Got the January Blues? You're not alone.
Monday 15th January is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. On first hearing of Blue Monday, I thought it to be a marketing gimmick; a commercial nudge to ‘treat yo’self, it can’t get any worse than this!’. But no, I have been disabused of this jumped-to conclusion. This day isn’t picked at random. Some joy-filled person actually came up with a formula to calculate when the general population would likely feel the most despair. (To be fair though, the guy that came up with the formula is a life coach so was probably trying to promote his new book or something...sorry, January brings out my cynical side.)
The formula’s variables include weather conditions, debt, the end of Christmas, failed New Year’s resolutions and low motivation levels. It makes sense. Even if you’re the type that is brimming with hope and positivity when the new year comes around it can be hard to maintain that outlook a few weeks into January when there are no fairy lights twinkling in our eyes and it looks like the frost isn’t leaving any time soon.
I can certainly relate to this mass feeling of depression. And in a schadenfreudist sort of way, the idea of Blue Monday, a day when everyone collectively feels rubbish, cheers me. Because I dread January. The whole month. When the hangover finally clears on 1st January and I see the year stretching out ahead of me, full of promise and possibility for some, I mostly feel panic. For me the road ahead is steep with expectations. Expectations that I feel I simply cannot meet. So, as a new year begins -a fresh start, another chance- I feel like a failure before I’ve even started.
But then, you see, January is when I am most likely to suffer from a bout of depression. I have had depression on and off for the last 6 years or so. I have been diagnosed and treated with medication and talking therapy and I have become a lot better at coping. A huge part of becoming better at coping is awareness. With self-knowledge I can anticipate, and, with varying success, prevent myself from slipping back into that dark place. It takes vigilance. I must watch out for the negative voice in my head that is jostling for space in my psyche; give it an inch, it will take a mile. I must not neglect self-care – a term that many dismiss as being a bit wishy-washy, hippy, free-love, but just essentially means giving ourselves a break, and putting good things into our body and mind. And everything about January seems designed to compound these earnest efforts to stay upbeat and keep things in perspective: when you haven’t seen the sun for 3 days (and this happens irritatingly often in Glasgow) it can be hard to disregard that nagging feeling that the end is nigh and my god-forsaken soul will certainly not be raptured so I may as well just resign myself to hell on earth.
Blue Monday, the January Blues. I have to remember that these phenomena have a name for a reason. Everyone struggles at some point in their life and many people struggle at this time of year in particular. Modern life doesn’t allow for the hibernation we feel a natural inclination towards. We all feel the pressure to jump into 2018 with both feet shouting loudly about how much we love life and how amazing the year ahead is bound to be, but the reality is that the world around us is mostly unchanged and life will likely continue the way it always does: we will experience both good times and bad times; joy, melancholy and indifference.
A couple of years ago I decided to write a play about my depression. A one woman show no less! And performing it and speaking to people about it has opened my eyes to the sheer number of people that have visited the dark, lonely place that a few years ago I thought was just for me. Talking to those people, both friends and strangers, and finally being honest about my mental health, made me feel so much less alone. I feel stronger with every one of those conversations, so much so that this January has been my best yet since I got ill. I still need to be vigilant (I still turn on my S.A.D. lamp each morning to make sure I get my daily dose of artificial sunlight), but the panic no longer squeezes my chest when I think about the year ahead. And if it does, I know there are people I can talk to, others that dread January, or put undue pressure on themselves to live their best life in 2018.
January is only 31 days, Blue Monday is just one day. On 15th January I plan to treat myself, not necessarily through consumerism, but by taking the time to stop, check in, and be kind to myself. I may not beat the January Blues this year, but just knowing that feeling a little bit anxious about the future and depressed about the bleakness of the season is universal, is a comfort.
Amy is a theatre maker and performer based in Scotland. Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World, which uses computer games to talk about depression, is showing at Vault Festival, Waterloo, Feb 21-25, 18:00(1hr).