Updated: May 21, 2021
Last year on December 31st, I wrote one thing in my journal: I don't wanna be sad anymore. I have entered each new year with this sole thought in my mind for as long as I can remember. While everyone around me vowed to start new habits (I often being one of them), capitalism preyed on our insecurities (what else is new), and the ones immersed in social media (myself included) reflected on the shortcomings, disappointments, and most memorable trends and memes of that year alike, I found myself coming back to one thought and one thought only: I don’t wanna be sad anymore.
New Year's resolutions have always felt futile to me, being that I actively and habitually try to acclimate my behaviors and actions to suit my best self. However, there can be something said for turning over a new leaf, starting on a clean slate, whatever euphemism you fancy— we do love a fresh start. Why is that?
The only answer I can find is that we feel dirtied by each passing year. There is too much happening, too many bad things, and fuck if this hasn’t been the dirtiest year of them all. But the deep-rooted desire to restart seems to stem from a feeling of inadequacy, a chronic fear that we are not measuring up to our own standards, unfortunately and intrinsically linked with societal standards; that we are dirty or bad, that we’re failures for abandoning the previous year’s resolutions, and if only we had more willpower, if only the conditions were more apt for meeting our goals, if only this or that hadn’t gotten in the way and made you lose steam, maybe then things would be different, maybe then we’d be rich or famous or thin or beautiful or loved or— happy. Or all of the above.
It differs from the other fears we live with. As a kid, you grow to hate Sundays because of the dread of the impending school day. That latent anxiety renders you incapable of enjoying what feels like your last night of freedom before you have to endure the drudgery of learning for another week, and rinse and repeat. It follows us into adulthood, when Monday comes too fast and you realize you didn’t actually DO anything this weekend, but maybe you should’ve, maybe you could’ve hiked or meal prepped or had brunch or called your mom, she misses you, and it feels like a missed opportunity.
That's exactly what New Year’s resolutions feel like: missed opportunities. And that’s why the fear linked to this ritual is so unique in its own deeply bittersweet way, both motivating and disappointing— because it is the ultimate Sunday. It’s our collective deadline where we realize we forgot to do an assignment that’s 20% of our grade, we forgot to pay the phone bill, we forgot to put air in the tire and the warning is flashing and now you have a blowout on your way to work (based on a true story) and fuck, it’s the most slow burning, stressfully heart-sinking moment of realization that it’s too late.
Every year, that thought would color everything, even if I was drunk at a party or up all night watching The Twilight Zone and Honeymooners marathons, it would always be there in the back of my mind: I don’t wanna be sad anymore. And that sadness was always rooted in materialism, in not having something, not looking a certain way, feeling stuck in a situation you can’t get out of, feeling nothing at all. Or all of the above.
So many things snowballed into adulthood and became an overwhelming feeling of not being where I’m supposed to be. Not being the complete version of myself, not reaching my potential. This thought followed me everywhere, but it was especially loud in the final seconds of the year: I don’t wanna be sad anymore, please let this be the year I like myself— maybe even love myself. But who am I? How can I love myself if I don't even know myself? Please let this be the year I find stable income doing what I love, which is what exactly? Do I even want to pursue my path of study? Speaking of which, please let this year I come out of debt, let this be the year I stand on my own, provide for myself, live free of abuse, oppression, limitation, what-have-you. Let this be it, let this be it, let this be it. And it never is.
It never will be when you’re framing it in this context, because New Year’s resolutions are designed to burn bright and fade fast. Simply put, it clashes with the stagnancy of sadness. You’re smothered by the pressure of starting anew and your best self is already set up for failure. At its core, it is a bone of contention that will defeat us every time. It's a matter of our waking selves conflicting with our idealized selves, muddying our self perception until we don’t even know who we are anymore.
And that’s exactly it— I lived with myself and I didn't even know myself, too blinded by that sadness to realize that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, even if that’s rock bottom. Life balances itself out in a way that always ensures things will be different some time from now. Maybe not better, but different, and in knowing that, we can make it feel better. Good, even. Being okay with your sadness despite the bad things because you have reassurance that it’ll pass. Wouldn’t that be a dream? You don’t always have control over a situation or even your feelings about a situation, but you do possess the ability to make peace with how those feelings affect you, and subsequently, how you react to them.
It’s not a matter of not being sad, but releasing your control over the inevitable sadness. Because it WILL come, it always comes even to the best of us, and the most challenging thing of all is coming to terms with that. On some level, that’s why it’s ever-present, always looming, depression static and staggering. Because we know we’re sad, we know we’re going to keep being sad, and why even get out of bed if all you have to look forward to is more sadness?
All I can tell you is that wholeheartedly accepting your grief as a natural inevitability and relinquishing your hold on it is the most fruitful thing you can do for yourself. It is the most useful coping mechanism I have, because it doesn’t feel like coping. It just feels like...living. Living with the knowledge that it’s always there on the edge of possibility, and that’s okay, it’ll pass, just as happiness passes, just as anger, just as fear, we normalize the feeling. The sadness neutralizes and with it becomes such an integrated part of our lives that just by KNOWING that— heaving a sigh and being okay with that, or at least trying to be, because that’s all we can do, really— it lessens the gravity of it. Suddenly it doesn’t feel so big and bad anymore.
It desaturates the world a little less and allows us to see things more clearly. Everything starts to unfold, you become acquainted with yourself like you’re on a first date, rifling through all the standard get-to-know-you questions: Who are you? What do you do, and I don’t mean how do you make your money, I mean what’s your daily routine like? When do you get up, and how do you feel upon waking? What gives you comfort, and what makes your heart race? It’s an incredibly grounding process that I’m still in the midst of, and probably always will be. But as luck would have it, I’m actually starting to like myself— maybe someday I’ll even love myself.
All I can tell you, between all the sickness and death and uprising and justice or lack thereof, this has been a year of coming to know myself, and with that, becoming familiarized with the emotions I’ve always feared; sadness being the most debilitating of all. The undertaking of it has been a beautiful, tumultuous thing. So let me be earnest, just this once.
It has been a year. It has really been a hell of a shit show of a fucking year, and if by some miracle you’re here now, revel in the fact that you are, and that you have a moment of freedom to know this and remember this.
I only ever want to be the most honest version of myself, and that’s precisely who I’ll be today and tomorrow and this coming year and the year after that until it’s all I know. And maybe it is all I have ever known. I will be myself, even the sad parts of myself, because those are me too. Just as much as the happy parts, the passionate parts, the silly parts, all parts angry and confused and inspired and thoughtful and stressed and excited, I'll let it happen. I'll let it happen. Maybe you will, too.
KT is superfroot's poetry director. They are 26 years old and work as an art teacher and art therapist. They've been writing and drawing since they can remember. They currently work with a variety of art mediums, but specialize in digital art and illustration. They strive to express themself creatively, whether it's through vlogging, journaling, candle making, experimenting in the kitchen, or lifting weights like the jock they are. Follow them on Twitter @babeythey and Instagram @kt.kami and @oatdreamboat.