January can be an emotional month. We look back on the year that has been, while a new year comes knocking. Expectation and opportunities can do battle with our inner demons as resolutions fall by the wayside. And amidst it all is a sadness for what has gone, mixed with the difficulty of dark, cold days.
How does it feel for you: Is 2020 a fresh start, filled with possibility? Or is the new year a drag, a case of hauling yourself out from under the covers into a cold and dull winter day?
I usually suffer my ‘depressive dip’ in early January, which is unfortunate given my birthday is on the 8th (or perhaps that is more causal than I want to admit…) But this year has been different; 2020 feels full of opportunities. Perhaps I managed to shrug off some of my depressive baggage during 2019.
I wanted to get a sense of how January affects different people, so I asked some of our Accelerator community for their take on the start of the year, and how 2020 has been treating them so far. I got a huge variety of responses, some of which I’ll share and explore below.
I’m not the only one to get sad in the New Year. For many people there is a quiet mourning period in early January. We may grieve for the festive season that has passed, for the togetherness, and for the lights and decorations – whose physical absence really brought this loss home.
One UA commented: ‘I miss the tree - there's a huge gap that it occupied in my heart and my lounge - and I miss the lights in the windows and the wreath on the door. I really miss the house being full of noise, the fridge being full of leftovers and the fun that we all seem to have as a family.’
It may be a loss we face annually, but it hits hard nonetheless. Perhaps we may grieve for other things alongside – the year that has gone, or the people we face a new year without.
There is a difference between mourning and depression – in fact many psychotherapists would suggest that depression indicates a failure of mourning somewhere along the way.
And I feel like my annual January sadness was a bit different from this, given that I’m not particularly into Christmas itself. I suspect it might have been linked to a more general malaise, which the natural ‘check-in’ process of the new year brought home. That, combined with the rotten British winter weather and a return to routines, probably triggered the blues.
The other side of this time of year is the sense of newness and possibilities. For many, this is signified by resolutions and goals for the year ahead. A few UAs described the positivity of this:
‘My husband is very goal driven so over the last few years we have sat down at the beginning of each year and fleshed out our hopes and dreams. At the end of each year we revisit these resolutions to see how we’ve fared. I never used to be a goals kind of person but I find it really gives shape to the year and my life in general.’
There can also be a general sense of purpose and forward movement to January. The more optimistic among us start to think of spring and the rest of the year:
‘I see new year as an exciting, fresh start when I can get back into my work and routines with refreshed vigour (and relief, to be honest). Each day is getting slightly lighter for longer and we’re moving closer to spring (my favourite season). I feel thoroughly refreshed and positive at this time of year and can’t wait to get going. ‘
But others highlighted the flip-side of the new year resolution machine:
‘I always am shocked at how many people are at my swimming pool and at the yoga classes, it is at least 5 times more busy. And I know that by March it all dies down again.’
The price of change
Perhaps this experience reflects a common human ambivalence in the face of change, writ large in the clamour of gym and diet marketing which engulfs us every January. We so badly want to set goals – to lose weight, to change jobs, to build on a relationship – and yet by the third week of January the wheels seem to come off and we can be left defeated, deflated or even depressed.
Perhaps we’d do well to look again at loss and mourning. One UA suggested to me that we may all benefit from a considering the words of Freud in January:
‘According to the National Office of Statistics, New Years Day and Mondays in January (and bizarrely May!) are associated with the highest suicide rate. One theory is that there is a discrepancy between the wished for and the actual experienced “new start”. All change involves loss (even if it’s a wished-for change) and yet these losses may not be appreciated.
Think about Freud and Mourning and Melancholia, which states that we have to feel anger and sadness about loss in order to process it. Freud said that unless you mourn the loss of the old, you can’t experience new beginnings in a truly hopeful state of mind (rather it is a manic and somewhat precarious form of hope). Which might give some understanding to the number of resolutions that are made and not achieved.’
So perhaps it is in good old Freud that we can find some deeper perspectives on our resolution-making and breaking activities. What all of this suggests to me is that there is power in the January sadness that is so familiar to many of us. In fact, if we are looking to change things in the New Year, then grief may be a necessary (if painful) process to allow that change to happen.
Whether it is in mourning the loss of Christmas, the last year, people, projects or places we have known, whether when taking down the tree, or thinking of the person we are but may want to change somehow - it is the space we give to mourning that then allows us to create something new, whatever that may be.