Thursday, December 31, 2015

Black Dog Down - Happy New Year!

There are two questions that colour conversations this time of year.

1) Did you have a good Christmas?

2) What are your New Year's resolutions?

The second one is invariably answered with complete honesty, although we know in our hearts that there’s no way in hell we’re going to follow through on all those resolutions. But it’s not uncommon to have to answer the first one with a lie or two. Maybe you suffer with depression or maybe life just served you up one of its special curveballs.

Shit, let’s face it, is no respecter of calendars. Sometimes when Santa is delivering lots of goodies his reindeer crap all over your house.

If you’re already depressed or vulnerable, all that Christmas pressure to be of good cheer and not dampen the party atmosphere can prove too much. It has dangerous potential to isolate you further and although the act of pretending to be fine can work to beneficial effect – the old ‘fake it til you feel it’ approach – it can cost you dear and, as with any recreational drug, can result in a crash.

For me, this year, I’m glad to be able to say – without having to lie or give it any positive spin – I had a great Christmas, thanks for asking.

Shit happened. You can be certain of that. And it affected me – as it should. But amidst all that, despite of it, there were spells that qualify as one of my best Christmasses ever.

What the hell, as they say, is that about?

Worry not, I’m not about to go into describing every specific brand of shit that came my way over the Christmas period – nobody wants to read that on New Year’s Eve – but allow me to cite a few examples for their educational value.

In the run-up to Christmas, I learned I’d been blocked and unfriended by someone on Facebook. Not the most traumatic of experiences, I appreciate, but this was one that actually mattered. See, I’d met the guy a few times, disagreed on practically everything but got on like a house on fire all the same. Respected, admired the fellow greatly. And he once told me, “If you ever have a problem with me, just tell me to my face.” An approach, by the way, which I fully endorse and support. So for that and because of the kind of person he is, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine why the hell this guy, of all people, would choose to sever all ties like that. It upset me, dear reader.

Now, I couldn’t control my reaction. Couldn’t just tell myself not to get upset. What I managed to do though was give myself full permission to be upset... but only for a day. That’s right. I imposed a 24-hour time-limit on those feelings. And it worked! Woke up the following morning and was actually, genuinely able to shrug.

I’m relating the ‘incident’ now and it doesn’t even qualify as an incident. Somebody burns a bridge? Why automatically assume there was anything to be missed on the other side?

I daresay this whole time-limit method would not work on more serious upsets  – and how would you gauge in advance how long you would need to grieve, feel pissed off, cry your heart out etc for any given trauma? – but it’s something I intend to apply to the smaller stuff in the future.

Lost an aunt on Christmas Eve. There’s no statute of limitations on that. I deliberately refrained from acknowledging that loss on social media because I didn’t – and still don’t – wish to invite sympathies. Sympathies and heartfelt thoughts should go to my uncle and cousins because the loss is theirs, above all others. I mention it here because it does put other shit into perspective and because it’s the one thing I feel a little guilt over, for managing to still go ahead and enjoy Christmas.

But she always referred to me as her ‘favourite nephew’ and always wished me a Happy Christmas so, yeah, I went ahead and had one. I think what outweighs that niggle of guilt is how impressed I am with my ability to have a good time. For someone previously so easily knocked for six by (sometimes the smallest) provocations, the fact that I could feel the loss and yet do more than survive that day and actually feel part of the party atmosphere, among great friends and family (special mention to my very special sister) is probably one of the biggest indicators of the progress I’ve made versus the Black Dog over the course of this past year.

This does not, of course, mean I am suddenly impervious or invincible.

Whether or not I needed any reminder of that, life supplied one on Boxing Day. There I was in the pub, again in the company of brilliant friends and my favourite sister. And some dill-wallop, over-soused on alcohol and surliness, decides to turn on me for no reason whatsoever. I’m happy to speak my mind and take the consequences but in this case I hadn’t uttered a word or said boo to a goose. But I guess in the absence of any easier target this fellow who preferred to think with his fists advanced on me with menaces. It might have turned to a fight if his chosen opponent was at all given to violence, but all I did was back up and, succumb to the shock of the occasion. In fact, I’m afraid to say, dear reader, I cried. It was not a pretty sight.

Not something a ringside audience wants to see and definitely something that would’ve, in the past, had the capacity to spoil what had been a really fun night. It didn’t though. Because I didn’t allow it.

In similar fashion to my time-limited response to Mr Facebook I allowed myself only a short period to acknowledge the upset (dry the tears, for one), reminded myself of the bloody nicer, sparklier episodes of that evening and, I suppose, applied a bit of perspective. That is to say, demoted the unfortunate incident to its appropriate rank.

The fact is, the tears had far less to do with that dung-brained belligerent than he probably imagined. He was just the extra asshole I didn’t need at that time. And let’s face it, none of us requires an extra asshole. One of our own is quite sufficient at any time.

Ultimately, as the New Year approaches, all this brings us to a principle I’ve long held and endeavoured to apply. Not always successfully, but I’m still persuaded it’s a useful one.

Shed any weight that can’t be turned into muscle.

Obviously, I’m not talking about physical weight. That would require diet and exercise and I am hopeless at those. (And by the way, if you are unhappy with the way you look, by all means, tackle your own physical weight – but the key word there is ‘you’. Don’t be compelled by what others think or what you imagine they think of you.) No, I speak only of those things in life that burden you or drag you down and are of no benefit whatsoever.

Maybe that’s what Mr Facebook was doing. Maybe I’d ceased to be of any use to him. Well, fair enough then and clearly he’s done my job for me there. But I wouldn’t toss aside friends, online or otherwise, lightly. Because friends are a gain in and of themselves, to be welcomed and valued. Those go only if they’re proving detrimental, in which case ‘friend’ is too strong a word for them, isn’t it. You may well feel the loss of them, regardless, but my advice would be, sure, feel it, but not for long.

So, in summary, did I have a good Christmas?

Yes, thanks, really great.

What are my New Year’s resolutions?

Cut down on the drinking. But most of all, cut down on the shit. The quantity of shit that hits the fan and comes my way is not something I have any great control over, but I do have some control over how it affects me and for how long.

And as it happens even before 2016 has started I already have three – no, four – really brilliant things to look forward to and get excited about in the New Year. That, if you’ll pardon my language, is fucking awesome.

And excuse me while I go celebrate that in advance.

Happy New Year to you all.

SAF 2015

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