Ringing in the New … and Good-Bye, 2020

I spent a lot of time in 2020 trying not to talk about all the weirdness of the year. I think, because I was living in the midst of it (as were all of us!), I didn’t want to spend time mulling it over or thinking about it. It took so much energy to deal with social distancing and isolation and cleaning my groceries and coping with the bizarre mess that has been my daughter’s senior year in high school and worrying over my parents and feeling anxious about the state of US politics … Well, as you may be able to guess, I could go on and on. And I would not be telling any of you anything new, different, or unexpected. Because, wherever you are, we are ALL living through this time together. We are all trying to figure it out day-to-day. And we are all trying to muddle through.

I think my touchstone saying for 2020 quickly became, “I’m doing the best I can!”. This is something I have been saying to myself on a daily basis all year long. There were many days when I felt my best was never going to be enough. On those days, this whispered reminder helped heal a little bit of my soul. Because, really, it IS good enough, isn’t it? It’s not just good enough … it is our best. And that has to be worth everything. In a way, 2020 taught me this. Of course, it was something I always knew — somewhere, in the back of my mind. It’s something we all know and have known. And yet, it can be so easy to forget, can’t it?

2020 also gave me Time. I was lucky enough to be busy with work during the week for most of the year, but we spend a lot of time rushing from one thing to another outside of work hours, don’t we? But, in 2020, we didn’t have anywhere to go. There were no extra-curricular activities for my daughter. There were no plays or concerts. There were no museums to visit or movies to attend. There was just a lot of time to sit around at home. It sounds terribly boring, doesn’t it? And yet … I had time to sit around and think about things. I had time to spend with my family every evening. Probably, we should have been doing this all along, but we had fallen into the bad habit of going our separate ways at the end of each day. More importantly, I had time to spend with my sweet daughter before she flies the nest and starts her own life adventure.

I feel grateful to 2020 for these things. They are quiet blessings. They are not flashy. They are not necessarily things that would jump out at a person as something you would want or desire. And yet, like many things that are not flashy, they are extremely precious. Without the weirdness of 2020, I am not sure I would have realized any of this.

At the same time, I have to admit I am happy to show 2020 the door, so to speak. It’s been an exhausting, worrisome, and anxiety-producing year. No matter how grateful I am for the quiet life lessons 2020 has shown me, the year wore on me. It grated on my nerves. It made me feel so tired and hopeless and just … sad. I feel like I have been looking forward to the end of 2020 ever since March. And, at last, it is here. Huzzah!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think life is magically going to be easier just because 2020 has ended and 2021 has begun. It’s not like anyone can wave a magic wand and make COVID disappear or make people suddenly have good sense. Honestly, I am not sure there is enough magic in the universe to make that last thing happen. COVID is here to stay. Vaccine roll-out is going to be slow going. Many people will elect not to take the vaccine, even when it is available. We still have to figure out how to move forward and make our way through a life landscape that has become eerie and unexpected. We still have to figure out how to live with all the faults and frailties of human nature.

I don’t know what 2021 will bring. I know it will have its ups and downs, but I don’t know if it will end up being good or bad, overall. But right now, when the year is still new, I feel hopeful for the first time in many months. I feel like better days are coming; they are just on the horizon and out of sight. One day soon, I will get to hug my parents and brother. One day soon, we will be able to sit with friends and laugh and eat together. One day soon, my daughter will start her own adventure in college, which I hope will be in-person and on-campus. One day soon, we will all figure out our new normal.

Resolved …

So here I am, at the beginning of January … er, the middle of January … *ahem* … And I am writing a post about New Year’s resolutions. It’s not terribly creative or exciting or unexpected, is it? I know. It feels a bit hum-drum, even to me. I shouldn’t admit this out loud. Because you might stop reading right here and now. Yikes! (I hope you don’t, by the way. I so love having you here. And I so love nattering away at you.)

It has been many years since I last made a New Year’s resolution. I’m sitting here trying to think about when I last did this. It must have been before my daughter was born, so that’s at least 15 years. If not more. Double yikes! Clearly, I am way out of practice with the whole “resolutions” thing. I never was any good at it. I would make all these resolutions and start out the new year brimming with good intentions. Every darn year, I would have broken each and every resolution by the time mid-January rolled around. I think the only resolution I ever managed to keep was the one where I promised myself I would no longer make resolutions.

And now, I am even breaking that one. Go me!

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This year, I sat down and thought about resolutions. For the first time in a long time, I thought hard. I really pondered! Because I need a fresh start. I need to change this rut my life has fallen into over the last few years. I need to grab it by the throat, shake it violently, and make it into something new. Something I can live with. Something that works for me. Something that makes me feel good about the fact that I’m alive, instead of making me feel like Life is tossing me under the bus at every twist and turn.

