Way back when I worked in a Swiss bakery for a year, gluttony was far from stopping at the start of a new year. Bûches de Noël and foie gras-laden canapés were replaced with the Galette des Rois, the traditional twelfth night* cake, made either of brioche sprinkled with flaked almonds and sugar (oh, how I loved that version) or of puff pastry filled with frangipane. In the centre was a tiny, ceramic, fève, and the person whose portion contained it got to wear a paper crown and be king or queen for the rest of the day.
God, I ate a lot of them that year. Breakfast was on the house, after the morning rush, and we’d hover just out of sight of the shop, dipping stale, sugary brioche into strong, black coffee. January, in the Swiss alps, really is no time for cutting back – ski season is in full swing, and working a 7 till 7 day, 6 days a week, and trekking to and from work in thick snow takes it out of you. Or out of me, at least.
So, when I saw the tweet above, it took me back. I didn’t do many of the things it lists that year – no port, no poems (although there was writing), and certainly no sex. But after I’d watched the news, and sometimes Bachelor: le gentleman celibataire, I’d flick off the TV and watch the snow instead. And I was peaceful. I was working hard, for me, physically, but mentally, the language was the only real challenge, and as that fell into place it left me with a lot of spare thinking space. Healthy thinking space.
And I’ve been wondering, a lot, this week, how to recapture that sense of peace. How to share what little I do know of what makes me happy – of what makes this time of year a bit easier to bear.
Firstly, I don’t make resolutions anymore, really. My mum thinks there are only four acceptable New Year’s resolutions: drink less, eat less, do more exercise or get more sleep. I’ve failed at all of those things many, many times (although the last one is on my ‘try to improve’ list) and I’m done with beating myself up over that. And the other day, in bed with the boy, I started wondering if there was a better way.
He was drinking tea; I was drinking yet more cava, and knocking back the Ferrero Rocher. Eventually, as the sky started to darken he leant over, kissed me, and said ‘Right, I’m going, I need to go for a run.’
‘I think, of the two of us, the one who *needs* to go for a run is me,’ came my smart-ass reply.
He laughed. ‘Perhaps, but you’re not going to, so you can stay here and I’ll go run.’ And he tucked the duvet back round me, and did, I assume, go and get some exercise.
What I got from that conversation is that the things that I’m good at aren’t the things that involve willpower. They’re the things that involve warmth, and giving, and feeding people, and buying people gifts. And those are the strengths I want to harness in 2015. It got me thinking too about the TED talk below, which also has an excellent take on playing to people’s strengths. And so I resolved to send everyone in my extended family a birthday card this year, to give regularly to charity, to be kinder to myself and, as of today, to do my utmost to be kind, or at least fair, here and on Twitter, especially as regards the boy.
Anyway, my resolutions aren’t that interesting. But if you’ve been reading the blog over the last couple of months, you’ll know how much I’ve come to admire Ella Dawson’s writing, and I have a special fondness for her list posts, like this one and this one. And in that spirit, here are my top fifteen tips for coming through the dark days of January unscathed:
1) It’s ok to drink alone, especially on NYE. I might be a bit late for this one, but drinking alone (in moderation!) for me often indicates that I’m slowing down and giving myself time to breathe and to reflect. It wasn’t the point she was making, but it features in Malin James’ excellent New Year’s post as well.
2) Staying in means you can choose your own playlist. Again, really one for last night, but it applies whenever you’re low. Music and books vie for top position in terms of which soothes my soul more readily, but music is certainly easier when anxiety or depression has caused your concentration to be shot.
3) It’s ok to cry. I’ve done this a lot over the past couple of days. I have a headache and I’m exhausted. But now I’m all cried out I’m less restless and less stressed than I was before. Crying can be cathartic. It’s not something to be ashamed of.
4) Sorting and organising stuff is a great mind clearer. Twitter (and me) seem to particularly recommend starting with cleaning your oven and sorting your knicker drawer – the former is something that, let’s face it, you won’t want to do when you’re back at work. The latter makes you feel like a grown ass woman.
5) Replace your bedding. Buy new, if you can afford it, because that’s fun, or if not, clean bedding is a joy all of it’s own. I don’t know why it works. It just *does.*
6) Small resolutions are better. My ‘send birthday cards to my family’ looks pathetic, written down, but it’s doable, and it shows you care. Plus, I maintain that something you’re supposed to keep up all of the time, all of the year, is pretty much doomed to failure from the start.
7) Remember that being alone, at New Year, or at any other time, doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you’re not loved. People are fallible. They fuck up. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. Reach out to them if that helps, or try to learn to cherish your own company.
8) Don’t be afraid to show affection. Politeness, or etiquette, or guardedness, or something, is making us scared of this, I think. We’re more and more wary of showing people that they matter to us. I don’t buy it. If you love someone, tell them. If you enjoyed a date, say so. If you want to buy someone a birthday gift, or pay for drinks, or coffee, or just send a card to say hi, do. None of these things reflect badly on you. At all.
9) Keep in touch with your family. When I was first struggling with depression and didn’t want to tell my parents, my therapist said ‘Why do you have to phone them, or answer their calls? You’re not obliged to do that.’ That’s true, I’m not obliged, but I knew that they’d worry, that they were already worrying, and I couldn’t live with causing that. Check in, even if you keep it brief.
10) Focus on your existing strengths. Yes, ok, this is basically what I’ve said in the main body of the post above. But god, I think if we tried to change the focus from what we’re bad at to what we’re already doing well, and tried to build on that, we’d be so much happier.
11) Books. There will always be joy in books, and also in bookshops. Make a list of ten you want to read. Go to a real bookstore. Pick out the ten and read a few pages (personally, I think reading from the middle gives the best sense of style). Buy five. Or three. Or all ten. Take them home and line them up on your bookshelf. Feel happy.
12) Make time for the things that matter. My writing teacher has a theory that people let their writing time get eaten into by other things that they *think* are more important, which is why it’s so hard to finish a novel or submit work regularly. If something is important to you, treat it as such. Don’t let the time you have for it get unnecessarily whittled down.
13) Give to charity. I said this before Christmas. And then I made a donation to the Disasters and Emergency Committee and they were like, ‘Thanks, Charlie, but did you know your money is *even better* if we can plan for it?’ Perhaps, but I hadn’t really thought about it. So setting up a regular direct debit is on my to do list.
14) Paint your nails. Pick a colour you already have with a great name, or go out and buy one that sums up how you want 2015 to turn out. Juniper at the Cut of my Jib wrote a lovely post on nail polish and memories. And if you really want to go all out, write some nail polish inspired erotica, too.
15) Replace the tree with something green. My tree is still making me so happy I’m tempted to keep it up beyond January 6th, for another week or so. i can’t keep anything alive, so when it goes, I personally will replace it with spring flowers rather than a plant. But either will do. And get some fresh air, and some space, too. A long walk in the countryside, a pub lunch, a hot bath and a nap solve most ills.
*Some of you may have notice that my Twelve Days of Christmas posts stopped rather abruptly. I’m hoping to revive them – tomorrow, with any luck.