It’s January, commonly regarded as the shittiest month of the year. We’re all riding a heavy post-Christmas comedown, grinding through our workdays without the promise of a glorious week spent gorging on Quality Street and turkey to keep us going. The dark evenings no longer signal a cosy evening wrapping presents by the Christmas tree but yet another miserable commute home followed by a warmed up can of beans because in December we spent all of our funds and then some. January is a month of less: less money, fewer plans, and a sense of acute loss after having packed away the festivities for another eleven months. If I sound like a killjoy extraordinaire,
it’s because I am it’s because I’m still getting used to a reality without naps at noon and a wholly acceptable misremembering of exactly which day it is. I’m sorry.
If this wasn’t all bad enough, along the way we decided that January should be the month in which we acknowledge our many failings and seek to better ourselves. We’re bombarded at every turn with reminders that we aren’t good enough; we need to lose weight and run marathons and work harder and save money. Anything goes as long as we’re making ourselves better than we were before, because what we were before was an exercise in inadequacy and incompetence. We need to be more in every aspect of our life, and we need to do it right now. If we aren’t spending January bashing our heads against the wall of self-improvement then we’re doing it all wrong.
It’s exhausting, and I don’t submit to it.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m still a cheerleader for self-improvement. I have lists of goals and shelves of books and so many fun plans, but I’ve hung up my pom-poms for a few weeks whilst I recalibrate to a new year. January is difficult enough without striving to do anything more than getting out of bed every morning and remembering to feed myself. We have to become reacquainted with our shitty commutes and full working weeks and not eating chocolate for every meal – a frankly unwarranted social norm, if not one my teeth are grateful for. For those of us lucky enough to have a decent break over the festive period, Christmas is a time of rest and reward for living the grind in the preceding fifty-one weeks of the year. January is standing in front of a blank chalkboard and making the first checkmarks all over again: that is to say, it isn’t the most encouraging time of the year. Instead of filling my evenings with plans for improvement I’ll inevitably want to cancel, I’ve been allowing myself to come home each day and just… be. Some days I go for dinner with friends or hang out with A, and others I get straight into my pyjamas and read a book in bed. All evening. And it is blissful.
Taking the pressure off myself to toe the line of this ritual betterment has been liberating and, oddly, motivating. When I tell myself that it’s okay to do nothing more than slob out in front of Netflix, I don’t use it as a tempting-but-forbidden method of getting out of things. It’s an active choice rather than an excuse, so I can choose to do something productive like exercise and, with no internal reprimand, I can choose to relax for the rest of the week. I didn’t take this route in order to trick myself into action – certainly, if I spend the remainder of my free time this month cocooned under a blanket I shan’t consider myself a failure – but removing the obligation from this time of year is the relief I need right now from otherwise-certain paralysis.
The truth is inescapable: January is hard. Even the healthiest of minds can take a hit once January 2nd rolls around, and we shouldn’t feel like failures if we want to take a breath before diving into the new year. For some, immediate action is the perfect tonic to the strange emptiness of the post-Christmas period. For others, we need to take a while to ease into it. Each day that I relax into life I feel a little more ready to take on fresh challenges: to get back in the squat rack or learn to cook more than my trusty repertoire of three meals. Contrary to the backlash, I don’t think the concept of ‘new year, new me’ is total bollocks – but the obligatory start date that coincides with the time of year I’m experiencing the greatest drought of emotional resilience is never going to work for me.
Once the fog of January lifts and longer days inch ever closer, I’ll unfold my list of resolutions – but for now, I’m going back to bed.