So … the last time I left off in this blog, I was depressed and struggling because it was a Sunday, because it was the last day before I had to head back to work on a Monday, and because I had the “Sunday Blues”. Today, I come into the blog still depressed and struggling. But now, I am struggling and depressed because it is January. And I hate January. It is my longest, darkest month.
I love all the buildup and excitement leading to the Winter holidays. I happen to celebrate Christmas, so it is a meaningful and festive time for me and for my family. I generally feel an air of hopefulness and giddy excitement around that time of the year. I usually love rushing around and looking for that “perfect gift” for each person in my family. I usually love putting my daughter’s Advent calendar together. I usually love the happy excitement of possibly getting to see my extended family. Since I started back to work, I tend to look forward to the long (10 whole days!) break my company gives all of us for the holidays, which I find to be a wonderful and thoughtful “extra”.
This year … Ugh. I don’t know how to explain it, exactly, but I did not feel any of that. I found myself trying to look forward to the holidays and the family time and the long break, but it turned out I couldn’t be truly present in any of those feelings. It was like I was moving through my life, trying to find my way back to those feelings, which have always been such a touchstone for me. But, I never found them. All I felt was … tired. I ended work before break feeling unappreciated, undervalued, and both mentally and emotionally exhausted. My beloved holidays became yet another thing in my life that I “just had to get through”.
That’s not to say I did not enjoy my break from work. I did enjoy it. I slept a lot. I did nail art. My parents came to us for the holidays, so I was able to visit with them. I watched movies and TV shows with my daughter. We played Animal Crossing together. I swatched through nail polishes that had been sitting on my “play” desk for ages. I managed to get our house decorated for the holidays and the guest room ready for my parents just in the nick of time. We finally managed to get decorations up on the Christmas trees (thanks to my daughter!) just before Christmas. I laughed and made good memories. I ate good food. There was even pecan pie.
But, as with all good things, the holidays came to an end. It felt like everything went by at lightning-fast speed and, before I knew it, she was back again: JANUARY. She brought with her a return to work and a return to feelings of being stuck or dead-ended and not being valued or appreciated. She brought with her the departure of my daughter, who headed back to college just a couple of days ago. She brought with her a return to routine and mud from melting snow. She brought with her lots of cloudy skies and damp weather. Can you tell that I had been dreading January’s arrival for some time? Because I had been dreading it.
I feel like it’s safe to say January is my nemesis. I don’t mean that she is actively out to get me or anything. I’m fully aware that January doesn’t even know I exist. But I know she exists. She crawls down into the very depths of my soul and crushes me at every turn. I don’t know what it is about this month, but I have never been a fan. It’s not actually the longest month. It has 31 days, and there are plenty of other months that also have 31 days. But there is something about January that makes it feel a million times longer than the rest of those 31-day periods of time.
January lingers. It is cold and damp and gray, and I feel it, both on the outside and the inside. I struggle with turning back to my normal routines after the holidays. I struggle with this feeling that I have nothing to look forward to. January seems to yawn open before me like a deep, dark cave, and I know I have no option other than to keep moving forward, marching resolutely into the void so that I might, eventually, come out on the other side. I find myself endlessly and mindlessly scrolling through social media. I struggle to make myself go to bed every night. I struggle to make myself get out of bed every morning. I struggle to focus every day. This is always something of a problem, but it doubles up in January. I just feel … empty. I’m not sure how else to explain it.
So, what is a gal to do when she has to live out 31 long, long days with her nemesis? She does little things, here and there — whatever might bring a smile or a little bit of joy throughout the day. I keep my Christmas decorations up for the entire month, and, yes, I absolutely turn on my Christmas trees and wreaths every single day. I play Animal Crossing in the evenings. I try to do my nails more often, even if I am tired from work. I wear my jewelry every day, even though I work from home. I hug on my dogs, who love it. I hug on the cat, who does not love it but tolerates it in almost good humor. I read books. I try to watch the sunset, even if it is hidden behind a bank of clouds. I try to walk outside, even if it is a little chilly and gray. I window shop for gemstones online, not because I particularly want to buy anything, but just because they are beautiful. I try, every day, to remind myself there are things to look forward to. I try, every day, to find a way to balance at the edge of the void without tumbling all the way into it.
This is a dance I have been doing with January and with depression my entire life. Even as a middle school and high school aged kid, I quietly struggled through January and struggled to find some kind of joy and balance in my life. I look back on it and realize that was the case now, although I did not realize it back then. I mean, maybe I realized it on some lizard-brain, instinctive level. But I did not have the ability to express it back then, even to myself. If I had approached my parents with this, they would have blown the whole thing off as me being “dramatic”, or they would have told me I didn’t truly feel this way. Even now, as an adult, I struggle to find the words to explain it or describe it. It’s not that January is different from the rest of my life, or that my January struggles are different from the rest of my daily slog. It’s that January is just … MORE.
Usually, I am able to talk myself through January with my small, daily joys. And I think I am managing to do that this year, too. But this year … I dunno. This year, it feels harder, somehow. I’m still mentally and emotionally exhausted. It’s a harder struggle to go to bed at night and get up every morning. It’s a harder struggle to find the energy for my small joys, and I miss my creative energy now more than ever. This year, it just feels like … MORE. It feels like there is more and more and more of LIFE and WORK and less and less and less of “me”.
But you know what? I am going to keep on moving forward. It often does not seem worth the effort, but I know, in that instinctive, lizard-brain part of my brain, that this is what I need to do. I will keep going to bed every night and getting up every morning. I will keep looking for those little joys. I will keep marching forward, resolutely … one foot in front of the other, toward the void. And one day soon, January will be over for another year, and I will come out on the other side.