In the Last Month of This Disastrous Year, Do Yourself a Favor

And ask yourself the right questions

Debdutta Pal
Dec 14, 2020 · 8 min read

didn’t expect the year to end this way, and my cynical self finds that extremely surprising.

I knew what the pandemic was in March 2020, when it started to wreak havoc on my country and my mind.

I had waves of realizations about how it impacted my life psychologically and have been actively managing my fragile mental health since then.

I felt anger at quarantine inspo. I have felt deep disappointment with myself for being unable to work as much as I wanted to. I have struggled with my anxiety and sleep deprivation. I have felt both happy and trapped in my apartment, which is the only space I’ve occupied in the past nine months.

But what I have not felt, until now, is a distinct loss of hope.

The feeling that things will never get better, disbelief at how many of us have failed to act in a considerate manner, often endangering others in that process, and the anguish that erupts from knowing that I have absolutely nothing to look forward to — nothing at all.

Since March, this year has only been about one thing — protecting myself, whether it was from the environment, disease, general stupidity of people, or the whirlpool caused by complete loss of control.

The utter lack of compassion going around wherein even during this state of distress, we choose to pick each other apart and not stand together as one. And all the while dealing with my sensitive inner self, I have been scrambling to keep it all together.

Up until a week ago, I was under the assumption that I was doing okay. Of course, I’ve failed at times, even for a few days at a time, but I have always managed to get back to a place where I could breathe.

I thought that I had done a decent job preparing myself for what’s to come. I believed that I managed my expectations and kept them on the pessimistic side of things.

I also assumed that I was prepared to hunker down, wrap myself in a blanket of self-love, and get through all of this, however long it takes.

But, as it turns out, I was wrong. The truth is, I have no idea and no answer to the question, where do I go from here?

December wasn’t supposed to be a bad month.

Unconsciously, I was holding out hope for hope. I wished that the year would end on a note, which would be okay enough for me to spin it into something positive.

I had plans to celebrate Christmas at home, complete important work goals, reaffirm my health resolutions, and just overall, get my shit together.

I cannot pinpoint where things slipped out of my fingers. My anxiety is at an all-time high, in a stellar repeat performance after March-April, and I shudder to think if it had ever gotten any better.

I have zero motivation to put up Christmas decorations. Suddenly, the colors red, green, and gold seem repulsive to me, and I’ve always adored Christmas just a tad less than Jessica Day.

I am so disconnected from myself that I am unable to work effectively.

Unfortunately, work for me is writing about myself, which involves digging deep, processing emotions, and putting them on paper in a semi-polished way so that a reader can understand what I am talking about.

I can write poetry, which for me is raw, and pure feelings. I can also do humor, as that is my go-to defense mechanism. I attempt a stream of consciousness, and I cannot tell if it looks too much like a diary entry.

All the words are avoiding me. I feel so numb that I cannot pour out my pain on paper, even for myself, and this scares me.

Due to a few leaking pipes in my apartment, we have to undergo extensive demolition and repair for about a week and a half. We’ve managed to push it to early January, but that just means me being overly anxious for a month, to the point that I cannot function.

We have to temporarily move out and do a bunch of tasks both before and after to get things back to normal. What this also means is that I have to once again depend on my partner to take the lead on this activity due to poor mental health.

I wish there were a way to replace the pipes in my head. I could really use that.

I had wished for the year to end with a bang, feel extremely accomplished with my completed work goals, and then go back to my personal life to appreciate the little things.

I wanted to binge Netflix, have some holiday-themed drinks, and take a moment to reflect and congratulate myself for getting this year over with.

But, no matter how hard I try, this dream seems to be moving farther and farther away from me.

Last night, while staring at my never-ending to-do lists, I asked myself the one question I have been avoiding — Why?

  • Why did I want the year to end well?
  • What evidence did I have to support this ideal image that this month will go exactly according to plan?
  • Hasn’t this time been disruptive and unprecedented enough?
  • Have I actually learned nothing?

And in the feeble attempt to answer these, I found out about yet another disruptive thought and behavior pattern.

The numbness, pain, loss, and disappointment is the tip of the iceberg, and at the gnarly bottom lies the feeling, the one thing I absolutely cannot handle — of losing control over my life.

Whenever things get too much to handle, I force myself to get some perspective on my predicament.

I have learnings and realizations, which I internalize. I redefine my circle of control, ground myself in reality, and remind myself not to lose sight of what’s actually important — taking care of myself.

But, when things get back to okay, unknown to the conscious parts of my mind, the rest of it starts ferociously fighting a losing battle — An attempt to gain back as much control as it can.

It sneakily attacks every part of my life, tells me that I can do better, and continually sets higher standards for me to achieve.

It whispers into my ears, the golden words that can wake me up from the deepest of slumbers — You are not doing enough.

