On Depression And New Year’s Resolutions

eren {sea+prairie}
eren {sea+prairie}
“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” – Anaïs Nin

Why are the most important things always the most difficult to change? Every math teacher I ever had told my mother part of the reason I struggled was because I always did the problems “the hard way.” The past three years of my life have been all about actively trying to adjust major things about myself that just aren’t working. It’s in my nature to be critical, therefore I am a sucker for self-evolution, always reluctant to it at first, but forever grateful for it in the end. Once autumn comes I start to panic about the rate at which I’m changing, or in the past it was the lack of time left to accomplish the things I had hoped to for that year. It’s a cyclical problem and it’s how I get sucked into making so many New Year’s resolutions.

Fall has always aesthetically been my most favorite season, but as the leaves change into all sorts of warm and vibrant colors like hoards of Monarchs roosting on all the trees, the season eventually turns causing them all to die and collapse to the ground. For as long as I can remember I have not been able to make it through this season without feeling uncontrollably down, pulled to the ground or back into my bed. When I was a teenager I was convinced I had seasonal depression. The older I get, and the more I chart this all-encompassing sadness, it appears it’s not so much the decrease in light as it is the approaching of “the end” or end of the year. Jenny Boully touches on this kind of unhappiness in the epilogue of her book The Book of Beginnings and Endings:

How is it the seasons change? Do they change so slowly so creepingly because we so rarely break away from whatever it was that we were dreaming to notice? What the season brings us to suffer (because seasons, no matter how lovely, will bring us to suffer) it brings when we are not looking. I know the look of a cracked landscape, winter in black and white, flat and finite with a sunset on the horizon like a red heartbeat suffering there. It will take me longer each morning now to go out and face it, the leaves shivering then falling about as if to remind that somehow despite leavings, there is some magic, some beauty there. I don’t want it: the mountain view, the shimmer of summer rain, a troutfilled creek. How is it that I came to be here this way with the wind a suggestion that it was, indubitably was, autumn (already and again)?

Historically for me, it’s just before Halloween and the few weeks leading up to my birthday when this all starts. Anxiety gets bolder and inches closer every day, and I start to obsess over all the things I wish I had done during the present year and panic into a sort of mental paralysis that I won’t get them done (or be able to) in the next. All of my disappointments and dreams, and anger that I cannot “get my shit together” or stop time ultimately snowball from the first snowfall into the next year. It results with me wanting to be alone with my dog eating some kind of Asian fried food in bed, watching the same movie on a loop for 24 hours. When I only get out of bed for work, to pee or let the dog out, that’s when I know I’m in it.

Before I had Tennessee, my dog, if there were days or chunks of time when I didn’t have to get out of bed I would rather pass out or “nap a lot” from mild starvation or dehydration than get up. From the beginning of fall till just before Thanksgiving it’s a slow and slippery incline up a snowy hill in desperation to see the horizon, once I get to the top I’m so excited to see the skyline that it’s like without thinking I just jump on a sled and proceed down this hill at such a high speed that I slide uncontrollably right out of the park, and into the next year. From my birthday on, it’s just anxiety and lists, so many lists of goals shooting me straight into the next year.

This year my birthday, or my own personal “New Year,” fell the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday. “YOLO” a friend told me when he heard about how I’d spent my 25th birthday. I woke up early that day, not to wait in a line at a store somewhere, but to pick up a friend from the airport. Later I had (amazing) first-time lesbian sex with this friend, who I’ve pretended for too long not to have a crush on. “You only live once” is no longer the phrase-turned-acronym-word-of-the-year but has always seemed like a properly adopted 21st century term that showcases our culture’s anxiety for endings. It’s an expression used for acting out emotions we might not be able to properly process yet, that we don’t yet have the language to understand. It’s for those cathartically crazed nights or acts of incivility that feel so necessary, so freeing from the imminent ending of our own unsatiated timelines. Twenty first century life, the Internet or technology, feeds questions in contemporary physics; it rids us of this illusion that time as we chart it has ever really existed because of access and the rate at which we are able to obtain knowledge about almost anything appears infinite, which is skeptical because most life as we know it on this planet is not.

Take the epigraph I used at the beginning of this essay, all I had to do was Google “famous quotes on New Years” and in an instant appeared hundreds of posts (admittedly most of them rather cheesy, as quotes often can be) of collections of major thinker’s opinions on the holiday. Just as easily, as fast, I verified the quote via Google Books and learned that Nin wrote this in her diary on an unknown day in January of 1927. A very different process than going into John K. King books to search for a William Hazlitt collection of essays with “On The Fear Of Death,” which I did two weeks ago in order to better wrap my head around this hypothesis about my elusive autumnal or end of the year depression:

It is not so much that we care to be alive a hundred or a thousand years hence, any more than to have been alive a hundred or a thousand years ago: but the thing that lies here, that we would all of us wish the present moment to last for ever. We would be as we are, and would have the world remain just as it is, to please us…

It is the pang of parting, the unloosing our grasp, the breaking asunder some strong tie, the leaving some cherished purpose unfulfilled, that creates the repugnance to go, and ‘make calamity of so long life,’ as it often is.

“There is no moment like the present,” but not really. So many days I wake up early aspiring to finish that book or that essay or poem and instead I watch porn and go back to sleep, or fall into a wormhole opening sometimes 60-some tabs of things I’d like to buy or read or learn or feel then get overwhelmed with how disorganized and scattered my mind is and give up. Every December I fall prey to the New Year’s resolution devil, it tricks me by making it seem so fun and essential to having a better life (more organized, efficient, less depressive or more healthy, or beautiful—because I mechanically think that will fix everything). It’s the appealing typefaces and layouts online and in magazine spreads, the naïve and two-dimensional readings of success stories, and the promise for a better future all wrapped in pretty packaging. It’s the largest, most beautiful box under my Christmas tree, with nothing in it but pages of old diary entries crumpled as hopes relying on mostly impatient or superficial dreams.

