Happy Blue Year
Last week someone wittily retorted, “What a year this week has been.” Yup, there we were fervently waving goodbye to 2020, just 18 days ago, now wondering if we might have been a bit premature in our enthusiasm.
2021 hasn’t delivered on our expectations on any level: If it continues to produce the kind of drama that it has done in its first two weeks, then we are going to need a better strategy than blind optimism: Today is so-called 'Blue Monday' - a name conjured up to encapsulate dark days, credit-card bills and the post-holiday low; but this year it means so much more: This year 'blue' doesn't really cover it.
Part of what makes today so hard is the shocking contrast between what we expect from a New Year versus its lived reality. At the end of the day, we all know that the difference between 23:59:59 and 00:00:00 is just one second, and yet we anticipate such of a difference between one side of this marker in time and the other. It seems to me that the New Year is a lovely idea that torpedoes lots of good mental health principles, just when we may need them the most.
Many of the regular Mind and Soul contingent will be aware of a few of my SAD articles that come out at this time of year. I think the predictability of them is probably an unfortunate indictment of my motivation to act pre-emptively against post-Christmas low mood. I still haven’t bought that SAD-lamp that I mentioned in 2014, despite looking longingly into the window of my local Maplin winter upon winter! So, what’s gone wrong?
Well, I guess I am a natural optimist and the whole ‘New Year Awesomeness' thing tricks me out every time. It’s not just the cards, banners and fireworks, it’s the spiritual messaging too. As a Christian leader, I and others, have a tendency to speak prophetically into the New Year, especially off of the back of a previously bad one.
Every new year message is permeated with the promise of betterment, but the reality isn’t that simple, life doesn’t just get better because its Hogmanay: 1913 gave way to 1914, 1938 gave way to 1939 and 2019 gave way to 2020. The reality is that whilst we may wish the next year is going to play a blinder, they rarely do. Not only that, but their dawning, for us in the UK at least, is at the most miserable, dark and exhausting part of our winter.
This year I have been a fool. I have a strategy, or sorts (despite the missing SAD-lamp) aimed at protecting myself from the worst of the winter blues. I thought about these in October and November but rather than heed my own warnings, I threw caution the wind and have gone all in for the ‘New Year, Vaccine, No-Lockdowns, Post-Brexit, Lighter-Evenings, Win the Lottery, Rainbows and Unicorns Package.’ How’s it Going? Not well.
Is this article just a lament? Possibly, I’m certainly finding it cathartic to write, but it has to be more than that: 2021 is hard enough, it doesn’t need to be an emotional car-crash as well. I am giving myself a proper (compassionate) talking to right now, I hoped that maybe some of these thoughts might help some of you:
On Resilience: “You are stronger than you think and God is faithful. It may not be comfortable experiencing more of the same, but it isn’t catastrophic. If anything, last year proves you can handle this year. God hasn’t promised you a blinder, but he has promised never to leave your side.”
On Sorrow: “It’s OK to feel sad but just because you feel sad, doesn’t mean you have to agree with phantom feelings like shame, guilt, despair or hopelessness. Let your sadness be just what it is, sadness. Don’t try to chase it away, don’t deny it or dress it up, but don’t let it gather meaning that it doesn’t have either.
On Hope: “The New Year was never going be to the line in the sand for Covid, but there is genuine hope. Hope for vaccines, hope for communities, hope for churches and hope for you. Your hope was never in an easy life, but in a redeemed life. Don’t lose sight of the hope you have found in the love of God.”
On Gratitude: “It’s so easy to lose sight of all of the good stuff, because of some of the bad stuff. Don’t succumb to a melting pot of dissatisfaction. Keep you eyes sharp for all of the glimpses of goodness, kindness, and beauty around you. Point them back to their maker with a grateful heart and it will change your mind.”
Will Van der Hart, 18/01/2021