I feel stuck. Life seems to be on hold and I’m living in limbo, waiting for something to shift. It’s difficult to sleep at night and focus on work during the day. If I can’t kick-start my positivity soon these January blues may turn into a deeper depression.
As we enter the third year of the covid pandemic it’s taking its toll. I coped really well in 2020 and I threw myself into doing up and selling our London flat. I dreamed of a new life by the coast but in 2021 things didn’t quite go to plan. The new home remains tantalisingly out of reach and my partner had to have spinal surgery. Now here we are again in January with the third Monday, the most miserable day of the year, less than a week away. This post Christmas period is generally acknowledged as being hard on our mental health. Short and dark days make it difficult to get the sunlight, fresh air and exercise we need. Instead my instinct is to comfort eat carbs and drown out my sorrows with alcohol.
This is my strategy for banishing the January blues.
Depression and I are very old enemies. I recognise the signs when black clouds are gathering. The first thing I do is to own my state-of-mind and prepare to go into battle. If this sounds like fighting spirit let me assure you I only have the energy for the simple affirmation, ‘I have the January blues’. I also tell someone else how I feel. Speaking it out loud somehow helps to take control. I usually tell my brother who is no stranger to dark days himself.
Next I start to write this post. Writing is a carthartic process for me. I began this blog in menopausal meltdown and it helped me to keep sane while riding a rollercoaster of mood swings and hot flushes. It really doesn’t matter to me if my words are read or not, but ordering my thoughts helps me process and begin to control them. In this case I haven’t written anything in a very long while and consequently it’s slow going.
A lot of self-help guides say ‘be kind to yourself’. That sounds nice – but candles and massage have never worked for me. I need the discipline of a routine to help me regain energy and focus. Sleep has been a real issue and I either find it hard to fall asleep or I wake early and cannot drift off again. Waking late after a sleepless night only exacerbates the problem – so its strictly to bed at 11.30pm with a 7am alarm call for the next few weeks.
Fill the day
I work for myself and home is also my office so it’s easy, especially in this quiet period after Christmas, to do nothing. Check a few emails, look at social media, repeat. Instead I’m going to schedule the day as much as I can.
During lockdown I did a daily yoga flow before breakfast and I will resurrect that. Dog walks with Ricci need to be a bit longer and brisker to get my step rate up. It’s back at my desk where I come tend to apart so each day I will try to write down a list of things to do and work my way through them. Paid work comes first (of course) but if there isn’t any I can write, design self motivated projects, do a few software tutorials or get on top of admin.
If I find myself drifting during the day I’ll pop the washing machine on or steam-clean the floor. Really? Yes. Cleaning is something of a personal obsession as described in my A-Z of eco friendly spring-cleaning tips. The point is that even obsessions go out of the window when I’ve got the January blues. Literally nothing matters. But if I force myself to do these things, bit-by-bit I can get myself back.
The one thing that is sure to improve my mental health is gardening. This is a sore point and it might also be the reason I am feeling so down in the dumps. There is little to do in the community garden, it’s cold, wet and walking on the beds will just compact the soil. If I had my own garden I could be planning and sowing seeds – but until the move happens there is little point. This realisation is helpful though. Perhaps I need to use this time to watch gardening videos and read-up on inspirational gardeners and gardens.
Get out there
My instinct is to hide away but I know from experience this is not beneficial. I’m going to book some things into the calendar: arrange to see a friend for a dog walk, go out for dinner with my partner and even take a look at the cinema listings. I’m also going to drop in for a cuppa and a chat with a few friends who have been ill or live on their own. There is nothing in the world like perspective and it is hard to feel miserable when you’re trying to cheer someone else’s day.
Once, many years ago, I broke down in front of my GP. He suggested I took a holiday which I thought was just about the shittiest bit of advice ever. I told my long suffering partner who promptly went round to Thomas Cook and booked a cheap week in Greece. It turns out the doctor was right, it wasn’t a magic cure for my depression, but getting away was a key part of the mending process. Now I try to make sure that there is a little escape on the horizon. Covid has put paid to most holidays but next month its my birthday and I feel the need to walk under big skies on windswept beaches. I’ve booked a couple of dog friendly nights away. Having something to look forward to is already making me smile.
Even a veggie like me can get into a rut of comfort food and treats at this time of year. From now on there will be less carbs and sugar and more fruit, vegetables, salad and soups. I need food that gives me energy and fights the overwhelming desire to slump.
As well as good nutrition a healthy gut is also important to our mental health (if you need to read the science take look at the BBC’s Microbes and Me). To keep those gut bacteria happy I’ll brew up a batch of kombucha and add some kimchi and kefir yoghurt to the shopping list.
Last of all I’ll cut down on alcohol. I will. Promise. It’s not going to be a dry January in this house, I confess, but it will definitely be drier.
It will be OK
Most importantly I need to give myself a good talking to: ‘You can nip this in the bud and turn around this bout of January blues. You’ve done it before and you can do it again.’
It might seem cheesy to talk to myself but I have to drown out the negativity of my inner voice. You know the one. It chips away at your self esteem and loves to bring you down.
And that’s my coping strategy. Wish me luck.
Image from an original by Kumiko Shimizu by Unsplash