Another friend of mine told me that in order to get out of this paralysis, that from now on I should think about my depression like it’s three versions of myself: past, present, and future. That they’re all wrestling with each other and in the process of reflecting at the end of the year, I get stuck and frozen like a deer in headlights—never a very good survival tactic. When I later skimmed through the recent December issue of Vogue, Anna Wintour’s “Letter from the Editor” contemplated the past and nostalgia in the best way:

I happened to mention in a recent meeting how I have always preferred to look forward and not back: What, after all, is the point in doing the latter? So when it came to thinking about my letter this month, I had a moment’s pause. Would writing about Marc Jacobs’s incredible sixteen-year run at Louis Vuitton, which he has just announced is coming to an end, be precisely that? Marc himself is of the same mind when it comes to nostalgia. When Jonathan Van Meter profiled him for Vogue nearly two years ago, ahead of a huge Louis Vuitton exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, Marc told Jonathan that despite living in France for many years, he spoke French without ever referencing the past. “I don’t know how to conjugate verbs, so everything is in the present tense,” he said, laughing. “As it should be!”

I read this and thought yes but how do we remain in the present so that we’re our most content, acknowledge and learn from the past and reference it so the naïve and worst doesn’t get repeated, and still make goals for the future without letting the past and present hiccups take over our lives? I’ve never claimed to under-think anything, but of all the years that have been just utter shit if I really think about 2013 I know that it’s been one of the best of my life. If I consider 2013, really starting at my 24th birthday just a month before the actual New Year began, that’s when I stayed out till dawn rekindling a great friendship with a long-lost friend from college in which we tag-teamed a bed switching turns to get eaten out by separate foreign boys we had met out that night. It was the first time I really let myself enjoy that since my first orgasm when I was 14.

Three weeks later when I went to a party in Woodbridge while visiting my mom for the holidays, I realized I wanted to move back to Detroit, specifically that neighborhood which my grandmother grew up in and that her family was pushed out of because of crime (someone dumped a severely battered woman in their yard). Now fairly gentrified but still not without crime (someone was shot and killed across the street from my house earlier this year). Once I returned to New York after New Year’s I really did YOLO-carpe diem-live every day like it was my last, in that city, because after six years there I didn’t know if I would ever be able to live there again if I left. A terrifying thought because there are too many people that I am still so in love with there, but almost more terrifying was the idea that I would stay in New York and keep avoiding this past that was continuing to afflict my present.

My 2013, my 24th year, was the year I connected the dots for a time that my memory (and drugs) blacked out; I parted with emotionally then made peace with an ex-boyfriend whom I loved so crazily that I learned love does not a good relationship make; rekindled friendships and my social life that I kept putting on pause because of one trauma, depression, or another; wrote more than I ever have before and started to write poetry again; felt brave enough to leave New York and relocate back to Detroit; realized that I cannot ignore or not do things just because I am afraid of not having complete understanding or support from my family because I don’t actually need it, I have managed to surround myself with some pretty amazing friends (thank god technology erases miles from friendships and that I’ve met some amazing people in Detroit).

Lately, I’ve been forced to slow down while driving around, really seeing Detroit again because it’s been snowing like crazy and most of the side roads aren’t paved, unless a resident does it themselves. I’ve only been in Detroit for 6 months and already I’m jaded by the abandoned buildings and signs of industrial ruin, but with the season’s progression again I’m seeing this city with a different set of eyes. All of this while binge listening to Beyoncé’s “Superpower,“ which feels like my own personal love song with the city, “the laws of the world never stopped us once” against Detroit’s backdrop has been enough of an emotional experience to bring me to tears and in those moments I keep returning to the ending of Hazlitt’s “On The Fear of Death“:

A life of action and danger moderates the dread of death. It not only gives us fortitude to bear pain, but teaches us at every step the precarious tenure on which we hold our present being…

The most rational cure after all for the inordinate fear of death is to set a just value on life. If we merely wish to continue on the scene to indulge our headstrong humours and tormenting passions, we had better begone at once : and if we only cherish a fondness for existence according to the benefits we reap from it, the pang we feel at parting with it will not be very severe!

I won’t make any New Year’s resolutions for 2014, I’m now too aware of my fear of “the end” or that the year’s beginning won’t be in a way that will suffice all my dreams before my own end. I refuse to apologize for wanting it all, all year round. I can only accept and laugh in the face of time I’ve lost (or will lose) to checked and unchecked goal lists, anxiety and depression, disappointments, to not knowing enough to my satisfaction but still living enough to want to learn it all, and to seasons changing and doing something to try and change myself with them. In between these moments of insecurity and crippling fear when I am able to get out of bed and remind myself to “fuck off” because I’m the bitch, killing my own vibe, I remember that I don’t need any New Year’s resolutions because every day, ever year it’s the same thing.

The things I want won’t be done as quickly as I want them to, or sometimes ever, to my standards. I don’t want philosophies that preach messages for ideals to be more “realistic,” to lower standards of happiness, or to settle—all in order to rid myself of this rather annoying seasonal stretch of sadness. As frustrating as it is and as curious as I am about it, I know in my gut that there’s nothing wrong with battling fear, even if that means sometimes being crippled by it. Having the will to survive means continuing to outlive those fears, and there’s nothing wrong with being afraid of wanting now to be better every day or every year, forever until it’s not. TC mark

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