In her latest blog for Mental Health Today, Rae Ritchie contemplates the turn of the year, and disappointment to find that nothing changes, other than the number.
As I write, it is 17 sleeps until 2017 is here. Not that I’m counting, or that I’ve been wishing away the final weeks of 2016 since the beginning of November. I’ve tried hard to not dismiss the whole year as rubbish, even writing a blog post about good news from my own life, the lives of others and the wider world, but still nothing can really convince me otherwise. I just want the new year to hurry along and arrive.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m expecting this forthcoming new year. I guess I’m attracted to all the clichés about a new calendar, a clean slate, a fresh start: 2017 feels filled with hope and optimism, a chance to begin over.
Or at least so I thought until Tuesday evening.
Suddenly I realised that the impending new calendar (then 19 sleeps away) was just that: a new calendar. Nothing else is guaranteed except that we have a new date to spend at least three weeks getting used to. Okay there’s the excitement of looking for a different roman numeral at the end of the credits on television programmes (surely it’s not only me that does that?!) but it’s hardly life-changing. On the contrary, as we journey into 2017 our worlds continue largely as they did before.
As the clock strikes 12 on December 31 in 2016 or any other year, we take ourselves with us. Everything in our life on New Year’s Eve will be present on New Year’s Day, albeit perhaps with the addition of hangover. Of course, this is obvious but it’s easy to get carried away with all the metaphors of the changing year. This is especially the case when we are deeply longing for such metaphors to be true. My enormous desire to get this year done and the new year begun definitely reflects my longing for a blank slate. I want a fresh start, one unhindered by the difficulties of negotiating life with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a label which came into my life this summer.
Sitting on the sofa on Tuesday evening, for the first time it occurred to me that BPD will not vanish as Big Ben chimes midnight. I’m not a mental health Cinderella. If you have, for example, depression or anxiety then you might be lucky enough for an episode to come and go within the confines of one calendar year, but with more entrenched chronic conditions that just is not the case. BPD will still be there in the morning, whatever the date on the calendar.
This realisation hit me hard. If I’d thought about it logically then I’d have known this anyway but the power of my own desire to escape meant hope triumphed over reason. Now I’m left trying to reconcile myself to this awareness while also managing the corresponding feelings of disappointment, frustration and injustice. ‘It is not fair’, comes my beleaguered reply.
Of course, this is not to say that there’s no hope to be found in the coming year. In mid-January, I begin a 6-month emotional regulation group therapy course, the aim of which is to smooth away some of the worst excesses of my condition. Evidence suggests I have good reason to believe that this will help. However, it’s a process that requires effort and commitment on my part; group therapy most definitely is not the simple and easy clean slate I wished the turn of the year would magically provide.
It is perhaps not surprising therefore that January is so widely regarded as a depressing month. In the northern hemisphere the dark nights and cold weather, along with the financial repercussions of Christmas, don’t help anyone’s mood. On top of this, though, many of us – mental health issues or not – are shocked and saddened when learn, once again, that all January 1 brings is a new date on the calendar. We want more, we expect more, we long for more.
About the author
Rae Ritchie worked as a historian for a decade before leaving academia to become a freelance writer and coach. Whether in the past or the present, she is fascinated in how people make sense of themselves and their lives. This professional interest has undoubtedly been encouraged by her own wrangling with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder. These struggles are ongoing but writing about her experiences – and the not necessarily related topics of gender, fashion, beauty, women’s magazines and mindful living – is saving her soul.