These Are Not New Year’s Resolutions
I like to say that I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I like to say that a lot, because I like to believe that I’m edgy and different and too cool to do the thing that everyone else also says they don’t do.
Whether or not I want to believe I’m following the crowd, the beginning of a new year feels like a natural place to make changes. The stress and overindulgence of the holidays is over, and we have a full 365 days ahead of us that we have not yet fucked up.
2015 was a hell of a year for me, and I do mean hell. My mental health was wobbly, kind of like my brain was a four-legged table, and one of the legs was just a bit shorter than the others. It might not tip all the way over, but it’s also never quite steady enough, and if you’re not careful, your drinks will get spilled and you’ll have a huge mess to deal with.
My physical health didn’t fare much better. My asthma worsened. I suffered some joint injuries, and I struggled with constant, debilitating fatigue.
I’d like to pretend that these are just things that happened to me, but I know better. These are the symptoms of my incredibly shitty lifestyle.
I have some changes to make. A lot of them, really. It’s daunting to look into your life and realize that basically everything you do has to change. Most people, including every mental health professional I know, would likely advise making these changes slowly, one step at a time, because otherwise I’m doomed to fail. I realize they’re probably right and are giving me valuable advice, which I’m going to completely disregard. I have to change everything about the way I’m currently living and spending my time, and I don’t know that I can make one change stick when everything else I’m doing is so completely self-indulgent.
On top of that, the things I need to change are so connected to each other that trying to change one thing without addressing the others seems like it would blow up in my face. Do I start with working out? But if I don’t start sleeping and eating things other than frozen burritos and beer, I’m not going to feel good enough to actually exercise. I have to change all of it.
The biggest problem I am facing down is myself. I have very little self-discipline; I am an utter failure at denying myself anything. I want to be good at telling myself no, but I don’t actually have any interest in doing that. I’m an instant-gratification enthusiast, and long-term benefits are rarely more appealing to me than short-term satisfaction.
Here is my Non-New Year’s Resolutionary List Of Things I Have To Change About My Life In 2016:
Exercise: I really, really don’t want to do this, but I’m kind of in a corner. I tore a meniscus through—I wish I was making this up—sheer laziness this year. I have so little muscle tone that my connective tissue was working way too hard to keep my shit together, and bam. It tore. I have been sternly advised by an orthopedic surgeon that if I don’t give my joints some muscles to support them I’m going to have to have knee surgery.
I was tempted to just go with the knee surgery to avoid exercising, but I was informed that I’d have to do physical therapy afterward anyway, so I’m abandoning that plan.
I also gave myself tennis elbow playing “Fallout 4.” I injure myself in the most embarrassing ways possible.
My knee isn’t the only reason I need to incorporate physical activity into my everyday life. I know from experience that regular physical activity stabilizes my mental health, helps me address my sleep problems, makes my skin look better, gives me more energy, and improves my self-esteem. Unfortunately, the long-term benefits of exercising rarely hold more appeal to me than the short-term benefits of sitting on my ass, which is why this is such a struggle for me.
Sleep: This is the biggest challenge I’m facing. I suffer from Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. My body is a rebel, and it won’t be controlled by neuro-normative circadian rhythms! It follows its own clock! Because it’s an asshole!
I struggle with going to bed at a normal hour. Unlike most of the people I know, I don’t get tired 10 p.m.; instead, I get a massive rush of energy. At about 10 at night is when I get the drive to do all the things I was too tired to take on during the day. It can be incredibly frustrating; I want to play games when my friends are offline, vacuum when my family is sleeping, run on the treadmill when the gym is closed.
My brain doesn’t send “go to bed” signals until about 4 o’clock in the morning, which is a real problem when you have to get up at 7 a.m. to take the kids to school.
This seems like it would be an easy problem to fix. Just stay up all night and reset the clock, right? Keep getting up early until you’re so tired that your body makes you go to sleep at a normal hour. Just change that habit.
It doesn’t work like that for people with DSPS. I get that rush of energy at 10 p.m. no matter how little sleep I’ve gotten or how tired I’ve been during the day. If I go to sleep at 8 p.m., I will wake up at 10.
Part of the problem is that I have a hard time making myself do the things I know will help, like taking sleep aids or turning off screens (blue light from screens can further confuse circadian rhythms.) I spend every day exhausted; that late night energy rush is often the only time of the day that I actually feel good.
Diet: I have to start eating things that aren’t frozen burritos and takeout. I’m certain that any portion of my constant exhaustion that can’t be attributed to my sleep problems falls neatly under the heading “Eats For Shit, I Don’t Know What I Expected.” On top of the fact that my diet is shitty in general, I’m a vegetarian. I’m pretty sure I’m giving myself some lovely nutritional deficiencies. I’m frequently left feeling slightly unwell after I eat. I’m not sure if that’s a physical or mental reaction to the fact that I’m not providing my body with the nutrition it needs, and I’m not sure it matters either way.
My stumbling block here stems from the first two items on this list: I usually don’t have the energy to deal with cooking a meal for (or with) my family. It’s quicker and easier to just order something in or nuke something frozen.
Productivity: I realized recently that the periods I’ve been the most productive in my life have also been the periods I’ve been the happiest and most mentally and emotionally stable. Unfortunately, I have the incredible privilege of being able to work from home how and when I feel like doing so.
I’m pretty sure you can already see the problem here. Whether we’re talking housework, writing, or editing videos for YouTube, I get lost at “knowing things need to get done.” I want the work to get done; I just don’t actually want to do it.
So I sit on Twitter for eight hours a day instead, promising myself that I’ll go take care of my responsibilities in just a few minutes but never following through.
This is a bigger problem than it probably appears to be. The things I put off doing add up until I’m overwhelmed by them. It gets to the point where there are so many things to do that I don’t know where to start, and I feel paralyzed by that. Those unfinished tasks add up to a heavy burden of shame—and shame makes everything harder.
This is the change I’m the most intimidated by. It’s the change I feel the most likely to fail, and it has the simplest solution: I need a schedule. I need work hours, and they need to be set in stone.
I need self control.
That’s the key to every change I need to make this year: I need to learn to tell myself no, and then I need to learn to listen to that no. I need to learn to make myself do the things I don’t want to do.
This is going to be really, really hard.