A Blog for the Turn of the Year

We’re officially 1/52 of the way through 2023.

Did you feel shocked (like I did) when trying to process that statement? And also a little anxious about how fleeting time is? And yet also, maybe, a little relieved in knowing we’ve already made it through a week of this rocky adjustment?

The start of this year has felt rough. These past couple weeks, as 2022 wrapped up and as the new year began, I’ve had a striking number of conversations about mental health with people who are struggling. And I count myself among that lot.

It doesn’t help that it’s been cold and rainy — and at times snowy and icy, or that many of us settled in to enjoy a major Monday Night Football match-up only to watch in horror as Damar Hamlin collapsed, or that that hardship hit Buffalo (a neighboring city here, home to many loved ones) right on the heels of its devastating blizzard, or that this is the fourth calendar year in which the COVID-19 pandemic looms over our lives…

Many of us are feeling shaken, discouraged, and simply exhausted. We want to start this new year with hope and resilience but are reminded of our own mortality and how quickly life can change.

Beyond those recent and (hopefully) unusual factors, the holiday season can often stir up grief and longing. I love Christmas, easily caught up in the giddiness and magic like a child would be, and yet it makes me miss my beloved fur baby so badly that hanging up her stocking still brings tears to my eyes, 3 years after her death, and the pangs of nostalgia I feel for childhood Christmases can sting, wishing that somehow, just for a few minutes, I could be back at the top of the stairs with my brothers, waiting for our parents to be settled with their coffee and video camera, ready for us to come down and see what wonders await.

Just as the complicated mix of merriment and sadness of the Christmas season winds down, here comes the new year — a time when we put extra pressure on ourselves to feel festive, to reflect on accomplishments, to set goals, to do better. It can be exhausting!

Several years ago, I received as a gift the book Tape for the Turn of the Year, by A.R. Ammons. It’s a long, journal-like poem that he typed on a roll of adding-machine tape, written between December 1963 and January 1964. I was enthralled by the concept, Ammons challenging himself (a) to fill the roll and (b) to be forced to wrap up the piece within the confines of its medium. Returning to the page (as it were) routinely over the course of those days gives Ammons’s writing a meditative quality, finding beauty and room for contemplation in ordinary moments of ordinary days — which seems to me a beautiful way to think about time.

…all day
life itself is bending,
weaving, changing,
adapting, failing,
  succeeding

A.R. Ammons, Tape for the Turn of the Year

Ever since first hearing the book’s title, I’ve found a sort of comfort in thinking of the arrival of the new year this way, a turn. It’s not merely a beginning (and an ending) but a continuation, a wheel that will keep carrying us along.

Sometimes, making the turn is hard. Sometimes, we long for stability and familiarity, and sometimes that means acknowledging that what was once familiar is now gone, or that we’re not entirely comfortable in our current circumstances.

And that’s okay. This is but a moment of our journey.

If you are struggling:

  • please be patient and gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to feel your feelings and work through them with time.
  • remind yourself that this is a temporary state — one of my favorite mantras I’ve learned from my counselor.
  • know that you are not alone and do not need to navigate the tough times alone. Reach out to a loved one — to me! — or to a counselor or doctor or online community.

If you should choose to make any resolutions for the year, I hope they’ll be ones that truly feel good to you — things you want to do, not things you feel you should do or have to do. In my mind, the shoulds and have tos are immediately laced with anxiety and negative self-talk. (Why haven’t I done that yet? Will I really do it this time?) No one needs that sort of energy to start off the year. Or ever!

Among my resolutions this year is to dedicate more time to self-care. A friend recently told me she takes a self-care day at least once a month, and THAT is the energy I need for 2023! Self-care too often gets bumped to the bottom of the list — which leaves us less equipped to tackle everything else on that list.

Wherever this new year finds you, and wherever it may lead you, I hope you can find ways, old or new, to help yourself feel rested, refreshed, and renewed. To let go of things that no longer serve you and find more things that do.

May your 2023 be whatever you need it to be.

Muse, I’ve done the best
I could:
    sometimes you ran out
    on me
    & sometimes I ran out
    on you:
 
        I know you better now:
        you’ve come closer:
            will you
            confer the high
grace of your touch?
come & live enduring with
me:
            I’ll be faithful:
            I won’t trick you:
            I’ll give you all
            I’ve got:

A.R. Ammons, Tape for the Turn of the Year
Photo by Sumit Rai, downloaded from Pexels

A Dream in Which I Tell Myself “I Would Do Anything for You”

I keep thinking about a dream I had several months ago. It was brief and blurry, but one element has remained persistently clear: I was sitting across from myself [a clone? A reflection? That part I’m not sure of, but there were two distinct yet identical presences of me], and the self that I embodied said to the other, reassuringly, matter-of-factly, “I would do anything for you.”

The caring was instinctive, deeply rooted, the way I feel in my waking hours about my boyfriend, my family, and my dearest friends — a level of protectiveness and pride I feel especially about my nieces and nephews: I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. You are strong and beautiful and talented. I believe in you. I’m here for you anytime. I love you beyond words.

Why don’t I treat myself that way?

Well, a couple months ago, several weeks after having had that dream and having it echo in my mind since, my self-care and -compassion were put to the test.

In one simple misstep, I slipped and fell in the yard, landing with one leg curled awkwardly beneath me and my foot bearing the weight of the rest of me collapsing. I’ve replayed that moment countless times since, as if I could retroactively change my footwear or my armload of stuff or whatever it was I stepped on that caused my foot to slip, and each time I’m struck by the notion that I had no idea in that instant how it would ripple out to affect the entire trajectory of my summer and my physical and mental health.

I don’t intend this to be a pity party nor to belabor the details, so I’ll give the abridged version:

  • The sprained foot led to a blood clot in my leg, which has continued to cause periods of swelling and discomfort as well as send my anxiety and depression on a seemingly endless roller coaster.
  • The prescribed blood thinner required me to stop taking another medication that had long been very helpful for me and left me scrambling for an alternative, none of which have proven satisfactory.
  • It was a hot summer to have one leg encased in a boot brace — although that brace has been a godsend in allowing me much better mobility than I had for the first few days, during which I couldn’t put weight on the foot without intolerable pain.
  • This whole experience has been an eye-opener as to how many elements of my typical day are not easily accessible, with any stairs, gravel, or hills leaving me unsteady at best and at times incapable of navigating without help. That is to say it’s opened my eyes to how very much I was taking for granted before.

The dream was not a stretch in that I have long been one to talk to myself — even out loud, even in public — but this too has now been manifesting in new, gentler ways: “We’ve got this,” I’ll say to myself. [We?! As if, again, there are two of us in the conversation!] “Okay, here we go. One step at a time.” I am aware that I am someone in need of caring and more willing to give myself that care than probably ever before. As I step slowly in and out of the shower or turn gingerly to rinse my hair, as I stretch my cramped-up calf muscle, as I climb into bed and appreciate the shedding of a long day, I am carrying myself differently, with more awareness, patience, and forgiveness.

While I wish it hadn’t taken an injury for this slowing-down to happen and I’m eager to start feeling more like myself again, I hope that as I continue to heal I can maintain this new perspective.

And I wish it for all of you, too — without the dramatic catalyst! Let’s adopt an attitude of showing up for ourselves. We need it more than we may realize.

Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR, downloaded from Pexels