January must have been invented by someone with a sick sense of humour. We start the year penniless, plump and probably ill. It’s wet and dark - so dark it never seems to get light. Those early December pay packets seem like such hazy, distant memories it’s as if they are the stuff of myth and legend.
Then, we inevitably fall short of the horrific self-improvement regimes we have inflicted on ourselves (or resolutions I believe they are sometimes called) and suddenly it seems like failure piles on cold dark failure and the year stretches out ahead of us.
Does it have to be this way? Can we somehow find a way to embrace the hope of the new, without trying to demolish or punish our existing selves and the inadequacies we think they hold? In my darkest times it is in fact our ability to change that has provided a chink of light in despair.
The scientists call it neuro-plasticity which, in layman's terms, means our brain’s miraculous ability to create new pathways, new patterns of emotion and thought based on how we act, how we imagine, how we speak to ourselves. It means, put most simply, we can change.
Not that it’s a quick or easy fix. Changing how we think and feel takes years and, if I’m anything to go by it feels like a lot of pretending to be something I’m not. And it can feel like another thing to beat yourself up about - if it’s in my power to change and I’m not changing then surely it’s my fault?
That’s why I’m trying to find a way of being kinder to myself and not judging myself every time I feel like I’ve failed. It really isn’t easy doing that when you’re used to being your own worst critic. I sometimes feel like teflon when it comes to compliments and kindness but like velcro when it comes to criticism and failure. And the road to recovery feels like a cruel game of snakes and ladders where the snakes are oiled to make them more slippery and the rungs of the ladders are half-missing, splintered and covered in barbed wire.
One of the ways I’m trying to break this negative spiral is through my senses - trying to notice the feel, sound, look of objects in the present moment rather than disappearing into the wormhole of my mind. I have one of those loud crackly candles I put on and a pot of coffee to smell. I can’t say it’s cured me yet but hopefully in time it will help.
Equally I’m trying to notice good things - whether they are compliments from others or times when I feel a bit better. At the moment it still feels uncomfortable, even unnatural to me but again the hope is in time these happy furrows will deepen so eventually positive thoughts are much smoother and more natural.