The problem with New Years resolutions are that they are completely contradictory. I’m pretty sure that the aim of a resolution is to improve and better yourself; yet at the same time in attempting to increase positivity, health and well being, you are simultaneously setting yourself up for failure as you tear yourself down, picking at all of your self perceived flaws.
The most common New Years resolutions include 1) losing weight, 2) stopping smoking and 3) being generally happier and healthier, all goals of which inevitably bring shame when slip ups are made. In truth, a year is a very long time. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes. Maintaining a single behaviour for this length of time is ultimately close to unattainable, simply because we are human.
My 2016 is proof of the scope of peaks and troughs that a single year can involve.
In January, I returned to Durham University after my Christmas break with a regenerated positive attitude towards my studies, a new job at the local Halfords (the company in which I had been settled for the previous 3 years at home prior to moving away), and in new accommodation with the two most precious gems I met whilst at university. I began the year achieving high 2:1 and first grades in my assignments. I was determined to succeed.
By only Easter, I had hit an all time low in terms of my mental health. I had stopped attending lectures by early February; I had begun having recurring breakdowns whilst at work leading to hours locked away in the toilets, having panic attacks and crying and refusing to serve customers. Eventually, I stopped leaving my university accommodation altogether.
As the summer drew nearer, numerous trips to A&E were made for stitches as I repeatedly attempted to hurt myself, each injury becoming increasingly grave.
In May came the most serious suicide attempt to date – by far the lowest moment of my entire life, let alone of 2016. Even now, seven months later I can clearly remember choking on my own vomit, unable to even stand, strapped to multiple heart monitors and being told by paramedics that I was be lucky to be alive as they recalled the recurrent seizures that I had no recollection of. I can still feel the moment of realisation as university staff stood at the end of my bed whilst I remained only semi conscious, of the seriousness of my condition. I remember the fear in my parents’ desperate eyes as they travelled over 300 miles to visit their daughter who laid on a hospital bed as she had once again decided that life was too painful to bear.
But the point of these pitiful troughs is that without them, I would be unable to appreciate the height of the peaks that have occurred in between. Had I not truly lost all desire for survival, I wouldn’t today see the beauty in a single moment of determination.
In July, I jumped from a plane at 12,000ft, raising a significant amount of money for the millions of other brave mental health warriors across the UK, when a month before even leaving my own bedroom made me more anxious than I could face. In this same month, not only did I accompany my family on the yearly family holiday for the first time in half a decade, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I drank my body weight in alcohol and sunbathed in the 40 degree heat without feeling obliged to cover the hundreds of scars decorating my body.
In September, I reapplied to university for the next academic year and received five unconditional offers within weeks of submitting my application. After months of an extreme lack of self esteem and a core belief that I was a failed academic, I finally began to believe in myself again.
This same month, I began working full time for the first time in my life. For an individual with depression and anxiety, I was routinely left exhausted, again leading to breakdowns in the workplace. But this time, instead of giving up completely, I fought through the lethargy, anxiety and tears and with the help of some amazingly supportive colleagues, learned to love my new employment rather than feeling chored every single day.
Four months later and I am about to embark on a new journey into 2017 as a mental health worker in a local psychiatric hospital. In the space of six months I have transitioned from a scared, mentally unwell child who saw no future to a (nearly) fully functional adult, contributing to the world of full time employment and embracing the new social life I lead as a result.
Most importantly, the fundamental lesson I have learned in 2016 is to stop forcing pressure on myself. Instead of setting expectations so high that even Steven Hawking would never meet, it is time to scrap the rules, start having belief in myself and simply being proud of any small accomplishments I do happen to make. I will accept the troughs because to put it simply, nothing can exist without it’s polar opposite. Without darkness comes no light; without troughs comes no peaks; without black, there is no white and thus all that can remain is grey – no excitement ever came from living in a greyscale world.
So this year, I make no promises to myself. I do not promise to fully recover from mental illness. I do not promise to return to university. I do not promise to succeed in my new job. I do not promise to be happy every single day. The only resolution that I do intend to make is to simply survive, with any other progress a bonus that I will allow myself to feel pride for.
Instead of wishing you all a happy new year, I will simply advise you to have a year and to join me in leaving those resolutions behind. Stay alive, nourish your bodies and don’t give up just yet. Any “happy” is an added extra.
Lots of love and hugs,
Shann x x x