by: Melanie Sue
I think what I truly wanted for 2012 was to find peace. When I reread the resolutions I made two Decembers ago, they all seem to be written by someone craving a new mind/body experience. I considered making attainable, concrete resolutions, as seasonal newspaper and magazine articles tell us. Drink more water. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Read the books from my “Want to Read” list. Get 8 hours of sleep.
And yet, the goals I wrote down were mostly vague and conceptual. I’m not even sure if they’re technically resolutions. But that December I didn’t care about the book list, I just wanted to un-focus my anxiety long enough to finish a short story. I’m an inward perfectionist at heart, and I also tend to irrationally hope that certain events in my life will change everything for me. I’ll finally be happy after I graduate college, when I travel to this city, when I get this job. I was certain that if I could just get a few major things in place (basically, my whole life), the minor details—the books, the stair climbing, the improved hydration–would eventually fall in line. I thought it would all happen in 2012.
It’s 2013. I’ve managed to move a few large things, but my resolutions don’t look the way I thought they would.
I wanted to be more self-forgiving. By late December, I was a few months into a period of overwhelming and almost constant anxiety. I felt as though I was in a perpetual state of panic, scared of my own shadow. I ruminated on every bad decision I’d ever made and felt too paralyzed to do much of anything else, lest I completely ruin someone’s life. It sounds irrational because it was. I was desperately afraid something catastrophic would happen, but I was more afraid that I would spend 2012 tied to that feeling.
Although it wasn’t a bad resolution, the problem was that I had no idea how to begin lessening my anxiety. I didn’t have a therapist yet, I’m not a meditator, and I knew calming playlists and incense would only hold me over for so long. My only guesses were to spend more time outside and read some self-help books. Then, more out of desperation than a game plan, I started writing myself letters whenever I felt calm and happy. I knew the next time I was in the throes of anxiety I wouldn’t be able to think clearly or rationally. The letters to myself were visible proof that I could be okay.
I saved the files to my computer. Reading them now in 2013 is heartbreaking, but they really did allow me to become my own support system. One letter reads, “You will not feel like this forever. Try to remember what it felt like to feel okay, to feel relaxed, happy, peaceful, joyful. You have felt these things before; you can feel them again…Making mistakes does not make you a bad person. Eventually your heart will heal and you’ll feel whole and peaceful again. You’ll remember those feelings. You can live through this. You already are.”
It took awhile for me to believe my letters, but I kept reading them. And I am living through it, even if I’m still learning how. I’ve learned the importance of self-care, and I am forever learning that it’s okay to ask for help. Am I emotionally where I hoped I’d be? Maybe not. But I think I’m getting there.
I also wanted to write a list of things that make me happy. I’ve heard that grateful people are more content. I hoped it would help me remember all the beauty still left in the world.
I had pretty open guidelines for my list making: I just had to write down anything I could think of that made me happy, small or big or weird or embarrassing. I wrote them as if no one would ever read them. This proved to be a good guideline because I could actually be honest instead of trying to look “deep” or cultured. I found out that I actually do like a lot of things, both meaningful and awkward. Men in newsboy caps. The foam on Guinness beer. Row boats. Urban legends. Activism. When people chew on pens while they’re thinking (but not in a creepy way). Whispering and laughing at the same time. It’s kind of eye opening and cool to see how many things bring you happiness, and they are helpful to read through when you feel gray.
Currently, I have 606 items on the list. I had aimed to list 1,000 things, but I think the important part is that I made a list at all.
Lastly, I wanted to start my career and I wanted to live somewhere beautiful. Really, what I wanted was to live somewhere else. After jobless-ly graduating in November, I starting making money by washing hair at a salon, working at a dimly lit mailing warehouse, and writing short pieces for a social justice website. It felt like I had no future here. I applied for dozens of jobs across the country and was always turned down. I was directionless.
When I shipped boxes at the warehouse, I dreamed of accompanying them to all the beautiful cities on their labels. San Francisco. Boulder. Providence. Clearwater. I imagined leaving my city behind and in effect, leaving behind all the feelings that made me heavy. I didn’t want to be the person who only talks about seeing the world and settles too soon. I wanted to start over somewhere no one knew me.
Through a series of rapidly occurring events, I ended up beginning my career at a lovely nonprofit, working for a cause that’s very close to me. I spend a majority of my workday talking to people who are also seeking peace, who too need a voice to remind them they can be okay. I feel incredibly thankful for being given the chance to do what I do. One major thing I learned in 2012 is how drastically things can turn around in a matter of weeks. You should always wait and see.
I’m living in the same city from which I wanted to run away. There are no mountains or oceans and it’s not 2,000 miles across the globe. Through my December 2011 eyes, this would be a failed resolution.
But my quiet street is lined with trees and I can see the skyline from my back porch. When it’s warm, people sit on their front stoops for hours, and when the fire hydrants burst they gather to watch it like a parade. I decorate my walls with maps and my home is modest but it’s mine. It wasn’t what I pictured in my resolution, but neither am I.
Is it the same peace I imagined? Maybe not. But it’s beautiful.