New Year’s Anxiety

I don’t like New Year’s. There I said it.  Bah humbug on me.

I can’t quite put my finger on it.  There are many reasons, actually; perhaps that’s why I can’t choose just one.

It could be because, for years, it signaled the end of vacation.  One day left to recover from a whole week’s worth of revelry, never mind one night of staying up late.  But also, the start of a new cycle of anxiety.  First, back to school as a student after no routine, no work, no peer pressure.  Then, back to school as a teacher after no lessons to plan, papers to correct, or kids to sass me and throw my class off course.

I never even knew exactly what I dreaded.  And I guess that was precisely the point.  The unknown.  I was out of my groove and didn’t know what to expect upon jumping back into it.  That was what terrified me.

And then I had kids.  Little babies at home who depended on me and only me when Daddy went back to work after the holidays.  Where I’d been easy breezy and in control with him home, the thought of doing the same things without him under the same roof made my muscles clench.  Not because I couldn’t or hadn’t before or wouldn’t now, but because of the unknown.  What if something happened I couldn’t handle?

On December 31st, I shovel enough calories to counteract the headache-inducing powers of the bubbly I’m sipping and learn just how out-of-touch I am and how sad the state of popular music is by the broadcast performances.  I eat and sip and flip channels to force myself awake till the magic hour when all I’d like to do is curl up and go to sleep.  And for all that build-up, all that empty effort, all that’s left after a sweet kiss with my hubby – is a void.

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Outside my house, barely lit by the moon.  Lack of light fits the theme. Taken December 30.

The absence of a year past, the new one not yet started.  The hole where merry holidays once were.  A cold, dark, silent winter stretching before me.  Exhaustion.  Let-down.  The unknown.

 

 To say I ponder the absolute unknow-ability of an entire upcoming year in one night would be false.  At least not consciously.  But perhaps that’s part of why I hate New Years.  Each year, with December 31st, I’ve closed an expected chapter in that point of my life.  I’ve made it through the holidays, with all the tradition and routine that comes with.  I’ve made it to the end of the calendar year.  Even if I’ve not completed all the to-dos, I can rip that page out of my proverbial planner because that time has passed.

To what? Is the question.

To a person with anxiety, a new beginning, a new chapter is not a fresh start.  It is a worrisome reworking of the same fears and uncertainties that plague her at the outset of any unfamiliar venture.

When these same feelings return at the end of each holiday break, I wonder if I’ve ever grown up or grown past the fears I had as younger versions of myself.  I haven’t taught for ten years – why should I still fear returning to work!?  Well, I do and I don’t.  A nightmare classroom doesn’t await me.  But as one of the highest stress times of my life, that scenario is my psyche’s go-to when it fantasizes fear.  And in that all too familiar low after the holidays, it’s easy to build the set for the familiar script.

Now, both consciously and subconsciously, I get to ponder what I want from this portion of my life.  I get to question my worth as a mother, why naptime may be the favorite part of my day, why I don’t get down on the floor and play blocks anymore.  Why I swear, why I say things I judge fictional mothers for saying, things that make me sure I’m killing their spirit but utter anyway.  I get to think about how much I want to write, and what, and how I don’t have time for that.  I get to choose how to mete out my volunteer time and what I feel I have to do, not what makes my soul sing because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I get to think about how the days fly but are often filled with crap.

This has been a New Year’s tradition for so long, it’s hard to separate out what is holiday ennui and true anxiety.  I’m beginning to think the anxiety is the one sure thing that isn’t going to change from year to year.

Let-down. Easily?

The excitement I felt as a child spying Christmas lights through the trees, the twinkling points brightening the darkness, a magical apparition amidst a black backdrop – to say that’s gone away as I’ve gotten older would be a lie. It may have dimmed, but it hasn’t disappeared altogether.

Long drives to relatives’ houses, country roads turned unfamiliar by nightfall, the conical Christmas trees aglow in the windows we pass become the markers, the golden deer high on a hill the waypoints.

Our family traveled to one relative’s house both Christmas Eve and the following Saturday. The same route, the same sparkling spectacles, but somehow, within the space of a few days, the lights had lost their magic.

What once signaled possibility, now was a sad reminder that it was over; the points of light now a poignant prompt of what was. Looking at those lights depressed me in a way I couldn’t name. Not in the way it may have as a child, if Santa hadn’t brought me the one thing I coveted. Or knowing the time of unlimited treats was over. Perhaps because all the preparation leading up to that one day, all the hours reduced to a mere twenty-four, passed by in a flash. There was nothing now to which to look forward.

The lights would soon go out. The joyous strains of Christmas carols would end. The bleak days of winter would set in.

The end of the season is capped with the celebration of New Years’, but that’s always depressed me nearly as much – if not more.

A time to recount what we’ve done wrong during the past year, our mistakes, opportunities missed, amazing moments gone. Waiting in a suspended state, on edge, for – a kiss? A hangover? A mess of confetti to clean up? To wake up the next morning bleary eyed and cranky. What an auspicious way to herald a new beginning. The fact that, for years, New Years’ also signalled the end of vacation for me and the restart of my teaching schedule certainly didn’t help. That was anxiety-inducing and depressing in and of itself.

The whole of the time period between Christmas and New Years’ is a weird dead zone. There no longer is the excuse or mask of Christmas to impel us to at least fake happiness. There is a winding down, a let-down – with the building stress of creating a killer list of resolutions, ways to make our flawed selves better, to overcome our frail ways, to defeat the demons plaguing us for years in this one year. No pressure.

There is a hollow space in my chest during this time. A sadness somewhere behind my eyes and down in my throat. It is a return to normal. A return to a time with no distractions. While stressful with its added expectations and tasks, the time leading up to the holidays gives lots else to think about – rather than our problems. Or at least a good way to avoid them. Now it’s back to ‘ordinary time’.

And while that may not be the designation on the Church calendar at this time, that’s what it feels like to me. No longer extraordinary.

I know if I remove the decorations, the piles of gifts, the social commitments, there is the ultimate fulfillment of my wildest expectation in the birth of Christ. In the silence that follows all the earthly tumult is His quiet peace. I know I’m missing the point if I mistake the silence for sadness, when it should be taking me truly to the heart of the season, the true meaning. Perhaps that’s what the hollow is – the fact that I am missing it. But it is sometimes hard to cross the bridge between knowing and feeling – not because I do not want to, but because my body, or brain chemicals, or something won’t let me.

There is always the problem of unrealistic expectation. If I go from moment to moment, living it for what it is, sucking the marrow out of this minute, rather than anticipating the next, I will enjoy rather than lament. But I’ve always found it hard to balance preparation and mindfulness.

A couple of things I may try:
gratitude jar

Reading these next New Years’ Eve would put a positive focus on the end of the year, what I’ve gained and experienced rather than what will be lost.

Also, viewing the holidays in the terms put forth in this post from Life at the Circus would help keep my perspective from being skewed negatively and keep the absence out of the space after the holiday.  It may even keep me from feeling less in the pressure to make New Years’ resolutions.

May you all continue to see and feel the light of the season – even in the darkness behind your closed eyes. May you find ways to make that light last throughout the year to come.

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