Well here we are – the end, as near as makes no difference, of 2019.
Sometimes it’s felt like spending 12 months in some sort of shared experiment involving a mass mental health episode. Barely a day has gone by when, as a society, we haven’t been angry, depressed, riddled with self-doubt, mean-spirited, filled with hatred, intolerant, schizophrenic, phobic and lost.
As years go, this has been one of the more divisive.
It has been dominated by Brexit and political mistrust. It’s been a year of finger-pointing and disruptive direct action on climate change. A time when anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have been evidenced at the very heart of our system of government.
All in all, it’s been a year when our society hasn’t seemed to like itself very much.
But we stand on the precipice of a new decade with a clear road ahead. It may not be a road that takes us in a direction we wanted to go and we may not be led by the people some of us would have liked to have seen in charge of our immediate future.
Yet there is, at last, clarity of purpose.
We can also use the season of peace, joy and goodwill as an appropriate time for us to make a better deal with ourselves emotionally.
If 2019 and Brexit have been a metaphor for everything that amounts to poor mental health, then it’s high time we shook off the individual baggage we’ve accumulated during the year and negotiated a new emotional arrangement with which to start 2020.
Here, then, are my challenges to you – and I promise you that if you can meet them, your emotional health will be all the better for it:
Let it go
As Elsa sang in Frozen, let it go. Life is too short for grudges, to precious to waste stewing over things you can’t influence or change. Breathe. Let. It. Go.
That doesn’t mean ignoring or tolerating unacceptable behaviour from someone; it means dealing with it and then moving on. Or accepting you can’t deal with it and moving on.
If someone has upset you, tell them they’ve upset you and tell them why. Tell them what they can or need to do to repair the damage and then give them the chance to do it.
But don’t sit there seething over stuff that you can’t change. Sometimes, shit happens. There’s no useful purpose to be served in raging at the world about it, because generally speaking shit doesn’t tend to un-happen. Mourn if you have to. Grieve if you have to. But find solace and peace and acceptance.
Then breathe and Let. It. Go.
Be kind to yourself and others
Sometimes we all like to think we’re invincible, but we’re not. None of us is superhuman, but we do all have our own superpowers. Tolerance. Kindness. Empathy. Sympathy. Generosity of spirit. Even-handedness. Impartiality. And more besides.
Use these liberally in your life. If you have the opportunity to be kind or cruel, choose the former. If it’s possible to interpret someone’s words or actions in two different ways, and one of them makes you sad – choose the other.
Learn and accept that it’s okay to be the best version of yourself today, even if that’s not the version you hope to be tomorrow. Be comfortable in the knowledge that you are a work in progress, make peace with the fact it’s a work that may never be truly complete and love yourself for who you are and the values you hold.
Don’t chase perfection
Especially at this time of year, when we create pressure for ourselves to deliver the perfect Christmas, find the perfect partner and buy the perfect gift, do all you can to understand that perfection doesn’t exist and then stop chasing it.
But generally in life this is good advice, too. It will insulate you against disappointment, unrealistic expectations and the shame of perceived failure.
With that insulation comes the ability to enjoy life for the rare and wonderful experience it is, warts and all, and to see the value and the lessons that life has for you in all that you do.
The idiot is your friend
It’s easy to be offended, upset or angry with people whose actions or views seem to be at odds with the very definition of what it should be to be human. But believe me, it’s wasted energy.
Instead, rejoice in the fact that every obnoxious person you meet is living, walking proof that you’re really not the worst person on Earth and that what you stand for makes you the decent and honourable human being that you sometimes find difficult to see in the mirror.
While discrimination and abuse needs to be called out – and we can all do our bit to eradicate it from our own micro-systems – no one has given you the job of putting the world to rights.
It’s a collective responsibility and all anyone can ask of you – including yourself – is that you do your fair share and no more.
This is the most important challenge of all.
There’s one thing that humans are absolutely brilliant at and that’s pretending everything’s fine, that we’re coping, that life is a bed of roses. It’s a fundamentally British trait and the inability to ask for help when everything gets a bit overwhelming is one of the biggest contributors to poor mental health.
So, when life gets on top of you, challenge yourself to find someone to talk to about it. That might be a close friend or a family member. It might be someone like me. But the important thing is to reach out and let someone else share the burden with you.
Because what I’ve learned (or maybe remembered) this year – through the social changes we’ve all experienced and through events in my own life – is that life is not a race we run alone.
It’s one where we’re all responsible to help each other across the finish line – whenever and wherever that might be for each of us.
From all of us here at Zoe Clews & Associates, I wish you a merry Christmas and the happiest of happy New Years. As I always say at this time of year: be kind to yourself. You’ve earned it.