Month +30: January Resolve

We all know the feeling. We’ve come down off our festive highs, fragments of wrapping paper still lurk in the corners of the room, and we’ve stepped on the scales and do not like what they are telling us. We’re feeling blue. Once the holiday excitement has subsided, the long nights and soggy weather stretch ahead of us endlessly, and we discover that we have £1.82 in the bank with precisely 1,098 days of the month left to go, it’s not hard to fall into a bit of rut. The January blues can hit hard, and I’m no exception, still I would rather be here than go back to where I was just two-and-a-half short years ago.

When I was sick, I felt like a burden, using up the time and energy of my friends and family and of the doctors who busied themselves caring for me. I continued to work throughout my illness, as working gave me a sense of purpose, but as my illness progressed, I found it difficult to be productive or even to communicate effectively. I was pretty useless, and would sit for long hours, all my effort going into simply existing. Gradually life slowed to a low ebb, and it seemed as if my individual place in the universe was being expunged. And there is nothing more soul-destroying than the sense that we have no choice.

There seems to be this general notion that in order to live a happy life, we need to be permanently happy. But this is not so. Pleasure and pain are both forms of stress, and prolonged periods of either do nothing for our biochemistry or our wellbeing. There are two types of people who do not experience strong emotions: the psychos and the deceased. The rest of us will experience them often, and these are an important aspect of a happy life. This brings me to my first point: there are genuine biological reasons why we might feel low or lack energy during January, and there is nothing wrong us. It is completely normal, and many other people feel exactly the same way we do. Reminding ourselves that this is a natural response is important.

It is also important to keep fit and as active as possible, and to avoid unrealistic New Year’s resolutions. I have been exercising regularly (I have a marathon to train for, after all) and regular exercise is known to reduce stress and boost happiness (according to the NHS it is the only clinically proven treatment for mild to moderate depression). Running in the snow and ice is one of my favourite things, and it really works – exercise releases endorphins, which give our bodies feel-good sensations of happiness and euphoria (the fabled runners-high!). I have been careful not to overdo it, having a proven track record of doing so, but so far, so good. Getting outside in the daylight during the winter months can also help regulate our sleep cycles and increases levels of serotonin in our brain, while boosting our depleted Vitamin-D reserves.

I have also chosen to consciously take care of my diet, and not simply to shovel down whatever is within arms-reach. Let’s face it, none of us need a manual on how to eat a healthier diet, but few of us routinely do it! But if we ditch the festive diet of heavy and rich wintery food, reduce our consumption of sugar and processed junk, and instead eat lots of fruits and vegetables (especially those packed with Vitamin-D, magnesium and antioxidants) and drink plenty of water, it can do wonders for our wellbeing and overall health. I’ve been doing more of that, and not only do I feel better generally, my complexion and scalp have also cleared up. The proof is, very much, in the pudding! The body will take care of itself if you give it the right kind of nutrition and get out of its way.

Finally, I have been making an extra effort to be grateful for all the positive things that take place around me, no matter how small. Some might say that you should take nothing for granted, and while I would never advocate throwing caution to the wind and living a cheery life of reckless abandon, I do think there’s balance to be found. The line between fear of what could happen and living life to the fullest and making the most of every moment, is a fine one. For 25 years I tried to fight it but, in the end, I found happiness in embracing my identity as a person with a chronic and incurable illness, whilst recognising the gifts I have received.

I can never forget where I was just two-and-a-half short years ago, and I make a conscious effort to recall what it was like. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it gives me a very clear reference point in my life against which all future experiences can be measured. By doing this, I will always be grateful for where I am right now. All things are relative. We can’t cheat ourselves when it comes to our own happiness and this winter, despite the January Blues, I’ve found a new sense of peace. Happiness isn’t for people who need it, it’s for people who want it, and I’ve chosen to go all in.



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