It wrongly assumes, just because I’ve managed to get things to “somewhat okay,” that I am just pretending to be sick. Now is the time to kick ass, make hay, and cover-up for the time lost, in dealing with my mental health.

But, in reality, what I have managed to do is take away essential time from my recovery process, challenged the very arduously achieved homeostasis, and set myself up for failure.

Then it questions me as if standing over my limp body, “Have you really improved? Come on, justify the low period! Get up, get up.”

When I sat down to work today, I did not know if I could write. I was not in the right headspace and was pleasantly surprised when I was halfway through this piece.

The feeling of accomplishment lasted for a mere few seconds when my mind was at it again. Could I also edit today? Possibly publish it?

It was dying to up the ante, advance tasks in my monthly calendar, and prepare me to work harder. It took everything I had to stop it.

To convince me that I needed to pace myself and to be okay is better than being caught in a deadly cycle of anxiety and exhaustion.

Was it too much to ask, for some kindness?

The first thing I learned after the mental health crisis at the beginning of the lockdown was that I needed to go easy on myself — that it was okay to do less. And the only thing worth focussing on was me.

Ending the year on a kinder note was the only goal I should have set.

And I failed to do so. I lost sight of what was essential and pushed myself to try more. Being comfortable is not a state I seem to thrive in.

Forcing myself to do more than I can, failing, and then dwelling in disappointment appears to be the cycle my mind opts for over and over again, and this is against everything I stand for.

This is not an “I told you so” moment. It is a reminder to take stock of everything that’s happened and answer the question, where do we go from here?

I don’t have a proper answer; actually, I don’t think anyone has.

Perhaps this is the wrong question. The right one is, What can we do right now, with things being as they are?

Go easy on yourself. Be kind, patient, compassionate to yourself. Embrace yourself because no else will, and tell yourself that you are going to be okay.

These have been my words of the year — compassion, kindness, and patience.

If I were forced to pen down all the things I have learned and realized in the past year, these three would top the lengthy list.

Those of you reading this and I have been lucky enough to live through 2020, and even though life as we know it will never be the same again, a genuine promise to ourselves can stand the test of time.

What can we hold tightly in a world full of chaos and uncertainty? —Undying faith in ourselves.

I haven’t watched a single holiday-themed movie this year. Every day that I take off to rest results in a guilt-ridden work off the next day, and I have been asking myself all the wrong questions.

I have been drowning myself in work, guilt, pain, and disappointment, and then I wonder why things haven’t been sunny lately.

At times, my realizations make me feel a bit silly, and this is one of those times. The answer has been here all along.

Sit yourself down, calm yourself with a song/meditation/journal/sit-com or whatever else works for you.

Set aside the negative thoughts, and ask yourself, if you could have one takeaway from 2020, what would it be?

If, after everything you’ve been through, you are still here, standing, dealing with shit, doesn’t that deserve some sort of commendation? — It does.

This holiday season, give yourself the one gift that’s free but is relatively short in supply at the moment. Try to be kind, let yourself free of the burdens on your mind, and go easy on yourself. You deserve it.

Ask yourself, how would you really like to spend the last month of what has been a very doomed year right from the beginning?

Does it make sense to pile on, add to your list of things to do, and reprimand yourself for not doing enough?
Is adding more stress to your plate the right way to ring in the new year?

When we cannot conventionally celebrate anything, owing to the pandemic, let’s take back a little bit of control in the right way.

No one or nothing has the power to mess with us thoroughly. We will keep fighting and in that process, remember to accept ourselves, love ourselves and remind ourselves of the good stuff, however little that might be right now.

So go on, take some time off. Watch a cheesy movie or two. Get that eggnog mix out earlier this year. Put up a few decorations if you can. I intend to spend only twenty minutes on this task.

Make a note of the things that you have accomplished this year.

Spend time with loved ones, physically or virtually. Make yourself or order a favorite dessert. I am vying for a lazy, every topping in the world, Sundae.

And remember, keep remembering to go easy on yourself.

The Personal Essayist

Because we all know you love a great personal essay!

Debdutta Pal

Written by

Taking a voyage into the depths of my mind, Navigating through waves, currents, and icebergs. Sharing some of my journeys with you.

The Personal Essayist

We want your personal stories. Essays that enlighten, amuse, inspire, captivate. The human experience is complex, but rife with identity, commonality. Share your words with us so that we may embrace the world we live in and fully cherish our eclectic humanity.

Debdutta Pal

Written by

Taking a voyage into the depths of my mind, Navigating through waves, currents, and icebergs. Sharing some of my journeys with you.

The Personal Essayist

We want your personal stories. Essays that enlighten, amuse, inspire, captivate. The human experience is complex, but rife with identity, commonality. Share your words with us so that we may embrace the world we live in and fully cherish our eclectic humanity.

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