during the last twelve months.

New Year always represented failure for me. I always felt that I should have been better, more like someone else, should’ve done more, seen more, been more. I looked back on the last twelve months and counted the things I hadn’t done, forgetting about the things I had achieved and the places I’d been, the memories I’d made with the people I loved.  Whilst everyone else celebrated and posted photos of themselves at lavish parties, I’d get so drunk I couldn’t remember the last half of the party or of the 1st January – or I’d lie in bed and shake with sadness, anger and frustration, going through everything I hadn’t done in my head and comparing my life to other people’s.

That is no way to spend any time of the year – let alone the beginning of a new one. No-one should have to spend new year alone (and by that, I mean you don’t have to be physically alone, just psychologically isolated. As Robin Williams once said, ‘the worst thing in life is not being alone, but ending up with people who make you feel alone’). Whether you’re struggling with an eating disorder or just feel down at this time of year, please take a look through my post and read about the things that helped me to feel fine about the coming New Year rather than poorly. They’re important things I’ve learnt both through years of self-loathing and finally taking charge to enjoy every part of my life for what it is – not what I’m told it should be or feel it should be. You can do the same – no matter what your situation may be or how bad you’re feeling right now.

It’s all out of your control – so you have to go with the flow

You should be present, in the present. Forget about the future and stop focusing on the past. At the end of the day we can’t control the future – not for ourselves and not for anyone else. We can’t control the outcomes of our actions, even if we change our behaviour, we can’t control the consequences. We can’t plan for outside interference with our carefully laid plans. So we need to stop trying – and ignoring the people who tell us we can and should try to control every last detail in the life of our future self. This new year, create an environment which enables you to make plans for the future without feeling pressure. Know that there is no ‘big start’ to your future – you can start now.

Take care of yourself and make manageable plans for the months ahead

Write down three manageable goals for yourself for next year. Then break them down into the smaller goals you’ll need to accomplish to achieve them. Maybe you want to get a new job next year. That’s the main goal – so underneath that, you could include ‘writing a CV’ and ‘contacting recruitment agencies’. If you achieve just one of those important goals, you have done what you set out to do.

Look back on this year’s achievements and positives

There WILL be at least one. Maybe that was that you had a home to live in, or family around you who tried to support you this year. It’s very easy in a society where everybody strives to have more and we are actively encouraged to have more to forget that if we had less, we’d be unhappier than we are now.

Life is not measured by achievements. Now social media has pitted everyone in ‘competition’ with each other, lots of people feel pressure to live a ‘better life’. But actually there is joy in the ordinary. We ignore so many small blessings every single day, like having clothes to wear, living without fear, finding clean running water in our taps. That’s not to say you’re ungrateful or a bad person – you’ve just been conditioned to forget what you have got and focus on what you haven’t instead. Spend time consciously thinking about one thing in your life you love every day. At New Year, think about ten things – or more. Your life is wonderful just with you in it, being alive – and you don’t need to have climbed Everest, invented a cure for cancer or been voted America’s Next Top Model to be important and special.

Don’t be so busy worrying about next year’s achievements and the things you haven’t done that you forget about how far you have come.

New Year isn’t the big ‘new beginning’ it’s supposed to be – you can start again at ANY time

Just because you don’t address your thoughts, feelings and health now, doesn’t mean you can’t tomorrow, or the day after that, or sometime in March next year. In fact, ‘addressing’ things can involve something very small – like making the decision to read a book or not to drink to excess. You can start now and build – there is no ‘epiphany’ moment just like the movies where you wake up and your life is great.

This philosophy is actually central to my friend and colleague Geraldine Hills’ teachings – and her book, Second Chance Day, is all about the importance of giving yourself a second chance, anytime, anywhere, however small or large. When we met we realised that we had lots in common – and one of those things was the fact that inadvertently, however bad we felt about ourselves and however low we’d been, we’d always given ourselves a second chance. We’d always persisted, come out fighting, been determined to succeed – and to do that, we have to give ourselves second chances, like getting out of bed and brushing our teeth, stopping smoking and being kinder to ourselves.

You don’t have to celebrate

Everyone (me included) seems to feel as though this time of traditional celebration should be spent at a party, event or family gathering to be worth recognition. But for me, being comfortable and feeling happy and content is the only way to spend New Year – and being around a load of strangers getting wasted isn’t my idea of fun (anymore!) I’d much rather stay in – and despite the   , I don’t feel bad about that – and nor should you. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad because you’re not attending a lavish ball or watching fireworks from the London Eye. These things are often overrated and greatly exaggerated thanks to clever photography and social media. As long as you are safe and happy and are surrounded by the right people (or alone, if you want to be), it’s fine.

If you’re still struggling please check out my accompanying post about New Year here, and if you need extra support or someone to talk to over the coming days Samaritans are available for impartial advice and support.

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