Time may change me

Sometimes my depressive phases are really obvious, but sometimes they creep up on me slowly and I don’t realise I’m in them until I assess the state of my room. I really like having things neat and organised, so it starts to become painfully clear to me that something is actually wrong when everything is a mess.

When my purses are piling up on the couch, along with press kits and other stuff that’s been sent to me; when there’s no space for my laptop on my desk because it’s covered in old receipts, junk mail, and all manner of things that really don’t belong there (six tubes of lipstick and five pairs of sunglasses, really?); when my makeup brushes haven’t been washed in weeks and my dresser looks like I tried to channel my inner Pollock with makeup products. Something is wrong.

But I’m at that point in my life with clinical depression where I mostly know how to handle it, and know how to pull myself back into regular function — a skill I’m grateful to have learned. And for me, part of that is cleaning up my space. I feel like the space surrounding you is reflective of what’s going on inside you. I need to clean in order to decompress and declutter my own mind and emotions. And I find it is much easier to motivate myself when I’m in an organised space. So I clean.

It’s something I also like to do close to the end of the year; a clean slate to herald a fresh start. I know New Year is no different from any other day ending and another one beginning, but these rituals are more for the mind than they are for anything else. There is so much power in symbolism.

My room was a mess, and the year is ending, so this go round, I hit two birds with one stone.

I always find things I forgot about in the process of cleaning, and one of the things I came across this time was my Traveller’s Notebook — my bullet journal. I’ve been trying to keep one since late 2016, but I never quite manage to make it through an entire year despite my best efforts. I think that’s probably because I’m a freelance writer working from home. I don’t really do much that necessitates writing things down, even if it is only in list form. And for the longest time, I wasn’t even writing, so I was just sad, funemployed, and living in pyjamas; the last thing I needed at the time was a reminder of how utterly useless I was as a human being, in the form of a very empty agenda notebook.

I think I might try again this year. Things feel different. In a good way.

The Midori Traveller’s Notebook is beloved for how customisable it is. You fill the empty leather cover with the inserts you feel are relevant to your needs. Mine has a grid notebook insert that I use for bullet journalling (three months per insert, then I switch to a new one), a plastic zip pocket in which I keep my writing tools, a cardboard folder for inserting papers that I feel like I need to keep, a ruled notebook insert for evergreen things like important lists and recipes, and a plain notebook insert for notes, meeting minutes, and scratch.

On the very first page of the ruled notebook, I found this list I actually forgot about, that I wrote at the end of 2017:

In 2018 I will

  • Be healthier — eat better (less sugar, good carbohydrates), drink less alcohol, party more selectively (you don’t always need to go out or go home at crazy hours — party fatigue is real), and continue exercising regularly
  • Waste less time and energy on people or things that I instinctively know deserve no place in my life
  • Trust my instincts more — they have never failed me; I have only failed to listen
  • Get my life back together and ease myself back into the real world — try to work again
  • Write more
  • Live up to my potential
  • Go back to Berlin, even just to visit
  • Try to allow myself to be more vulnerable again, to open myself up to love if it is right, when it presents itself — I really closed myself off in so many ways in 2017 after I got my heart broken. Maybe it is time to finally let go of those defence mechanisms and give myself a chance.
  • See more new places
  • Not get too lazy to journal halfway through the year
  • Be more conscious of my spending

It’s so strange to look back on the goals you set for yourself, and try to see if you managed to actually accomplish any of them over the course of the year. Or in this case, two years, since it’s already 2019 (and 2019’s bloody ending). It’s also an interesting way to assess your state of mind at the time — the goals you set for yourself are so indicative of where you were in life and where you wanted to be. They make it so clear what was wrong then, and what you were hoping to correct.

I don’t think I was in the best place at the end of 2017. It was a great year, for sure. I wrote thousands of words about what a great year it was for me. But it had to be great, because I was healing from so much. Anything less than great would have been even more heartbreaking.

I knew from the beginning that spending wisely would be a lost cause; I think I put it there in the hope that I’d feel motivated to try. As for my health, it yoyo-ed for a bit over the last couple of years, but I currently feel great, and feel great about the way I look, which has only happened a handful of times in this lifetime. I hope it stays that way, and I will try to keep it that way.

But looking at that list again now, I think the only things on it that I managed to accomplish in 2018 were to go back to Berlin, and to see more new places. (I went to Puerto Galera, Iceland, Belgium, Balesin, Toronto, and Montréal for the first time in 2018, and made return trips to La Union, Batangas, Siargao, Camp Ngey Ngey, and yes, Berlin.) Ticking both of those off the list was great, but they were external goals, like money and weight loss. The internal goals, the personal ones, the really important ones, I achieved none of them.

