I am old enough to remember the 10pm text message new year ritual. The time when we were all worried about the mobile phone network being too busy to process our 00:00:01 “happy new year” text messages so we got them sent out early. Saved in drafts during the day and “sent to all” contacts in our brick-sized phones well in advance of the midnight countdown. The traditional soundtrack to new year of Auld Lang Syne was replaced by beep, beep, beep or the Trigger Happy Nokia ringtone.
Technology and traditions move on. Times change. But, as so often in life, little changes.
The slightly self-indulgent SMS ritual from the early 2000’s has now been replaced by the obligatory nine photo Instagram post or the split screen start and end of year/decade post that demonstrates the perfection of the poster’s life. Endless success. Picture perfect images. Dream-like relationships. Legendary achievements.
The corrosive, comparison-obsessed behaviour that sadly often comes with social media is at its worst at this time of year. A time when people can too often find themselves feeling inadequate, under-achieving or worse as they are bombarded with the perfect lives of those who flood their social media feeds. Of course, much of this content is hiding deep insecurities, deep sadnesses and deep self loathing. This projection of perfection can be no more than a cry for help from someone who is often crying inside.
I have long fought against that other December 31st tradition of making resolutions for the year ahead, believing that if something is worth doing it is worth doing today and not waiting for some meaningless, arbitrary date. I don’t make new year resolutions and I stopped reflecting on my year with marks out of ten or grades from A-D. I found that this simply led me to focus on areas of failure or negativity. It pushed me to talk about what didn’t go well; what I didn’t achieve; what milestones I missed. It was not a healthy thing for me to do. Just as I stopped over a year ago from timing from runs with a running app to tell me how far and how quickly. This just induced stress and anxiety as my inner competitive nature took over and got in the way of me simply enjoying being outdoors and active and instead made me define the success of my exercise in seconds and steps and not in how I felt during and after.
As one of life’s planners, I have no problem with the setting out of goals and ambitions and no problem mapping out the road ahead but I now try hard to keep these things in perspective. The journey is as important to me now as the destination. Taking time to enjoy the scenery and to embrace the bumps in the road are as valuable to me as getting to my intended target(s) ahead of schedule. That is why I now make sure that on every run, I stop and take at least one photo. Taking time to enjoy the world around me is more important now to me that running a personal best. Winning is defined by me as trying to enjoy the whole experience not just savouring the final step. That is why I don’t beat myself up if it takes me longer to do something that I planned or if I have to accept that as my bald patch gets bigger the time to stop the comb-over has come! Hence my late-December trip to the barbers.
Over the Christmas and new year break I took plenty of time out to recharge my batteries and replenish myself. It didn’t always work and I had some setbacks on the way – with one particularly difficult and upsetting day. But rather than being down about the downs and wishing it hadn’t happened, I tried to see it as simply part of my two week holiday journey – something to embrace; something to learn from.
My mental health and relationship with depression means that I am more vulnerable to setbacks now; more likely to be sensitive to criticism; more inclined to take things to heart; I don’t always – or often – have the mental strength to ignore things that go against me; I let it get under my skin and at times allow it to bring me down. But I now know that part of my resilience is my ability to rediscover a positivity and perspective that says it’s ok to be down; to be hurt by a comment or a mistake; to accept that these setbacks are all part of my journey; part of what makes me who I am.
As much as I love using social media and seeing the content shared by a wide range of people, from colleagues and family, to celebrities and folk heroes, I don’t take it too seriously. I see it for what it is. A message. At times an advert. A story. And like all great stories, they don’t have to be true or based on a true story to be interesting or entertaining. Whether the message is sent at 10pm or midnight; it’s a card or an email; a gram-able photo or a witty hashtag; a brilliant meme or just simply the wishing of a happy new year; it’s all valuable; it’s all worth seeing. As long as it doesn’t tempt us to fall into a comparison trap or seeing just the perfection in others and just the failings in ourselves.
As 2020 begins I make this promise (note, not a resolution), that I will continue to try to be just be me; with all my edges, frailties and fragilities; all my best bits and bad habits; the whole of me. I will continue to embrace the year ahead’s journey; the ups and downs; the highs and lows; the tears and the smiles. I will compare myself to nobody. I will just try to be the best version of me; short hair, long hair or no hair at all.