I had to face some facts that I didn’t want to face. I’m not getting any younger. I’m not happy with the way things are. I don’t love myself. I am in a place in my life where I never expected to be. Once I got to be “of a certain age”, I believed things would get easier. Or, maybe, I would have succeeded at something. Or I would have pursued a dream. Or … something. I thought I would be settled and satisfied with at least part of my life. But I am not. And I am beginning to suspect that things are not going to work out the way I always thought they would.

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These are not great revelations. But I never made myself sit down and face them, head-on. I have always pushed these thoughts and feelings to the side. I’ve become good at pretending they don’t exist. But they do exist. They are real, and they hurt like hell.

In facing my truths, my resolution, such as it is, became clear, too. This year, I didn’t need to tell myself, “Self, we are going to resolve to eat less sugar.” Or, “Self, we are going to resolve to lose some weight.” Or, “Self, we are going to stop cursing.” (perish the thought!)

I realized every resolution I wanted boiled down to this one thing: I want to learn to be kind to myself. 

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Let’s just think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. Because, honestly, it’s pretty damn terrifying.

I want to be kind to myself. By the end of the year, I want to stand in front of the mirror and look myself in the eyes. And I want to love the person I see looking back at me. Or, at the very least, feel a strong “like” for her, as if she is someone I wouldn’t mind going out with for a drink or dinner. I want to exercise, not to lose weight, but because it makes me feel good. I want to write because it brings me joy, not because someone expects me to or because I might get some elusive, imagined “reward” for doing it well. I want to give myself credit for trying my best and having the best of intentions, instead of always immediately seeing everything I have done wrong. I want to say to my God, “Thank You for this amazing and beautiful life You have given me”. And I want to mean it.

It’s a tall order. That’s why it’s so scary. But it’s also why this “resolution of resolutions” is oh-so-worth it. Will I succeed? I really don’t know. Maybe not completely. After all, we are talking about a whole lifetime of self-hatred pitted against one year of trying to change things. But, if I succeed even a little, that will be huge. And it will be enough.

So … a year of learning to love myself. Let’s see how it goes!

Guarded Optimism

I have never been a fan of the month of January. I’ve always loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were always big “family times” for us, with everyone gathering together to eat, play games, laugh, and make memories. New Year’s has never been much of a holiday for me. After all the build-up and anticipation and excitement of Christmas, New Year’s feels “blah”. It’s not that I hate it or anything. It’s just that it has never mattered to me one way or the other. Instead of a holiday to be celebrated and anticipated, New Year’s Day more or less felt like any other ordinary day.

But January … Oh, January! You have never been the month for me. Even as a teenager, I hated January. It was a long month of gray skies and chilly weather and short days and long nights. It all seemed to go on forever. And ever. And ever. I think it was the idea that I had nothing to look forward to. There was so much excitement and pageantry and joy around Christmas, but it was like life was supposed to go back to hum-drum normal on the 26th. Or by Dec. 28th, at the very least! January sees me into the doldrums every year.

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As you know if you’ve bebopped through my blog at all over the past few months, 2018 was not a great year for me or my family. The year ended in a big, fat pile of SUCK. I struggled through Thanksgiving. I dreaded Christmas. I didn’t feel joy in any of it. I spent most of December experiencing the lowest of lows. I had trouble dragging myself out of bed most mornings. It was like I walked through my own life holding my breath all the time, afraid of the next email or phone call or text. Because every time one of those things came our way, it brought yet another bit of bad news.

You know that old saying about waiting for the other shoe to drop? I felt like I was sitting under a pile of old, battered shoes that Fate had tossed on top of me. There didn’t seem to be any end to those tough times in sight for me or for my family. No matter how hard I tried to stay optimistic and faithful, I felt sad and hopeless.

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So you can imagine I awaited the coming of the New Year and the month of January with even more trepidation than usual. Given that it’s never been a good month for me even in the best of times, I was trying mentally to prepare myself for the worst. After all, things are not exactly peachy-keen for us. My husband is still out of a job. He is still no closer to a new job than he was in December. Or November. Things look promising, but they continue to dry up or die on the vine. None of this is my husband’s fault, of course. He is doing all he can! And then some!

It remains hard to know I can do nothing to pull us out of this slump. I have no job. I have no income. The likelihood of me getting a job within a couple of months is pretty low, considering I haven’t worked outside my home in the last 15 years! It’s hard to see someone you love struggle and suffer, and it’s even harder to know you can’t help them in any meaningful way.

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But a weird thing happened with the dawning of the New Year. Instead of waking up on January 1 feeling sad, disgruntled, and locked in my own mental doldrums, I woke up feeling … different.

We flew home from Texas on January 1 on an early morning flight. As we traveled across the sky and I watched the sun rise, I realized I didn’t feel sad. Or depressed. Or hopeless. I didn’t feel any of the things I had been feeling all through November and December. Instead, I felt at peace and hopeful and less worried. And … shall I say it? Optimistic.