I mean, arguably, live up to my potential is kind of an impossible goal, because how do you quantify that? I don’t know why I wrote it down. Well. I’m pretty sure I wrote it down because at the time, I felt really lost. I spent my early-to-mid-twenties obsessed with my career in publishing. I relished having responsibilities, reveled in having a lot to do, no matter how frivolous it all appeared outwardly. (Because beauty journalism is a superficial thing, no matter how complicated it can get.) I loved having a purpose. Then the depression hit really, really hard, and all of that came falling apart, and truthfully, up until now I haven’t really bothered trying to build it back up to what it was.

It’s something I’ve made my peace with now. I used to be so agonised about it, but now I’ve learned to embrace the fact that I’m actually really blessed to be able to only do what I want to do, when I want to do it. It’s a huge privilege that I was taking for granted because of my ego. I’ve always felt like I could be doing so much more than I currently am, and truthfully, I probably still could. I just know now that I don’t have to if I don’t genuinely want to. There is no competition, except with myself, if I choose.

The personal goals, they took a little longer to achieve. But I think I’ve finally managed to tick a few more off that list.

Waste less time and energy on people or things that I instinctively know deserve no place in my life, and trust my instincts more — they have never failed me; I have only failed to listen. Those two go hand-in-hand, and they are things I have known for a long time but always failed to act on because deep down, I’m an optimist and a hopeless romantic.

I am astonishingly bad at cutting toxic people out of my life. My tragic flaw is that I believe that if I love someone hard enough, what they return will be commensurate. Spoiler alert: It never is. Something I have had to learn the hard way is to never expect the same amount (or kind) of effort that you put in. There are people out there who will take and take and take; the worst kinds of people for those like me who will give and give and give.

They’ll tell you, I never asked for any of this from you. I never promised you anything in return. But they’ll keep taking anyway, because they know you’ll keep giving.

And that’s what happened, all throughout 2018 and most of 2019. I kept giving. You never really run out of love to give; it’s an infinite resource. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make you feel small and empty anyway, when so little is coming back to you. Often I felt like those among my friends (wonderful people who loved me enough for all the men who were incapable of it) who had fully committed to singlehood instead of getting themselves into hopelessly complicated situations had the right idea all along — but by then I was in too deep with these poor life choices, too invested, too emotionally attached, to pull back out.

It was my own fault, too, for accepting the crumbs of affection they were willing to give me, trying to make myself believe it was enough. You offer a hand, they will take your whole arm, and then beat you across the head with it. That’s what it felt like.

But I think 2020 is the year that I will listen to myself. I’ll listen to the alarm bells and pay attention to the warning signs I always get early on that tell me, this person is not for you. No more benefit of the doubt, when their actions make it clear that the doubts were always justified.

It’s the first step in getting my life back together, which is also an item on that list. I’m certainly writing more, which is a huge part of getting my life back together, easing myself into the real world, and trying to work again — I’ve written more in the last couple of months (personally and professionally, though in my case the two always intersect) than I have in the last few years, which is a miracle. It’s harder work than people realise. Just because one enjoys it or is relatively good at it doesn’t mean that it is any less work. I realise now that not writing played a huge part in my declining mental health. Writing has always been such an integral part of who I am. For all those years that I wasn’t doing any of it, I felt like a part of me was missing, like I had lost some meaning, and I kept trying to fill that void with the wrong things, trying to find meaning in the wrong places.

My psychiatrist told me a long time ago that getting back into writing would be a crucial part of my recovery. I believe him now. Other aspects of my life might have fallen apart a bit, but having this significant part of it back is really holding me together. Maybe it’s like that Lady Gaga quote: “Your career won’t wake up one day and tell you it doesn’t love you anymore.” This is something that I know won’t ever leave me. It’s something I’ll always have, this ability to string words together. And it’s such a relief, after so much loss and so much heartbreak, to have something I know I can hold on to.

I’ve been so hurt, but I don’t want that hurt to make me hard. I don’t want it to close me off to the good that might be out there. I’ve always been open to my own vulnerability, but I realise now that I only ever kept trying to shut myself down because I didn’t want to scare others off with that vulnerability. I have it in spades. I would like nothing more than to be open, authentic, and honest with the people I choose to love. People are so afraid of that these days; so afraid to feel something real, so quick to default to what is painless, meaningless, and easy. It works for some, and that’s great. But I know it’ll never work for me, and I’m going to stop trying to make it work for me.

So I’ll hold out, for people with whom I won’t feel the need to hold back. For people who, when I hold out my hand, will give me their own hand to hold.

I’ll draft a new list before 2019 ends. And I will hope for the best in the new year, because I’m still an optimist — some things will never change.


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