18 January 2018

Let's Talk: Bandwagons, Monday Blues and #NewYearNewYou

We're now two weeks into 2018 and WOW. What can I say? EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED. As soon as the clock struck midnight, the Queen's carriage transformed into a pumpkin, every Cindy lost her heels and social media sung....

   #NewYearNewYou   

Chapter 2018! Oh wait, that's not what happened, is it? Except the part about losing heels, but I suspect that had more to do with Daiquiris than God-Fairies. At the risk of being a bandwagon-scrooge, I'm going to reveal a little secret that New Year's Eve, New Year's Day - and even Christmas - wouldn't dare to say. Nothing actually changes. The second that stood between 2017 and 2018 is no different to the second that stands between every other second in the HISTORY OF SECONDS. Nows that's lot of seconds. Yet relatively speaking, we only see a fraction of them in our own lives.

So why, every January, do we give these seconds up so easily? That's the true irony of #NewYearNewYou; society loves to convince us that it's taking BACK control of our lives, but in reality we're handing  it over. Society wants us to believe that 01.01.XXXX is some astrological phenomenon; that your salads and squats will only suffice if Mars and Saturn align in the heavens.... In other words, Society is Professor Trawlaney and thinks we're all Parvati Patel/Lavender Brown, but it DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. 
It's time to pour some Hermione Cynicism over the Resolution Bandwagon. When she knocked over that crystal ball and turned her back on divination, she turned her back on people deciding life for her. She chose HER OWN FUTURE. Okay, I realise I've gone a bit "english student" on you here; it's possible that Hermione just had an issue with loose-leaf tea (I can empathise) and JK wasn't quite this existential. It does make for quite a nice metaphor though, so what do I have to lose?

Imagine that advertisers are the crystal ball. Every January, they predict the same future of cakeless cakes, protein shakes and brand flakes #AllBranNew. The Supermarket shelves switch mince pies for potato-free fries... and let's not forget the skinny tea-leaves. They will be the first to guilt-trip you for "festive indulgence" in January, yet used the same argument to SELL the 'indulgence' in December: "enjoy as many mince pies as you want, because come 1st January it's #NewYearNewYou!". As for *some* instafluencers (not all), once the photos are done it's down with the christmas tree and up with the gym gear selfie: "Does my protein shake look big in this? No? Here's ANOTHER selfie then!" #ad #spon.

"Every January, advertisers predict  
the same future of cakeless cakes, 
protein shakes and branded flakes 
#AllBranNew."

To play devil's advocate, New Year's Resolutions can be a positive. For example, my goals of returning to University and applying for a PGCE definitely motivated my recovery in 2017. Sometimes we need that final push to get us somewhere and there's nothing wrong with that. However, it had to come from me. Ultimately, only I could judge how I felt and make that call. Moreover, it had to happen in my time. For what it's worth, if I'd waited until 1st January 2018 to make my 'recovery resolutions', I wouldn't be typing this from my flat at Exeter!

My main issue is not with resolutions themselves, but the narrative we've built around them. It's this idea that we "should" change; that the turn of a clock hand signifies so much and that we 'fail' if we don't fulfil them. In December, I decided not make resolutions and I felt confident in this. Then Christmas passed and the Resolution-themed blog posts arrived. Twitter and Instagram quickly followed and, by NYE, I admit I was doubting my choice. Was it wrong not to have a resolution? Did it make me unmotivated, lazy even? All these thoughts were swimming in my head, until I saw the following two tweets:
They led me past the trees and out of the shoulds. I came back to new-sky thinking, along with the advice I would give anyone else. and that's how I came to write 17 Silver Linings From 2017It may not have been as conventional or 'clickable' as "18 goals for 2018", but it was my voice. It also reminded me that blogs I love most often aren't for the plot, but the author themselves. That is the thing that truly matters. So here's to #NewYearSameMe: Allowing myself to BE.  


   #BlueMonday   

You may have seen another hashtag do the rounds this week, which dared to put MINDS before materialism. FINALLY... Oh wait, that's not what happened, is it? #Dejavu. For just like its hashtag twin #NewYearNewYou, Blue Monday prescribed its own narrative for an otherwise innocent day. Apparently there's some scientific proof to the *blue* pudding, but I'm going be Hermione on this one too. For starters, the evidence came from a PR company. And second, did the PR gurus never watch that scene from Bridget Jones?

Sarcasm aside, there were people genuinely struggling on 16th January 2018. There were also people struggling on the 15th and the 17th. There are people struggling as I type this and you may be struggling as you read, however far into the future that is *virtual Free Elf hugs*. I may not be a scientist, but I've had my fair share of 'blue day' data and I know one thing - it wasn’t all recorded on ONE DAY. The x-axis goes from 1-365, because a date does not decide your mental health and you can be 'blue' any day of the year. 
Conversely, some people do struggle on a particular date; however, this date is not open to the public and often marks a difficult anniversary: bereavement, divorce, family or personal trauma. For those people with PTSD, a date can unearth the most painful memories and requires proper, meaningful support in that moment. In other words, more than a hashtag or discounted shoes. 

"Just like #NewYearNewMe, 
Blue Monday prescribed a narrative 
for an otherwise innocent day"

Surprise surprise, this fact was a bit lost on the #BlueMonday BRANDwagon. Having a mental health crisis? “Here’s 40% off shoes to beat the blues!” I received about a dozen discount emails yesterday, while fashion brands called for 'retail therapy'. Who needs the NHS when you have RETAIL THERAPY? Again, I use sarcasm but inside I'm angry. I'm angry at how commodified our world has become - epitomised by the two hashtags -  and how out of touch we are with just being human.

Thankfully, there is A SILVER LINING. As it turns out, I was far from the only person with this view and two more hashtags also trended: #BrightBlueMonday and #BlueAnyDay. When I opened Twitter on Monday, my timeline was filled with powerful counters to the 'Blue Monday' message. People wore bright colours to work, wrote their positives for the day and shared their own mental health stories.

Top mental health charities (Time To Change, Mind, Rethink) and some of the biggest names in media (The Guardian, BBC Newsbeat), came together for Mental Health Awareness and turned the entire day on its head. The BBC Newsbeat article was especially powerful, as it spoke to people with firsthand experience of mental illness. So despite my frustration with Blue Monday, I am grateful for one thing: it started a conversation and every conversation matters.

    PS: there's more    

My recent posts have been very focused on self-empowerment lately, so I do apologise if I am repeating myself sound like a Miss World/Oscars Acceptance Speech. Right now, I think I need to remind myself of it as much as anyone, so perhaps it is self-indulgent... or perhaps, to use a more compassionate phrase, it's self-CARE? I spoke earlier about the relevance of certain dates and, in the past month, I had my own: one year out of treatment. One year out of hospital and, in the same week, returning to University. 

On #BlueMonday of all days, I had my first lecture in two years. I was genuinely shaking before I went in and so many doubts ran through my head: "What if people don't like me? What if I don't understand the material? What if they hate my essay idea?" What if, what if, What. If. (What if and I Should would get along). What if....

....I just tried being me? So that is what I did, for that first hour of teaching. I quoted Colours of The Wind to an English Professor and compared Pocohontas to Romantic Poetry, as you do. It will take me time to adjust to this new way of 'being' at University; not defaulting to over-analysis and trying to please others. I won't always get it right, but I'll get one thing right: #SameMe. Just being Sophie.
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