The end of the year is an interesting time. There are 365 days in a year, and for some reason, we only tend to reflect back on things during the last ten. We look at our failures and short comings and promise ourselves that we’ll start going to the gym, or start dating, or finally commit to that diet we keep putting off until “tomorrow.” We make all of these shallow, half-hearted vows to better ourselves and then we get caught up in life, and the next year ends and we repeat the cycle, just as out-of-shape, lonely, and overweight as we were last year. Perhaps it’s because New Year’s Eve is the only clear time marker that we pay attention to. The ball drops, Mariah Carey sings (sometimes out of tune), people kiss each other at midnight. It’s a literal party. Time is always moving, but we only seem to notice it when there are bright lights, fireworks, and champagne bottles. And we treat each New Year’s Eve celebration with the “why not” attitude of a mini apocalypse. The year is ending, so why not make some bad decisions and then rebuild tomorrow? We have our lives laid out like film clips on an editor’s floor, rearranging the timeline during moments of impulse or guilt. Why do we do this? I think the answer varies with age and life stages, but it all ties into the same concept.
To start out with a cliché, every life is a story, every person a protagonist, every friend, family member, stranger a side character. When you bring them all together and bind them into tales, you notice several similarities. That’s not to say that everybody’s life is the same. That would be hubris on my part to even think. What I mean is that the things that define our choices can often be placed into the same category. Our influencers can be summed up in love, fear, survival, pride, even envy, and our protagonists are time and age – though Millennial bloggers might argue that fifty is the new twenty. Point being, we’ve come to terms with our circumstances and have let our dreams fall beneath the feet of fear and the unspoken pressures of a society that’s become a blender of ideologies constantly in flux. Because of this, we no longer see the narrow path from point A to point B. Instead we see a vast expanse of shifting landscapes and intersections that rarely end up where we hoped or got so exhausting that we opted to absorb ourselves into the chaos instead of moving forward.
While I like to think that I’m above such delays in forward motion, I’m not. Nobody is, and even thinking about it is an exercise in madness. Jonathan Tropper talks about this in his book One Last Thing Before I Go. He says, “The thing about living alone is that it gives you a lot of time to think. You don’t necessarily reach any conclusions, because wisdom is largely a function of intelligence and self-awareness, not time on your hands. But you do become very good at thinking yourself into endless loops of desperation in half the time it would take a normal person.” We as human beings are exceptionally skilled at overthinking, especially those of us still trying to navigate our young adult lives. It’s like living in the world’s longest avalanche. Whenever you think you’ve found solid ground it cracks and crumbles, sometimes while you’re still standing on it. And thinking about how it happened or what you can do to change your fortune will literally send your mind into a cycle of panic and irrational decisions, especially if you’re at that point in life where you’re trying to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and wondering how you’re supposed to get there.
For example, when most people look back on their twenties, they seem to divide into two different factions; those who had it all “figured out” and those who didn’t. From an outside perspective this might appear to boil down to a difference between good choices and bad ones, but there are often outside factors that contribute to who is successful and who isn’t. In my own peer group, the people who seemingly have their lives put together didn’t pay for their own schooling, they had houses given to them by parents or passed down by loved ones, or they got grandfathered into comfy jobs that make high figured salaries either starting or after minimal time in the field. Those who didn’t, had to pay their own way, often worked two jobs, and some are even living with their parents in their early thirties because they didn’t have the luxury of time or a cushion of unearned income. This doesn’t mean that one of these “factions” is better than the other, or that we’re not capable of rising above our circumstances, it simply means that everybody’s journey is different and comparing your life to the lives of your friends is asking for trouble. I recently had an experience with this.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of festivity, family gatherings, and a chance to catch your breath after another year in the trenches. For me, the holidays were the last step on an already fractured glass floor. For the past several months, I’ve been slowly feeling an oncoming break in my mental health. Last year I wrote an article titled, “I’m Fine I Promise: Some Thoughts On Suicide, Depression, Anxiety and 13 Reasons Why,” that details my struggle with mental health, especially in the areas of depression and anxiety. It’s not something I’m ashamed of, but it is something that weighs me down on a daily basis. I started a job in October teaching digital media classes at a high school, and I don’t know if it was the sudden increase in time on my hands that came with Winter Break or an inevitable wall I was destined to hit after spending the past year living off stress and energy drinks, while I buried myself in projects that rarely paid me enough to survive. I hit that wall, and I hit it hard, and instead of landing on the ground, I toppled backwards down a dark rabbit hole of lunacy, panic, and unresolved issues that have been swept under the rug since I was a teenager.
I had never experienced anything like this. It was so bad, that for the first time in my life, I feared what the repercussions of this could mean. Everything that I’ve put so much effort into not thinking about latched on to me, creeping into parts of my subconscious mind that I take extreme efforts in keeping locked away. My age, lack of success compared to my friends, heartbreaks and failed relationships, fear of disappointing people, anxiety, depression, mental health issues, the future, it all caved in on me in a single moment of psychosis that was so perfect and complete that I was willing to do anything to make it stop. I started rapid firing job applications, googling mental health disorders, joining forums, looking up therapists, searching for other places to live. And all the while this was happening, I felt locked outside of my brain, like I’d lost a fundamental piece of whatever controls my ability to think rationally. I was willing to throw away everything I’ve built and all the people who love me based on the random and impulsive thought that I was supposed to be somebody else somewhere else, and that was going to solve all of my problems. By the time I realized what I was doing, I’d already buried myself so deep that even a week after leveling out, I’m still trying to purge my mind of the residual effects.
All of this because for so long I’ve been comparing my life to the lives of people around me and the standards that people in my life build for me. I’ve completely lost track of my own identity, and who I set out to be. I stood at the metaphorical mountains of madness and lost control. I stopped setting goals, stopped trusting God, stopped walking the road I set out on, and instead became one more fool in a parade of misguided individuals. I stopped living in my own tale and tried to force pieces of other stories into my blank chapters. In the end, it had consequences.
To get back to my original question: why do we create resolutions on New Year’s Eve? It’s a rather complicated question when you break it down to the individual, but to simplify it in broader terms, I think that we all need something to look forward to, something to provide us hope. I look at it the same way I look at life vests on boats. You don’t have to use them, but as long as they’re there, there’s at least a chance that things are going to be okay. And in the crush of today’s constantly shifting landscape of politics, social media, and other pressures that come with life, it’s important to have something to keep you grounded. This isn’t just important for Millennials, but for anybody of any age or gender. That old saying about sharks dying the moment they stop swimming is a great metaphor for living in this modern world. Make resolutions, set goals, create a plan, and not just on New Year’s Eve, but any day of the year. Even if you don’t ever write that novel, or go sky diving, or try online dating, knowing that there’s a whole world outside of your head can make all the difference you need in deciding who you want to be and avoiding those rabbit holes that lead you down paths you never meant to walk. Most importantly stop comparing your life to the lives of those around you. Start looking at what you have and imagine what it could be instead of imagining it as something else. It’s difficult to do, but who knows, the end result might be worth the struggle.