It makes no sense at all. Nothing has changed. We are still where we were last month and the month before that. We still don’t know what is going to happen to us or where we are going to end up. There is nothing but uncertainty ahead of us and uncertainty behind us, too. There’s no reason for me to feel this way. And yet …

I dunno. I can’t explain it. Against all odds and evidence to the contrary, I feel good about the new year. I feel like 2019 is going to be a year of renewal and change for me and for my family. And I think they will be changes for the better. Maybe it’s silly of me. But optimism, no matter how guarded, is much nicer than my usual January “bleh”. It’s only a little thing, but you know what? I’ll take it.

Ringing in the New

I hate New Year’s. There. I said it. I don’t understand why people get excited and happy about it. Even when everything was perfect in my life, I hated New Year’s. Even when I was a kid, I hated it. I would stay up with my Dad, if he was home and not working, to watch the ball drop on TV. If he was away from home working, I would stay up on my own to watch it. Even then, it felt like much ado about nothing. I guess that’s the thing. The idea of a brand new year has never filled me with hope or excitement or happiness. No matter how happy I am to see the previous year head out the door for good, New Year’s leaves me feeling … empty. A big, fat pit of nothing. Well, if “nothing” can be big and fat.

I try not to share this opinion around much. Or at all. The people who know me already think I’m strange. Why give them even more reason to believe this? Because it seems like everyone out there loves New Year’s. It seems like everyone is excited and happy about a new year. It seems like everyone finds the ability to shake off the crap from the previous year, take a deep breath, and make a fresh start. Everyone except me.

It doesn’t help that January is my least favorite month. I pretty much hate January, too. It’s long. And dull. And full of gray skies and rain. Or snow or sleet, depending on where you live. It’s cold — not that I mind cold. That’s the one thing I actually like about January. But it’s also dark, with short days that seem to pass me by before I even realize it’s happening.

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But here’s the thing: January is going to come and go, whether I like it or not. The new year is going to come, too. And it’s going to do whatever the hell it wants with my life, whether I like it or not. For the record, I mostly don’t like it. I haven’t liked it for the past three years. But the universe … and the new years … don’t seem to be listening. Or, perhaps, they just don’t care. I don’t know. January is going to close in on me. I know this. It already has. It will push on me and weigh me down until I feel uncomfortable and upset and like I can’t breathe. After several years of therapy, I know this is depression talking. I know this is depression, stalking me and making room for itself in my life once again.

So, what do I do? Do I just sit down and throw up my hands and say, “Whatever”? Believe it or not, doing nothing feels like an incredibly attractive option right now. But I can’t trust that. Because that’s depression, too.

Or do I give January the finger and fight to take back control of my life and my feelings and my thoughts? It feels too hard and like too much. It feels like this will take a huge amount of effort, and it feels like it’s just not worth it. It feels like I’m not worth it.

But I am. I am worth it. I have to remind myself of this — every day. I’ve been avoiding this blog since November and my rather spectacular NaNo failure. I tried to put a positive spin on it. I tried to remind myself there were a lot of other things going on in my life at that time, so it made sense that I would fail. Instead, I hear that little voice whispering into the still silence of my soul: You are a failure. Your creativity is dead. Your ability is dead. You will never succeed. You will never be anything. You will never matter. It’s so easy to listen to that voice. I mean, in the moment, everything that voice says makes absolute, perfect sense. Because the voice is me and it’s only telling me what I already know … what I already feel, right down to the very core of my being.

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I love this blog. I love sitting down and rambling away with my thoughts and feelings. I swore to myself that this blog would not die. And yet, here I am, heading into 2018 and feeling like my beloved blog and my creative spirit are both on life support. Like they are both gasping their last breath while I stand by, feeling helpless and wondering what I can do to stop it. I hate the way I feel. I hate the indecisive, pathetic, whiny person I have become. I wish I was as strong as people think I am. But the truth is that I’m not. The last 3 years have proven this to me. And so, I’m sitting here at 11 PM, typing out words that will soon head out into the ether. I am thinking too many thoughts. I am wishing for too many things. I am feeling too many fears.

But I’ve also decided what I will do. I will write. I will stop hiding from things that are unhappy and unpleasant in my life. I will stop keeping my feelings to myself. I have a blog, for pity’s sake! Why haven’t I talked about any of this up until now? Why have I chosen, instead, to leave my blog dormant for months at a time, waiting until I had something nice or pretty or funny to say? The fact is that I haven’t felt very nice or pretty or funny for a long time. And that’s okay. I mean, it’s not okay … but you get the idea. It’s not something I need to hide.

Because a new year is here. It’s time for me to shake off the crap from the previous year, take a deep breath … And make a fresh start.