The Worst January Ever

Thanks heavens it’s February. Thank God the sun has been out – that my fingers are not always swelling up with the cold and crammed in my pockets (although this wind has taken a real turn…). That I am not racing to hospital for some family emergency or working sub-standardly and sporadically because I need to catch up after that emergency. That it stays light slightly after 4pm and slightly before 8am.

It is not an exaggeration when I say that January 2020 has been the worst January of my life. January is normally rubbish enough without extras, and I have been overloaded lately. People tell me they are doing dry January and I look at them blankly because why would anyone try and make this month more joyless than it already is?

Now I’m exaggerating – of course I respect those who make solid attempts to change their habits. A new year is a great opportunity for growth, and I am (usually) fully on board with that bandwagon: Goal setting, fitness programmes, time management, thirty-day challenges…anything like that normally has me enthused and motivated and making meaningful accomplishments. It has never been easy, but I am pretty good at working through the hard parts, seeing the long-term benefits of the grind and mastering my emotions through the normal and not-so-normal lows of my life.

Lately, however, I am constantly falling short of my goals. It is nobody else’s fault and it’s all very unfortunate, but truthfully there are too many personal demands on me at the moment for me to function at 100%. I won’t get into the details, but I am travelling a lot, doing a lot and dealing with a lot. There are big things, like my lovely Grandad dying a few weeks ago, and small things, like the washing machine being broken. Bizarrely, these are equally difficult to cope with at the moment.

As a consequence of all this responsibility and chronic stress, my priority has to be not crashing, not burning out and not falling apart. This is terribly boring. Moderation is not my thing and yet, it has become my thing.

Yes, my health is a priority, but after work, family and basic household chores, I don’t seem to have room for any creativity or spontaneity or – dare I say it – fun. I have to rest, a lot. I seem to spend any leftover motivation I have on making sure I get some exercise, or planning, buying and cooking the right foods, because I am learning to manage a fairly new diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. I need eight hours sleep a night now, when I used to function well with far less. I can’t socialise as much or write as much.

It’s all very sickening. It makes me want to fall asleep just telling you about it. You can probably tell from my tone so far that I’ve not been in a rational place, and that I’ll admit to. There’s some stark negativity in how I speak at the moment – lots of absolutes and extremes and self-attack and self-righteousness when there probably is a more helpful way of looking at it.

I can always come up with more logical ways of thinking. I can say to myself: Yes I do have fun sometimes, yes I am lucky in many ways, no I probably wouldn’t be climbing Everest and getting promoted to the top of my career ladder if my circumstances were different…

However, sometimes you tell yourself these things, but the fact is that often you just need to hear it from somebody else.

This is why I was very grateful to have stumbled across this video from Kirsten Naturally who summarised something very real and compassionate about my situation – and the situations of many of us who go into February feeling like we have let ourselves down.

The video is called “New Year, Same you? *realization*” so I assumed it was going to be the usual pep talk about not expecting your life to change without this set of utterly life-changing productivity tips.

Naturally, I clicked on the video (clicking on it shows a lot about the place I’ve been in) and was pleasantly surprised to hear an entirely different message: about actually being a good enough person already without placing extreme pressure on myself to “wake up at 5am every day”, “write three books this year” or have “rock hard abs in 2020”.

Basically, Kirsten points out that: whilst some goals can serve positive changes in your life, if you let them define your entire worth then you’re going to get in a real mess (like me). She encourages viewers to think about all the amazing things they are before they start setting goals.

This is a powerful message in a world where we often feel defined by accomplishment. What is left of me if all I am is my job title or degree classification or my gym-three-times-week? I was very struck by how much I’ve getting sucked into this awful mindset of having to have done certain things in certain ways by certain times. That is where creativity is lost.

What if we talked about interests, obsessions and values instead of accomplishments, outcomes and gains?  Achievement is good, challenge is good, but you are more than that. You might be strong or brave or witty or even kind. You might be the sort of person who randomly calls up their friends to tell them they love them, or organises family birthdays, or just sits quietly with someone if they’re having a moment. You might be passionate about trees or trains or drawing or dancing or hedgehogs or internet conspiracy theories. You might like spotting weird outfits on the train in the morning or hearing rain bounce off the fabric of your umbrella or exploring winter markets or counting the seconds between thunder and lightning. You might be so obsessed with personality tests that you send them to all your friends all the time just to see how different they all are (yep – that one is me).

You might be a good listener. You might tell great stories. You might instinctively know that your mother needs a supportive text today or when your flatmate wants a biscuit. You might have a knack for going into your own world. You might have really cool dreams that you can remember and draw pictures of. You may even be able to guess exactly when your sister needs to sneeze.

You are great and interesting and weird and lovely already. So am I.

I don’t know if I would have got to this conclusion without Kirsten, but I’m very glad I did and that I can share it with you all now. I really want to get out this rare message of self-compassion in our self-berating culture.

Please don’t waste life hating on yourself. It is normal to resent obstacles and difficulties but try not to go round and round with wondering what you could have done if they didn’t exist. It’s pointless and destructive and you are enough already.

You are enough already.

I used to hate on myself if my blogs weren’t timely (this was supposed to go out on the first weekend of Feb) but I’m going to try not to do that today. I have faith in your understanding. I am going to try and celebrate that I wrote something this evening, even though I’m tired from work and haven’t made my dinner yet. That is more than enough. I am enough. You are enough.

Thank you all for reading and please do spread the love.

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